At church the Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday, the Rector told us that this would be the last time we’d be saying the word “Alleluia” in any form as a congregation until Easter. He explained that this was another form of Lenten fasting.
I did a little research, as this custom was unfamiliar to me. I learned that many liturgical traditions “buried the alleluia” in some form during Lent. (http://www.elca.org/Growing-In-Faith/Worship/Learning-Center/FAQs/Alleluias-During-Lent.aspx,
Jamie Martin-Currie offered a concise explanation of this practice:
The omission of alleluia during Lent goes back at least to the fifth century in the western church. The association of alleluia with Easter led to the custom of intentionally omitting it from the liturgy during the season of Lent, a kind of verbal fast which has the effect of creating a sense of anticipation and even greater joy when the familiar word of praise returns. We do not use it at church. We do not use it at home. We let it rest, as it were, during Lent, so that when it reappears on Easter, we may hear it anew. (http://www.epicenter.org/all-lent/why-do-we-bury-the-alleluia/)
After more than three decades in non-denominational churches, my husband and I enjoyed the richness of liturgical tradition we’d discovered at the Anglican congregation.* We appreciated the structure of the formal liturgy, the amount of unadorned Scripture proclaimed throughout the service, and the opportunity to participate in communion each week as a centerpiece of worship. My low church history was illuminated by Anglican high church practice. However, there were some aspects of liturgical worship that made sense to my head, but not my heart.
Burying the alleluia was one of them.
Scripture calls us to praise the Lord in every circumstance and through every season of our lives. I could not see the logic in electing to put my praise of God on mute as a spiritual discipline during a season of introspection, fasting and penitence. Though I certainly noted calls for silence in Scripture (Ps. 4:4, Ecc. 3:7), those commands and invitations were about reverent response to God’s works and character. They were never used as a prescription for a period of fasting. In fact, Jesus told his followers that when they fasted, they needed to normalize their appearance and practices, rather than highlight their abstinence as the hypocrites did (Matt. 6:16-18).
Whether it is Job’s declaration in the face of his great losses that God is worthy of praise (Job 1:21), David’s psalms penned in every phase and circumstance of his epic life, or Paul’s worship-soaked words in his letters to the young churches (Eph. 1:3-10), Scripture encourages to praise God in all things and during every season of our live.
While I appreciate the communal, contemplative nature of Lent, I choose to pray my words of praise to God silently during those alleluia-free church services each year. As I thought through this issue, God used my whispered renegade praises to remind me that I face a much larger challenge than my words during a traditional religious 40-day fast leading up to Resurrection Sunday. My true challenge comes as I choose to live my alleluia 365 days a year.
Join the Conversation
What has your experience been as you’ve “buried the Alleluia” during Lent if you attend a church observes this practice?
If you don’t attend a church that observes this practice, what are your thoughts and questions about it?
*My husband and I attended the congregation for nearly three years, until the 45-minute drive each way and an impending move signaled to us that it was time for us to find a church home in our own community.
Michelle is a contributor to Christianity Today's Her.meneutics blog. She is the author of two books about the parables of Christ, and has contributed to several devotional projects as well. You can find a list of her recently-published credits here: http://michellevanloon.com/published-works/. She is involved in mentoring and discipleship relationships, and is in the early stages of a discernment process about pursuing further formal training in the area of spiritual direction.