EXETER (SNR) – Parishioners at St. Stephen Church in Exeter participated in a traditional pre-Lent devotion of “burying” the Alleluia at the vigil Mass Feb. 10.
During the Season of Lent, use of the “Alleluia” is omitted, in a practice dating at least to the fifth century in the western church.
After the Mass, during the recessional hymn “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus,” the burial devotion was performed by altar boys and members of the Knights of Columbus Council #11822, and assisted by pastor Father Steven Thomlison.
The servers and knights processed with an “Alleluia” placard – made by Exeter resident Terri Volkmer – from the main altar over to a side altar, where the “Alleluia” was placed inside the funeral pall. Father Thomlison, wearing the black funeral cope, incensed the pall and then all processed out of the church.
Father Thomlison said the purpose of the devotion is to remind people that Lent is fast approaching and it’s time to “prepare.”
In explaining the devotion to parishioners, Father Thomlison recalled that 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.
As a parish in Texas that practices the burial devotion teaches, “‘We do not use it at church. We do not use it at home,’” Father Thomlison related. “‘We let it rest, as it were, during Lent, so that when it reappears on Easter, we may hear it anew.... In fact, once it returns on Easter, we give it no rest at all, repeating it again and again, in celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus.’”
The custom of actually bidding the word farewell, he explained, developed in the Middle Ages in Babylon. Many churches embrace the devotional practice of “burying” the alleluia as a reminder that Lent is coming.
Before the reform of the liturgical calendar by Vatican II, the three weeks before Ash Wednesday were an additional time of preparation for Lent: Septuagesima or Septuagesimatide (Latin for the 70th day before Easter), Sexagesima (“60th”), Quinquagesima or Shrove Sunday (“50th”) and the Sunday before Ash Wednesday brings in Lent, Quadragesima, “40th.”
“This Pre-Lent season encouraged the faithful to begin preparing for Lent rather than waiting for the morning of Ash Wednesday. It has been said that this is a ‘prelude for the soul’ which must transition from the joys of Christmas to the “stern penance” of the sacred 40 days.
The pre-Lenten Sundays are mentioned in Church history as early as 541, in the fourth Council of Orleans. At the time of Pope Saint Gregory I (604), the Sundays were already celebrated in Rome with the same liturgical Mass texts that are used today.
“The liturgical reforms of Vatican II eliminated almost all of the preparatory periods and vigils in a goal for simplicity of the liturgy,” Father Thomlison explained, “hoping that the faithful would prepare on their own. More often than not, the practical effect has been that preparation is ignored until the very last minute.”
With Summorum Pontificum, Father Thomlison said, referring to Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 apostolic letter which gave all Latin Rite priests permission to celebrate sacraments in the extraordinary form, perhaps the pre-Lent Sundays have regained something of their ancient status.
“Perhaps through ‘mutual enrichment’ we may once again find some devotional practices which help us to prepare our minds and hearts for the upcoming liturgical seasons,” he said.
Father Thomlison encouraged families, particularly those with school age children, to join together to ‘bury’ the Alleluia in the setting of their own home.
“This is a good opportunity to discuss the season of Lent, the practices of Lenten penance, and the hope of the Easter Resurrection,” he said.
‘Alleluia, dulce carmen’
By Father Steven Thomlison
In the language of prayer, some words need no translation. Amen is such a word, a Hebrew word of assent meaning “so be it,” by which a congregation affixes its signature, if you will, to the official prayer of the Church. The Kyrie eleison (i.e., “Lord, have mercy”) remained in Greek even after the Roman Rite adopted Latin as its mother tongue.
Alleluia is a word familiar to all Christendom, whether the language of the local liturgy is Latin or Greek, Spanish or Ukrainian, Polish or Vietnamese. It is the Latinized form of Hebrew’s Hallelujah (i.e., “Praise the Lord”). In the West, we associate Alleluia with the joy of the Resurrection and Easter. Consequently, the Church “buries” the Alleluia while we put on the ashes and sackcloth of penance.
Bishop William Duranti wrote in the 13th century, “We desist from saying Alleluia, the song chanted by angels, because we have been excluded from the company of the angels on account of Adam’s sin. In the Babylon of our earthly life we sit by the streams, weeping as we remember Zion. For as the children of Israel in an alien land hung their harps upon the willows, so we too must forget the Alleluia song in the season of sadness, of penance, and bitterness of heart.”
Pope Alexander II decreed that the dismissal of the Alleluia be solemnly marked on the eve of Septuagesima Sunday (i.e., three Sundays before Ash Wednesday, 70 days before Easter) in the chanting of the Divine Office by omitting Alleluias in the sacred text.
This custom also inspired the creation of new hymns sung at Vespers (evening prayer) honoring the Alleluia. The best-known of these hymns is, “Alleluia, dulce carmen” (Farewell to the Alleluia before Lent), composed by an unknown author of the 10th century:
Alleluia, song of gladness, voice of joy that cannot die;
Alleluia is the anthem ever dear to choirs on high;
In the house of God abiding thus they sing eternally.
Alleluia thou resoundest, true Jerusalem and free;
Alleluia, joyful mother, all thy children sing with thee;
But by Babylon’s sad waters mourning exiles now are we.
Alleluia we deserve not here to chant forevermore;
Alleluia our transgressions make us for a while give o’er;
For the holy time is coming bidding us our sins deplore.
Therefore in our hymns we pray Thee, grant us, blessèd Trinity,
At the last to keep Thine Easter in our home beyond the sky;
There to Thee forever singing Allelúia joyfully.