Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Every year beginning Ash Wednesday and through the season of Lent, we worship without using the word “alleluia” in our services. The following information helps to explain the reason this is done. According to “Frequently Asked Questions: Worship Formation & Liturgical Resources” from the section located on the ELCA Website:
Based on the Hebrew word, hallelu yah, meaning “Praise the Lord,” alleluia has been a word of great praise to God in the life of the church and was prominent in early Christian liturgies.
Because of the penitential character of the season of Lent in the Western church, singing or saying the word “alleluia” has historically been suspended during Lent’s forty days. This period of individual and congregational reflection on the quality of our baptismal faith and life suggests that the joyful nature of alleluia is more appropriately reserved for our Easter celebrations when it is given full and jubilant voice.
The omission of alleluia during Lent goes back at least to the fifth century in the western church. The custom of actually bidding it farewell, however, developed in the Middle Ages. The hymn “Alleluia, song of gladness” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship #318) contains a translation of an 11th century Latin text that compares an alleluia-less Lent to the exile of the Israelites in Babylon. The text then anticipates the joy of Easter when glad alleluias will return in all their heavenly splendor.
Along with a sung farewell to alleluia, some congregations have embraced the practice of physically “burying” the alleluia. A banner or other visual presentation of the alleluia is crafted and then “buried”. This ritual practice can be especially delightful and meaningful for children.
When do we bury the alleluia? Alleluia is appropriately bid farewell on the Sunday preceding Ash Wednesday (the Transfiguration of Our Lord, also called the last Sunday after the Epiphany in the Lutheran liturgical calendar). This is the last Sunday when alleluia will be used until the Vigil of Easter, or Easter Sunday for those congregations not holding a Vigil. Revised January 2013 Copyright © 2013 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. www.elca.org/worshipfaq
This month, as we continue through the season of Lent and Holy Week ‘alleluia-less’ I pray that we can all continue with courage and faith the remainder of these 40 days to penitently reflect upon our baptismal faith and life, looking forward with hope and joy for Easter Sunday, April 21st, when we gather to celebrate the risen Christ and our shouts of “alleluia” will reverberate throughout the sanctuary!
Blessings, Pr. Dee