“Alleluia” is the Church’s great song of joy and praise, used throughout most of the liturgical year.
However, the solemnity of the coming Lenten season brings a more somber, reflective atmosphere to her liturgies, which will culminate in the sorrowful mysteries of Our Lord’s Passion and Death.
The “burial of the Alleluia” refers to the ceremony surrounding the official liturgical end of the use of this word until the Easter Vigil, when it will be joyfully sung again in celebration of Our Lord’s Resurrection.
In the current calendar, the Alleluia goes silent after Shrove Tuesday. In former times, it ceased this coming Saturday, the eve of “Septuagesima” Sunday, or the Ninth Sunday before Easter. In those days, the season of Septuagesima was a “pre-Lent” which prepared us spiritually for the forty days that begin on Ash Wednesday.
The ceremonial dismissal of the Alleluia from the liturgy began as a simple ritual in the time of Pope Alexander II in the 11th century. However, different regions developed their own, often spectacular, variations.
These customs often included the physical removal of the “Alleluia” from the church: the word being written on a plaque or board, deposited in a box, carried in procession, and removed from view. In France, where these customs seem to have been especially splendid, the ceremony sometimes included placing the Alleluia in a coffin, burying it, and even burning a straw “Alleluia” outside the church!
Many parishes still continue some version of this tradition, either on the eve of Septuagesima or on a day leading up to Ash Wednesday. Even if a physical removal of the Alleluia isn’t included, we all participate in the silence that encourages us to gradually gather our thoughts and prepare ourselves to embark on the spiritual journey of Lent.
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