Burying the Alleluias

alleluia11Lent begins in less than a week. Which means you’d better get all your “alleluias” in during the next several days before the Church’s moratorium kicks in. If you get caught saying “alleluia” during Lent the Liturgy Police will “disappear” you until Easter. At least that’s what I’ve heard.

I remember one year on the Second Sunday in Lent a sweet, older parishioner of mine mistakenly said “alleluia” during the Fraction Anthem. You know, the part when the priest breaks the bread and says “(Alleluia) Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” And the response is “Therefore let us keep the feast. (Alleluia). The “Alleluia” is omitted during Lent. But it slipped out of her lips and we didn’t see her again until the Easter egg hunt following the 10:00 am service. 

Okay, I made that up but you don’t want to take any chances with this stuff. There’s a fine line between a liturgical faux pas (saying “And also with you” during Rite I, for instance, instead of “And with thy spirit”) and a punishable offense like singing “Alleluia, sing to Jesus” on Good Friday. Don’t blame me, I didn’t make the rules. Jesus did. Or maybe the rubric writers of the Book of Common Prayer who have at least as much power.

The only time you can legally say the banned word during Lent is at a funeral. Since funerals are “Easter liturgies” they trump the season. When I was first ordained and serving a church in Baltimore, I did a funeral at an Episcopal church in Brooklyn. The brother of my best friend from high school killed himself by jumping off a building in Manhattan. Needless to say it was a very emotional time for all involved. It was the first time I did a service at another church — the family had arranged this — so I was very respectful in my dealings with the church’s rector. He wasn’t going to be there but I wanted to make sure things went as smoothly as possible. It happened to be Lent.

He wasn’t particularly helpful or pastoral but he did give me one directive: “Since it’s Lent, make sure you don’t say ‘Alleluia’ during the service.” Which is difficult since the word is part of the burial rite’s Commendation (“Even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia). The very last word of my sermon was also “Alleluia.” In an admittedly passive aggressive move, I left the manuscript in the pulpit turned to the last page so that word would greet him on Sunday morning.

Some things transcend the pettiness of liturgical minutia. Like the Resurrection. So go ahead and bury your alleluias this Lent. But remember it’s all within the context of Christ’s rising again in great glory. The power of which is precisely why we proclaim “Alleluia” in the first place.



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