A few weeks ago I read this blog post from the wonderful ‘Clerk of Oxford’: https://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.com/2014/02/ceasing-from-voice-of-joy-and-gladness.html . She writes:
nine weeks before Easter, is traditionally Septuagesima Sunday, the beginning of a period of preparation for Lent. One of its most distinctive features was the custom of ceasing to sing ‘Alleluia’ at mass, a practice referred to in medieval England as ‘locking the Alleluia’. The word was symbolically locked away, to be unlocked again amid the celebration of Easter – then the word was imagined to be released from its captivity, just as Christ would break out of the tomb and human beings would be liberated from captivity to their sins.
The tenth-century English homilist Ælfric wrote a sermon for Septuagesima in which he discusses the reason for this custom, the significance of observing a period of seventy days, and the parallel with the captivity of the Israelites in Babylon. During that period, he says, the Israelites ‘ceased their song of joy and gladness’, and so the church in emulation ceases to sing ‘Alleluia’.
Nowadays we simply refrain from singing and saying Alleluia in the liturgy during Lent. I was looking for an all age activity to do in our service on the Sunday before Lent and I decided that burying the alleluia would be a good thing to try.
I started by playing the song ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’ by Boney M referring to Psalm 137 which is a psalm of lament written during the exile in Babylon. 70 % of the Psalms in the bible are psalms of lament – interesting that we don’t have that percentage of lament hymns today in our hymn books! But we do have the opportunity in Lent to acknowledge that sometimes we struggle to sing alleluia.
I explained that we refrain from saying alleluia to help us keep a solemn Lent, and in solidarity with all those who can’t sing ‘alleluia’, remembering the words of the Psalm: “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” In Lent we make a voluntary exile, pray for renewal and look forward to the great celebration of the resurrection at Easter.
We spent some time decorating the letters of the word Alleluia by adding Easter themed stickers and writing in the letters in coloured pens our names and the names of our loved ones who have died as a reminder that we are all resurrected with Christ.
During the prayers, each letter was pegged onto a line at each bidding so that the word alleluia (which means ‘praise the Lord’) was on display for the rest of the service.
Then at the end of the service after a rousing version of The Strife is O’er – which has a great alleluia chorus – we put the word alleluia into a box along with some party poppers and Mini Eggs, the box was then placed beneath the high altar. It will be brought out at the Easter Vigil service in time for the first singing of the Gloria and the word Alleluia will be hung up again.
After the box was ‘buried’ we shared in this responsory (found at this website here).
When Jesus came down from the mount of Transfiguration, he began to tell his disciples that he would be betrayed and crucified.
SOMETIMES WE LOSE OUR ALLELUIA.
Jesus did not enter into glory before he stretched out his arms on the hardwood of the cross.
SOMETIMES WE LOSE OUR ALLELUIA.
Jesus told his disciples, “If you want to become my followers, deny yourselves and take up your cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 adapted)
SOMETIMES WE MUST LET GO OF OUR ALLELUIA.
At Easter we will again celebrate the Resurrection and sing “Christ is risen.”
IN GOD’S TIME, WE WILL FIND OUR ALLELUIA!
For the days of Lent, we discontinue singing and saying, “Alleluia.”
SOMETIMES WE LET GO OF OUR ALLELUIA.
This was a very moving thing to do, and to have a physical action of putting the word alleluia to one side was powerful. One person said that they had never had it explained to them why we don’t sing alleluia in Lent. Many of the elderly ladies of the congregation enjoyed it, appreciated being able to remember loved ones and even one of them apologised after the service for giggling too much! It was an all age activity that worked well and I will do it every year now.