Why do we bury the alleluia?

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The omission of alleluia during Lent goes back at least to the fifth century in the western church. 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. We do not use it at church. We do not use it at home. 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 it farewell developed in the Middle Ages in Babylon. Many churches embrace the practice of physically "burying" the alleluia. This ritual practice is 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). 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. The burial of the alleluia could be the culminating activity at a Shrove Tuesday celebration just before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.


How do we bury the alleluia?


An alleluia made from paper, fabric, metal, wood, or some other natural material may be carried in procession or might lead a parade accompanied by instruments and singing. Burial could take place in the ground. If the alleluia is created out of paper or fabric, it can be rolled. A sturdy decorated cardboard mailing tube wrapped in protective plastic makes a fine container for outdoor burial. A Christian education class might be invited to construct an alleluia using a long sheet of good quality paper. Pairs of students could be responsible for designing and creating each of the word's eight letters.


How do we make an alleluia to bury at home?


You may help each child create an alleluia banner for their home by printing out the letters here. Glue each letter on another piece of paper and cut a slit in each one to thread ribbon through. Children fold and wrap the banner in purple tissue paper to take home and display on Easter morning. See example photo above. Another way to help symbolize this tradition for younger children is to give them a plastic egg with alleluia written on a slip paper inside and ask families to include this special egg during their annual hunt along with candy filled eggs.


When and how do we "resurrect" the alleluia?


We resurrect the alleluia at the Vigil of Easter or on Easter Sunday. Hearty congregational singing of multiple alleluias proclaims the resurrection, unleashing pure Easter joy! The Lenten fast has now ended. If the congregation buried the alleluia during a Mardi Gras celebration, the congregation's Easter breakfast (if it holds one) might provide the best parallel venue for resurrecting it. Several youth could be enlisted to carry the resurrected alleluia among the breakfasters. Note: If the alleluia was physically buried in the ground, provision should be made to have the burial container unearthed a day or two in advance so that the alleluia itself can be easily removed when needed.