Farewell to Alleluia

David York, Minister of Music
Lutheran Church of the Master, Los Angeles 

Like many Lutheran congregations, we’ll conclude our worship on February 26, the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday, by singing an “Alleluia” text with our final hymn. A banner bearing the word “alleluia” will be carried out in the procession. The tradition holds that we won’t sing or say the word “alleluia” again until Easter Day, symbolizing voluntary restraint of praise during the 40-day penitential season of Lent. You’ll notice that we won’t sing an Alleluia Gospel Acclamation or include hymns or other music with the word “alleluia” during this time period.

The omission of alleluia during Lent goes back at least to the 5th century in the western church. The custom of actually bidding it farewell or even burying a scroll containing the word developed in the Middle Ages. In the 15th century, there is a written record of French choirboys carrying a small coffin containing the word “Alleluia” out the church in procession, burying it in the churchyard. A 12th century Bishop wrote “We part from Alleluia as from a beloved friend, whom we embrace many times and kiss before we leave him.”

The hymn “Alleluia, song of gladness”, which we’ll sing on Transfiguration Sunday, 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 their heavenly splendor:

 

Alleluia cannot always
Be our song while here below;
Alleluia our transgressions
Make us for awhile forego;
For the solemn time is coming
When our tears for sin must flow.

In our hymns we pray with longing:
Grant us, Blessed Trinity,
At the last to keep glad Easter
With the faithful saints on high;
There to you forever singing
Alleluia joyfully.

First published in the Lutheran Church of the Master, Los Angeles Newsletter, February 2017

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