It’s an old Church practice that anticipates the solemnity of Lent.
“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 the old form of the Mass, it ceased this past Saturday, the eve of “Septuagesima” Sunday, or the Ninth Sunday before Easter. In the old calendar, the season of Septuagesima is a “pre-Lent” which prepares us spiritually for the forty days that begin on Ash Wednesday (of course, you can observe Septuagesima if you follow the new calendar, too!).
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.
Lent is only two short weeks away, but if you don’t yet have a plan, Good Catholic’s got you covered. Join Fr. Jeffrey Kirby for our popular Lenten series, A Holy Lent, your daily, all-in-one plan for each day of this holy season. Sign up here!