Liturgy by TLW



Burying the Alleluia

by The Rev. Thomas L. Weitzel
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Below are some articles relating to the tradition of burying the Alleluia just before Lent begins. They are most interesting.

At the end of the service for the Transfiguration of Our Lord, be sure to sing the wonderful song "Alleluia. Song of Gladness," which tells the story of why we remove the Alleluia from our Lenten praises. In fact, schedule a number of Alleluia hymns to be sung on this festival marking the end of the Epiphany season.

The custom of burying the alleluia as described below is more about ritual play than about Sunday ritual per se, although it certainly is something that could be done with the children at the very end of the liturgy for Transfiguration. When I have done this in the past, I have scheduled the burial as part of the Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday or Pre-Lent Celebration held before Ash Wednesday. A banner or parament with the word Alleluia on it is employed, along with a makeshift casket made out of cardboard or wood or just any old box, as talent is available in your congregation. At the event, pass around one or two Alleluia hymns, perhaps "All Creatures of Our God and King" and/or "Alleluia, Song of Gladness," to be sung by all. Then invite the children to come forward to help with the burial. Explain the tradition of burying the Alleluia for the season of Lent, and then enlist the children in folding the banner or parament and laying it in the "casket."  Be sure to invite the kids to wave goodbye and pretend to mourn with "boo-hoos" and wiping of "tears."  Fun is the operative word. Then have them all carry the casket in procession to a place of repose for the Alleluia until the Easter Resurrection.

Here are the articles that help to inform about this tradition.


from Handbook of Christian Feasts & Customs

by Francis X. Weiser, Harcourt 1958

The depositio (discontinuance) of the Alleluia on the eve of Septuagesima [which formerly initiated three weeks of "pre-Lent" at the end of the Epiphany Season] assumed in medieval times a solemn and emotional note of saying farewell to the beloved song. Despite the fact that Pope Alexander II had ordered a very simple and somber way of "deposing" the Alleluia, a variety of farewell customs prevailed in many countries up to the sixteenth century. They were inspired by the sentiment that Bishop William Duranti (1296) voiced in his commentaries on the Divine Office: "We part from the Alleluia as from a beloved friend, whom we embrace many times and kiss on the mouth, head and hand, before we leave him."

The liturgical office on the eve of Septuagesima was performed in many churches with special solemnity, and alleluias were freely inserted in the sacred text, even to the number of twenty-eight final alleluias in the church of Auxerre in France. This custom also inspired some tender poems that were sung or recited during Vespers in honor of the sacred word. The best known of these hymns is, Alleluia, dulce carmen ("Alleluia, Song of Gladness"), composed by an unknown author of the tenth century. It was translated into English by John Mason Neale (1866) and may be found in the official hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church.

In some French churches the custom developed in ancient times of allowing the congregation to take part in the celebration of a quasi-liturgical farewell ceremony. The clergy abstained from any role in this popular service. Choirboys officiated in their stead at what was called "Burial of the Alleluia" performed the Saturday afternoon before Septuagesima Sunday. We find a description of it in the fifteenth-century statute book of the church of Toul:

"On Saturday before Septuagesima Sunday all choir boys gather in the sacristy during the prayer of the None, to prepare for the burial of the Alleluia. After the last Benedicamus [i.e., at the end of the service] they march in procession, with crosses, tapers, holy water and censers; and they carry a coffin, as in a funeral. Thus they proceed through the aisle, moaning and mourning, until they reach the cloister. There they bury the coffin; they sprinkle it with holy water and incense it; whereupon they return to the sacristy by the same way."

In Paris, a straw figure bearing in golden letters the inscription "Alleluia" was carried out of the choir at the end of the service and burned in the church yard.

With the exception of these quaint aberrations, however, the farewell to alleluia in most countries was an appropriate addition to the official ceremonies of the liturgy. The special texts (hymns, responsories, antiphons) used on that occasion were taken mostly from Holy Scripture, and are filled with pious sentiments of devotion....

Thus the Alleluia is sung for the last time and not heard again until it suddenly bursts into glory during the Mass of the Easter Vigil when the celebrant intones this sacred word after the Epistle, repeating it three times, as a jubilant herald of the Resurrection of Christ.


Bishop William Duranti (1296)
quoted in The Church's Year of Grace

by Pius Parsch, Collegeville 1953

We desist from saying Alleluia, the song chanted by angels, because we have been excluded from the company of the angels on account of Adam's sin. In the Babylon of our earthly life we sit by the streams, weeping as we remember Sion. For as the children of Israel in an alien land hung their harps upon the willows, so we too must forget the Alleluia song in the season of sadness, of penance, and bitterness of heart.