Q.28 What is the reason we avoid saying Alleluia during Lent?

Sarah, Singapore

  The season of lent is marked by two distinct liturgical omissions, namely of the hymn known as ‘Gloria’ (Glory to God in the highest) and of the use of ‘Alleluia’, during the entire forty days of Lent with a few small exceptions. Let us explore the reasons behind these omissions. Firstly, the ‘Gloria’ reminds us of the hymn of the angels at the birth of Christ, celebrating the coming of the Messiah. During the season of Lent, the Church returns in spirit to a time of waiting for the Messiah to come and save them, as at the time of exile of the people of Israel. Unlike the Advent season where we expect the birth of Christ from the womb of Mary, Christians await the second ‘birth’ of Christ from the womb of sepulchre during the season of Lent. Thus the ‘Gloria’ which is omitted during Lent is sung only at Easter, the second ‘birth’ of Christ.

Secondly, the Church joins Moses and the Israelites, in the same spirit of exile as they wander through the desert for forty years. The faithful of the Church join together in saying, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Ps 137:4), as being an exile was a time of agony and purification. The Hebrew expression ‘alleluia’ means ‘praise the Lord’ and thus it is rightly omitted during Lent.

The focus of the season of Lent is mourning over our sins which prevent us from an authentic relationship with God. We use prayer, fasting and almsgiving as a penitential means to purify us and re-establish the relation with God and each other, thus enabling us to break out in great rejoicing at Easter. For it is not only Christ’s resurrection that we celebrate at Easter, but our own rebirth in the spirit. The omission of ‘alleluia’ from the liturgy shows the penitential nature of the season, as ‘alleluia’ is an expression joy. Singing ‘alleluia’ thus becomes a sweet and joyful experience at Easter, by abstaining from its use during the season of Lent.

It is also noteworthy that omitting ‘alleluia’ during Lent is a custom prevalent mostly in the Western liturgical tradition (Latin Church). In many of the Eastern liturgical traditions, ‘alleluia’ is used in the daily liturgical celebrations during Lent. Even in the Western liturgical tradition, ‘alleluia’ was used during Lent for the first 600 years. Writings of St. Augustine mentions of singing ‘alleluia’ all through the season of Lent. In the Latin Church, ‘alleluia’ came to have a particular association with the celebration of Easter, which is the most important feast of the Church year. This association of ‘alleluia’ with Easter gradually paved the way for the custom of purposefully omitting it from the liturgy during Lent, a kind of verbal fasting. Such a verbal fast creates a sense of anticipation and even greater joy when the familiar word of praise (alleluia) returns.

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