Burying the Alleluias

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Our Alleluia Casket

On Sunday at St. John’s Church (one of our two points) the Sunday School “buried” the alleluias.

The original plan had been to do this outside, but with -15° temperatures, frozen ground, and no snow, it had to be done inside.

The “Burying of the Alleluias” is an odd but lovely liturgical practice with medieval roots, though the practice of putting a stop to the word alleluia during penitential seasons likely goes back further.

The idea is that our halting the singing or saying of the word alleluia in church for the penitential seasons is marked by a simple ceremony of hiding or burying a depiction of the word itself, thus burying the word and restraining ourselves just a little bit until we can look into the empty tomb on Easter morning and shout it with unrestrained joy.

I was a week late doing this–properly the burying of the Alleluias should be done on Quinquagesima, the week prior to Lent 1, but due to a large number of kids being away, we opted for a Lent 1 burial.

I prepped them two weeks earlier by giving a children’s talk on the upcoming season of Lent, and by having them colour some legal-sized sheets with the word “Alleluia” on them, but left what we would do with them a surprise.

On Sunday (Lent 1) I brought in a wooden chest that would serve as our casket and had some Lenten-purple cloth to line the inside.

At the Children’s time I was delighted when I asked one of the boys to explain to his brother, who had been absent the week before, what they had coloured. He replied, “but, I am not allowed to say the a-word.” Clearly these kids are listening.

One thing that I was not able to track down was any kind of standardized liturgy for burying the alleluias, I suspect because there isn’t one. It is not a common practice, and those that do seem to come up with something appropriate on their own.

I did manage to find a few things that I compiled into a burial liturgy that looked like this (combined with Children’s time):

Children’s Talk

What does alleluia mean?
What is Lent?
Why do you think we stop saying the Alleluia during Lent?

Two verses of Alleluia Sing to Jesus are sung by all
Children process (if possible) to burial place

Priest: We are now entering into the season of Lent. Lent is a time when we remember that  Jesus gave up his life for us. We give things up in our lives sometimes, so that we can be like Jesus and offer a small sacrifice of our own.

Here in our church family, we give up saying the word Alleluia—which means, “God be praised”—so that on Easter Morning, when we can see that Jesus rose from the dead, we are able to say Alleluia (God be praised) with our whole heart.

For now, we bury these Alleluias as a symbol that on Easter morning our joy will rise with Jesus, when he rises from the dead.

Children place their alleluias in the casket, leaving it open.

Priest:  Alleluia, May the good angel of the Lord accompany you,  and give you a good                            journey, that you may come back to us in joy, Alleluia.

May Alleluia, that sacred and joyful word, be heard from the lips of all people.

May this word, which comes from the mouth of angels, come from our lips as well on Easter morning.

And may the joy that you express yield fruit in our hearts by helping us to grow in love.

Priest: Let us pray.

Lord God, our creator, as we bury this sign of praise and
thanksgiving, help us to give up all those things that stand between
us and your love and to walk with Jesus on the road that leads closer
to you.  We give up our Alleluia for 40 days so that, when we come to
Easter, we may with joy proclaim you our Savior in our hearts and with
our voices.  Amen

This is just one, obviously more kid-friendly, way of conducting the Burial of the Alleluias; I took most of my cues from Modern Medievalism, and modified some of what they provide. I would be very keen to see more formal versions.

On Easter morning we will unearth these Alleluias and they will adorn the rood screen during our family service, and later festoon the walls of the Sunday school room.

What I liked about it in terms of a teaching lesson for children was that it reinforced both that Lent is a time when we put things away, when we have to exercise some self-restraint, but also a time when we look forward to when we can bring these things back and enjoy them once more.

It helps to reinforce that the feast and the fast do not stand alone; each depends on the other, and each is an equal part of our penitence, and our joy.

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