What is this suspicious group of people doing outside church. They were seen there after Vespers this Sunday?
Well, let’s step back a few centuries. From the earliest days of Christianity the early Church took the Hebrew word Alleluia into her worship. It continues to be used by Christians around the world today as a word of praise and joy. The Hebrew word means “Praise the Lord!”
Alleluia is found in the liturgy of the Church and also in hymns and songs throughout the church.
There are solemn times in worship, and Lent is one of them. To help us enter and mark this solemn time of Lent the Western Church began the custom of discontinuing the use of Alleluia – this ancient exclamation of joy. Many Christians have found keeping Lent as a time of restraint is helpful.
In medieval times customs grew of ‘saying farewell’ to the Alleluias. Often extra Alleluias were sung or added to worship just before they would be discontinued – until they would break out joyfully again at Easter. Sometimes special ‘farewell’ hymns were sung. Perhaps the best known is Alleluia, dulce carmen from the tenth century and known in the English translation of the Church of England priest, John Mason Neale – Alleluia, Song of gladness. The hymn reminds us:
Alleluia cannot always
Be our song while here below;
Alleluia, our transgressions
Make us for a while forego;
For the solemn time is coming
When our tears for sin must flow.
Well, we didn’t sing that particular hymn on the Sunday before Lent at St Chrysostom’s. However, we did sing out our Alleluias before Lent. Mass ended with lots of Alleluias – we sang Isaac Watts short hymn From all that dwell below the skies with all its Alleluias.
Vespers ended with Alleluias being sung out. We took our prepared scroll of Alleluias and moved outside church and braved the dark and snowy weather to bury our Alleluias in ground next to church. There they will stay until at the Easter Vigil they are presented to the priest who will invite us to take up our Alleluias again as the season of joy and celebration, Eastertide, begins.
Therefore in our hymns we pray Thee,
Grant us, blessed Trinity,
At the last to keep Thine Easter
With Thy faithful saints on high;
There to Thee for ever singing