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The Burial of the Alleluia

The Burial of the Alleluia is an ancient custom observed each year at St. John Cantius Church. The Sunday before Ash Wednesday, we bid this sacred word a fond farewell for the duration of Lent.

The Burial of the Alleluia will occur at the end of both the 9:00 am and 11:00 am Masses on Sunday, February 11, 2024.

The Alleluia will only emerge again at the Easter Vigil after the 40 days of Lent, when we hear the Church proclaim the Resurrection of Our Lord. The deacon approaches the Celebrant with the words, “I announce to you a great joy: it is the Alleluia.” And the priest sings it in three different keys before the gospel of the Holy Saturday Mass, the choir repeats it jubilantly, and we all rejoice again: Alleluia!

At the end of Mass, a placard with the ‘Alleluia’ in ornate, gold letters is taken from the Sanctuary and processed to Mary’s Altar where it is “buried”—placed under the altar cloth.


In the language of prayer, some words need no translation. “Amen” is one. The “Kyrie eleison” is another. Still, another is the “Agnus Dei.”

Alleluia is also a word familiar to all Christendom, whether the language of the local liturgy is Latin or Greek, Spanish or Ukrainian, Polish or Vietnamese. It is the Latinized form of Hebrew’s Hallelujah (i.e., “Praise the Lord”). In the West, we associate Alleluia with the joy of the Resurrection and Easter. And so, the Church buries the Alleluia while the rest of us put on ashes and sackcloths to demonstrate our penance.

Pope Alexander II decreed that the dismissal of the Alleluia be solemnly marked on the eve of Septuagesima Sunday (i.e., three Sundays before Ash Wednesday) in the chanting of the Divine Office by inserting Alleluias in the sacred text. This custom also inspired the creation of new hymns sung at Vespers honoring the Alleluia. The best-known of these hymns is Alleluia, dulce carmen (i.e., “Alleluia, Song of Gladness”), composed by an unknown author of the tenth century:

Alleluia, song of gladness, voice of joy that cannot die;

Alleluia is the anthem ever dear to choirs on high;

In the house of God abiding thus they sing eternally.

Alleluia thou resoundest, true Jerusalem and free;

Alleluia, joyful mother, all thy children sing with thee;

But by Babylon’s sad waters mourning exiles now are we.

Alleluia we deserve not here to chant forevermore;

Alleluia our transgressions make us for a while give o’er;

For the holy time is coming bidding us our sins deplore.

Therefore in our hymns we pray Thee, grant us, blessèd Trinity,

At the last to keep Thine Easter in our home beyond the sky;

There to Thee forever singing Alleluia joyfully.

This burial of the Alleluia was nicknamed the deposition (i.e., “the giving on deposit”). Curiously enough, gravestones in Catholic cemeteries traditionally had the inscription Depositus, or simply “D,” to indicate a Christian’s burial. When this term indicates the burial of the Alleluia or of the faithful departed, the Christian belief in resurrection is clear. As we bury those who have been “marked with the sign of faith,” (Roman Canon), and as we enter into the fasting of Lent, we do not silence our tongues because of despair or permanent loss. Rather, we do so with confidence that what has been deposited into the earth—our dead, our Alleluia—will rise again.


Attending Mass at SJC
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