The Church’s command to rejoice
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Although in this second week of the Easter season the austerity of the Lenten liturgy may seem like a distant memory, it was not too long ago that the Gospel proclamation was a toned-down “Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory.” The word “Alleluia,” which in every other liturgical season prepares the way of the Word of the Lord, lay buried in expectation of the glorious moment when it is proclaimed anew at the Easter Vigil.
As a child, I was always vaguely aware that we stopped saying “Alleluia” at Mass during Lent. But coming to Notre Dame, I was surprised to learn that some of my friends had grown up with the practice of never saying “Alleluia” during Lent. One friend had even been scolded by her mother for defiantly shouting the “A-word” at some point between Ash Wednesday and Easter. What started as an inside joke between us gradually, unintentionally turned into the sincere practice of abstaining from that word until Lent was over.
It was harder than you might think. For instance, some of the songs I enjoyed singing had to be shelved temporarily due to the forbidden word. And try explaining to someone who has just heard you say how excited you are to say the “A-word” on Easter that you are not looking forward to breaking a Lenten fast from cussing. It was a maddening, forty-days-long game of Taboo, and it seemed like it would never end.
But end it did, in the triple intonations of tens of thousands of priests in radiant churches, chapels, and basketball arenas around the world. The long fast from “Alleluia” is over, and our word of pure joy bursts forth from our mouths as Christ, the Eternal Word and our Eternal Joy, bursts forth from the empty tomb. The propers for the Masses of Easter Week are soaked in “Alleluias,” as if we must make up for all the time spent avoiding the word by saying it as many times as possible. Like a child devouring Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs from his basket on Easter Sunday morning, the Church feasts on “Alleluia,” savoring every syllable of the sweet sound of our salvation.
But why? Why this word above any other word? The word “Alleluia” is a transliteration of a Hebrew phrase meaning “Praise the Lord” that appears many times in the Bible. Throughout the history of Biblical translation, this word has frequently not been translated as “Praise the Lord” or any equivalent in another language. It is often simply rendered as “Alleluia” or “Hallelujah,” which is likely done to capture the joyful sound of the word as it was originally proclaimed. This gives us an opportunity to understand its meaning in a way that goes beyond linguistic study. We do not need a Hebrew-to-English dictionary to know that this word is a command to praise God and rejoice in Him. The liturgy is our teacher, and it writes this word on our hearts at every Mass. We mourn the absence of “Alleluia” during Lent, but rejoice ever more strongly when it returns to us at Easter.
And yet, despite the Church’s rejoicing, despite the initial elation my friends and I felt upon being liberated from the ban on the “A-word”, it can be hard to live out the joy of the Resurrection as the Easter season continues. School, work, and our relationships pull on us with their competing demands, the toil of daily life wears away at our hearts, and the empty promises of sin and the devil that we so forcefully rejected at Easter can creep back into our minds. How can we combat this fatigue and rejoice in the victory won for us by Christ in His Resurrection? How do we continue to praise the Lord as our burdens weigh heavier? St Augustine suggests that one way to do so is to fervently proclaim that beautiful word that announces our salvation:
“How can all be well with people who are crying out with me: Deliver us from evil? And yet, brothers, while we are still in the midst of this evil, let us sing Alleluia to the good God who delivers us from evil. Even here amidst trials and temptations let us, let all men, sing Alleluia. God is faithful, says holy Scripture, and He will not allow you to be tried beyond your strength. So let us sing Alleluia, even here on earth.”
He has risen indeed! Alleluia!
Elizabeth Zahorick is a senior majoring in mechanical engineering. She enjoys studying St. Thomas Aquinas and praying for the intercession of St. Thomas Aquinas to help her understand St. Thomas Aquinas. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.