Burying the Alleluia

As many of you know, I started my first parish job at the ripe old age of 23, and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.  Fortunately, my predecessor, Sr. Blanche Twigg, had run a tight ship.  It was just my job to keep it floating.   

Sr. Blanche had many gifts that I did not have, and one was that she really knew how to work with children.  She understood that they are both literal and mystical.  I discovered this about Sr. Blanche as my first Lent in the parish approached. 

About a week before Ash Wednesday, my co-worker in the Religious Education office disappeared into the storage room, rummaged around for a bit, and emerged with an old banner that read “A-L-L-E-L-U-I-A!”  She then informed me that it was almost time to bury it.

Apparently every year, Sr. Blanche would gather the children together and talk to them about Lent.  Then she would fold up the big banner and symbolically bury it.  “ALLELUIA” went dark until Easter, when it was once again allowed to see the light of day.

When I heard about this, I couldn’t decide if it was a stroke of pedagogical genius or a hopelessly depressing gesture.  Saying good-bye to “ALLELUIA” was deeply symbolic but also really sad!

I thought about Sr. Blanche’s banner as I sat in church on Divine Mercy Sunday.  A visiting priest, whose own father is dying in Africa, dug deep and gave of himself and filled the church with Easter laughter.  Interwoven throughout genuine messages of faith, hope and love was humor that brought the room to life and charged it with Christian joy. 

Easter laughter is a long, and some might say strange, tradition of the Church.  There was a time when the liturgy actually called for a good joke during the Easter homily!  Laughter expresses joy, even our joy that He is Risen.   Even in church, even at Mass!  Laughter connects us with others who share our joy and expresses the end of our waiting, the consummation of our longing, the last of our days without alleluias.

We have dug up the “ALLELUIA.”  He is risen, indeed! 

A reflection about Easter laughter by Joseph Ratzinger can be found here.