It is sometimes said that absence makes the heart grow fonder. When it comes to music, I have no doubt that this is true for me. I do love to sing, and that is why I love to help when asked to be a cantor at Mass. A favorite refrain of mine is:
“No storm can shake my inmost calm,/ While to that rock I´m clinging./ Since love is lord of heaven and earth/ How can I keep from singing?”
And I particularly love to sing the alleluia. What’s so special about the alleluia? Well, it comes from Hebrew and it means “praise God.” It is the term of praise the choirs of angels use as they worship around the throne of God in heaven (Rv 19:1-6).
It is, therefore, a term of great joy, and our use of the alleluia during Mass is a way of participating in the angels’ worship. It is also a reminder that the kingdom of heaven is already established on earth, in the form of the church, and that our participation in Mass is a participation in heaven.
Why then don’t we sing alleluia during Lent? The days of Lent are days of penance and recollection of human weakness but also days of anticipation, and so we long for the day when the kingdom is fully realized.
We acknowledge that on our journey to the fullness of the kingdom of heaven we fall short. We choose to be deprived of certain things during the days of Lent to create a longing for the realization of all that Christ’s life, death and resurrection promises.
We take time to remember that we do indeed need our Lord. We pray for forgiveness of the times when we do not live up to our call to missionary discipleship. We fast to remember that nothing in our lives can fulfill us as much as our relationship with God. We give alms and share what we have been given with those who have less because we have come to know God’s generosity to us.
Our Lenten music and readings remind us that like the chosen people, we need time in the desert before entering the promised land. We remember that the price of our sins is the cross — a price that only Jesus, love incarnate, can pay.
When I was a young altar boy, I loved to ring the bells at Mass. I remember when, as a child, we replaced those joyful sounding bells with a wooden clapper instead. This long period without the joyful sounding bells and alleluias made the ringing of the bells during the Easter Vigil singing of the Gloria more amazing.
Absence did make my heart grow fonder.
So, gratefully this time of penance is only 40 days and not 40 years! We celebrate more because our Lenten fasts have helped us to appreciate our longing for the one who can fill our restless hearts. We sing our many alleluias because Love incarnate has won and he is Lord of heaven and earth.
And so, for the following 50 days we celebrate that victory with the longer Easter season with its many alleluias.
I don’t know about you but I am excited about once again being able to join the angels singing. I hope that our prayer, fasting and almsgiving has strengthened our hearts enough that we can’t keep from singing either! So, let’s respond to the Easter good news — Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Dudley is assistant director for certification of ecclesial ministry for the Secretariat of Catholic Education at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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