I have always marveled at how the Alleluias simply go away during Lent. On Ash Wednesday, they vanish quietly from their usual place before the Gospel and don’t emerge again until Easter. Going to Mass the first Sunday of Lent, I can’t help but scan the order of worship in hopes that one snuck by unnoticed by the music minister. A renegade Alleluia tucked into an otherwise appropriately drab and dreary Lenten song. It’s never happened. Where do they go? I imagine them crouched in a dark confessional for the 40 days, stifling their excitement and enthusiasm in deference to the solemnity of the season. They are probably wrapped in dark gray wool blankets so their natural light doesn’t shine through and accidentally flood the church with bright yellow and pink (the true color of all Alleluias, in case you hadn’t known.) More than giving up meat on Friday—not so difficult for this vegetarian—I have always had a difficult time giving up Alleluias for Lent. In fact, I don’t know that I have ever made it through the entire song of “Jesus Christ has Risen Today” on Easter morning without getting choked up on the Alleluias that follows each line, so happy am I to get them back.
This year is going to be different, though. This year, you see, I have an Alleluia-ing two-year-old little boy at home who is no more likely to give up the word for Lent than he is to start saying, ‘Yes Mama,’ when I ask him to clean up his blocks.
I’m not sure exactly when Liam decided to make Alleluia a part of his vocabulary. Overall, he’s not a toddler quick to pick up new words. Generally, his motto for talking has been: “Why talk when you can run around and jump off the couch?” Neither my husband nor I use Alleluia around the house-- despite my attachment to the word, I have rarely said it or sung it outside of church.
Liam is another story. He sprinkles Alleluias like sugar over the events in his day. He uses the word correctly, and in context. True to church tradition, Liam avoids simply saying the word in a normal voice, but rather yells it, sings it or chants it. He can’t say the ‘L’ sound, so his version is actually ‘A-yay-yoo-ya.” Vatican II, after all, proclaimed the vernacular, or native tongue, holds precedence. Liam always speaks in his native tongue.
My guess as to how he picked up the word has to do with the many Sundays he has spent sitting on my lap in church. From little on, Liam has always been a baby on the move, and keeping him contained and still through the first reading, Psalm response and second reading has been an exercise in upper arm strength and a testament to the staying power of Cheerios. By the time the congregation stands for the Gospel Acclamation, Liam is ready to dance. Or run away. The upbeat Alleluias favored by our church have always been a perfect compromise. Since Liam was about 5 months old, I’ve held him facing the altar, swaying to the music. I’ve pumped his chubby legs in rhythm to the beat, and have blessed his head, mouth and heart with the three crosses when we’re finished with the Acclamation. I think he learned that Alleluia must be one exciting word if it can bring so much action to a morning of sitting around.
Liam’s Alleluias outside of church spout out spontaneously. Going to Grandma and Grandpa’s often warrants Alleluia-singing for several blocks beforehand. Once, after a particularly difficult evening, Liam’s restlessness was finally assuaged by the consumption of a large piece of bundt cake. This brought on an Alleluia that had some similarity to a wolf howl. His first poop on the potty was followed by a chorus of Alleluias emitted during a celebratory slide down the stairs.
If the standing Alleluia of the Gospel Acclamation calls us to pay special attention to the words of Jesus, Liam’s Alleluias during the day make me focus on God’s presence in day-to-day life. Liam’s Alleluias remind me that snow is a miracle. That eating noodles should be a joyful occasion. That there’s something strange and beautiful about squirrels and bath bubbles and drinking from a straw.
And as Lent begins and the Alleluias in church fade away, my Alleluia-ing boy will still be going strong. Reminding me that while a 40-day desert stay is one way of finding God, another way is to look deeper into the ordinary and pull out joy. Alleluia.