Why Don't Roman Catholics Sing the Alleluia During Lent?

A Form of Penance and Expectation

Alleluia memorial window between nave and narthex.
Stephen B Calvert Clariosophic/Wikimedia Commons

Throughout the liturgical year, the Catholic Church makes certain changes to the Mass to reflect the different liturgical seasons. Next to the change in the color of the priest's vestments, the absence of the Alleluia during Lent is probably the most obvious (with the absence of the Gloria during Lent and Advent a close second). Why don't Roman Catholics sing the Alleluia during Lent?

The Meaning of the Alleluia

The Alleluia comes to us from Hebrew, and it means "praise Yahweh." Traditionally, it has been seen as the chief term of praise of the choirs of angels, as they worship around the throne of God in Heaven.

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.

Our Lenten Exile

During Lent, however, our focus is on the Kingdom coming, not on the Kingdom already having come. The readings in the Masses for Lent and in the Liturgy of the Hours (the official daily prayer of the Catholic Church) focus heavily on the spiritual journey of Old Testament Israel toward the coming of Christ, and the salvation of mankind in His death on Good Friday and His Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

We Christians today are on a spiritual journey as well, toward the Second Coming of Christ and our future life in Heaven. In order to emphasize the penitential nature of that journey, the Catholic Church, during Lent, removes the Alleluia from the Mass.

We no longer sing with the choirs of angels; instead, we acknowledge our sins and practice repentance so that one day we may again have the privilege of worshiping God as the angels do.

The Return of the Alleluia at Easter

That day comes triumphally on Easter Sunday—or, rather, at the Easter Vigil, on Holy Saturday night, when the priest chants a triple Alleluia before he reads the Gospel, and all of the faithful present responds with a triple Alleluia.

The Lord is risen; the Kingdom has come; our joy is complete; and, in concert with the angels and saints, we greet the risen Lord with shouts of "Alleluia!"

What Should Replace the Alleluia During Lent?

When the Church omits the Alleluia before the Gospel during Lent, we usually still sing something else to introduce the Gospel reading. I suspect most Catholics probably think that they know what the Catholic Church offers as a replacement for the Alleluia: It's "Glory and Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ," right? You might be surprised to learn that this acclamation, which is widely used during Lent in the United States, is not the only option (or even necessarily the preferred one) in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), the Church document that instructs priests on how to say Mass.

There Are Many Options

Instead, Chapter II, Section II, Part B, Paragraph 62b of the GIRM states:

During Lent, in place of the  Alleluia, the verse before the Gospel is sung, as indicated in the Lectionary. It is also permissible to sing another psalm or tract, as found in the  Graduale.

The Graduale Romanum is the official liturgical book that contains all of the chants that are proper (that is, the chants that are prescribed) for each Mass throughout the year—for Sundays, weekdays, and feast days.

So, in fact, the GIRM indicates that the only thing that is sung before the Gospel is the prescribed verse (which can be found in a missal or missalette, as well as in the official Lectionary that the priest uses) or another psalm verse or tract (a biblical passage) found in the Graduale. Nonbiblical acclamations should not be used, and the verse (according to paragraph 63c of the GIRM) can be omitted altogether.

Yes, "Glory and Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ" Is One Option

In case you're wondering, "Glory and Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ" is both drawn from a biblical passage (cf. Philippians 1:11) and found in the Graduale Romanum. So while it is not prescribed as the only possible replacement for the Alleluia, "Glory and Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ" is an acceptable one, though the verse before the Gospel, found in the Lectionary, is the preferred substitute for the Alleluia.