Say Goodbye to Alleluia


We celebrate life to get ready for eternity

By Melissa Musick Nussbaum

This article first appeared in the February 2007 issue of Celebration.

On Fat Tuesday, we’ll be keeping the day as we always do, with an “Alleluia Party.” We fill our house with guests, then we add Easter hymns, some guitars, a piano, chocolate, heavy cream, butter fat, liquor and shake well. (I mean the shaking part literally. One year our daughter came home in the middle of the gathering. She reports that our old wooden house was “vibrating,” and that the music could be heard in the street.)

We gather to bid farewell to the alleluia until Easter, and we gather, as Peter Mazar — of blessed memory — wrote, in rehearsal for eternity. Because we can use the practice. Most of the people we know and love best are competent. If a toilet needs unclogging or a load of laundry needs washing or a bake sale needs organizing or bills need paying, these are your folks. You know them, too; indeed, you are probably among their sturdy number.

Our friends are not good at eating chocolate gleefully and with abandon. They feel the need to check the nutritional content on the back of the package and grimace at the grams of fat while they discuss levels of “bad” cholesterol.

Nor are they good at drinking on a weeknight, for there is, after all, work/school/carpool/jury duty and liturgy bright and early in the morning.

Our friends are not so competent at play. Or singing, for no reason other than the joy of singing. They sing at Mass, because, well, that’s the designated singing place. And if “How Can I Keep From Singing?” at your parish sounds less like a shout of exultation and more like a cry for help, perhaps you — and we — all need a bit more practice.

We won’t be needing all this American know-how long, and, soon, we won’t be needing it at all. Nothing in scripture or the tradition suggests that to live fully and forever in the presence of God involves committee meetings, or yard work. Or house cleaning. Or taxes. Or plumbing repairs.

Isaiah tells us we will “delight in rich fare,” and that all will delight. No one will need money for this feast.

Come, without paying
and without cost,
Drink wine and milk.

There go the jobs. No more need to put food on the table. No need to buy a table. God provides the table and sets it and fills it with every delicacy.
Elsewhere, Isaiah tells us we will know the day of salvation because,

Then the eyes of the blind
will be opened,
the ears of the deaf
will be cleared;
Then the lame will leap
like a stag,
then the tongue of the dumb
will sing.

No more sweating the health insurance, for all will be well and all will be made whole.

So, we will feast, eating food we neither planted nor harvested nor worked to buy. We will adore God, giving thanks and praise, as John of Patmos tells us, in a “city with no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God will give it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” Out go the alarm clocks and the wristwatches and the time clocks.

There will be singing around the throne of God, and not for just a fraction of an hour on Sunday.

The very real question for us, then, is, “But will we like it?” How can a people who have so little practice feasting and singing and rejoicing be happy in a great, never-ending celebration? How can a people so good at Lent be at home in an eternal Easter?

Just ask any pastors: Weekday Masses in Lent are packed; weekday Masses in Easter are empty. Penance we can handle, but rejoicing for 50days is just too hard.

Throw an Alleluia party. Yes, people will ask for decaf and yes, they will tell you how sleep is disturbed by chocolate ganache and yes, some will say they cannot sing. But we will keep reminding ourselves that singing is as natural as speech and that chocolate ganache in season is a tonic and that French-roast-inspired wakefulness could be a gift. Who knows what we might hear in our wakefulness?

Mostly, we will practice. We will practice abundance. We will practice praise. We will practice joy, in the hope that we can see and welcome it when joy at last is our home. For how, after all, if the life of the baptized flows on in endless song, can we keep from singing?

Melissa Musick Nussbaum lives in Colorado Springs, Colo.