With the 1979 Book of Common Prayer came a restoration of a few original language words. A quick perusal of the 1928 Book, shows that, in comparison, the 1979 version is mildly obsessed with the word “alleluia” (which means “praise God”). Take, for example, the Invitatory in Morning Prayer:
1928 Book of Common Prayer
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Praise ye the Lord.
The Lord’s Name be praised.
1979 Book of Common Prayer
Lord open our lips.
And our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
Except in Lent, add Alleluia.
When the word “alleluia” didn’t appear with regularity in our Common Prayer, there wasn’t much need to expressly eliminate it in the penitential season of Lent. These days, however, it appears with regularity in the Daily Office and in the only Fraction Anthem prescribed in Rite II. As such, congregations have begun to make more and more display of the elimination of the word “alleluia” during Lent. In my on parish, our Shrove Tuesday event includes decorating alleluia confetti which get “buried” under the altar until the three-fold proclamation of Christ’s resurrection on Easter morning. Alleluia, indeed.
All of that to mention that Palm Sunday often begs the question, “Why can we say ‘hosanna’ in Lent?” This question always warms my heart because it means that people are paying attention to the liturgy, and noticing how it is different week to week and season by season. It is a good and fair question, since the prevailing understanding of “hosanna” has it being somewhat analogous to “alleluia,”a word of praise. While it is used in a similar fashion to alleluia, hosanna’s root meaning gives it a different connotation: one that is perfectly suited for Lent, and one that makes it a word we might want to hold onto through November 8th.
Hosanna’s etymology is from two Hebrew words that mean “save us, we pray!” This phrase is found in Psalm 118, a portion of which is assigned for the Liturgy of the Palms, and is associated with the Festival of the Booths, a harvest festival during which the stalks of 4 grains are waved and God’s praise is sung in thanksgiving for a bountiful crop. The festival itself shows this deep double meaning of praise and need. It is only by God’s provision of rain, sun, and seasonable weather that the harvest can be plenteous, and so praise is given when once again, God has heard our prayer of hosanna, “save us, we pray!”
As the season of Lent draws to a close, another contentious election season is in full swing. I plan to keep “hosanna,” a word of hope, promise, and praise, on my lips and close to my heart in the coming months as a reminder of the joy that comes in accepting God’s promise to save the world through his Son.