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Father Jack Siefert, pastor of St. Ambrose Parish, burned palms as school students watched Feb. 28. The palms were distrubuted on Palm Sunday last year, and the ashes were mixed with oil, blessed and distributed on Ash Wednesday.
Father Jack Siefert, pastor of St. Ambrose Parish, burned palms as school students watched Feb. 28. The palms were distrubuted on Palm Sunday last year, and the ashes were mixed with oil, blessed and distributed on Ash Wednesday.
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand

St. Ambrose School ‘buries the alleluia,’ burns palms into ashes in preparation for Lent

Father Jack Siefert buried an “alleluia” banner behind a statue of Our Lady of Fatima Feb. 28 at St. Ambrose Church in St. Louis.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
A white banner bearing the world “alleluia” hung on the ambo at the 8 a.m. Mass on Feb. 28 at St. Ambrose Parish and School. Half an hour later, the banner — and symbolically, the word itself — was in the ground, not to return until Easter.

“The Church during the season of Lent does not use ‘alleluia’ during those 40 days, until Easter Sunday when it is sung magnificently in all our churches,” said Father Jack Siefert, pastor of St. Ambrose.

After Mass, students and teachers gathered outside in the parish’s Our Lady of Fatima courtyard to participate in “burying the alleluia” and burning palms to prepare for the start of the Lenten season on Ash Wednesday. Father Siefert placed bundles of palms, distributed on Palm Sunday last year, into a small fire pit and lit them ablaze. The ashes were sifted and mixed with oil before being blessed and distributed at the parish’s Ash Wednesday Masses.

“It’s always been a tradition of the Church that anything blessed can never be thrown away — it has to be burned or buried,” Father Siefert explained. “(Blessed palms) need dignity and respect. So we burn them as a way to show that, and then we use them for something good. The goodness of the gift of palms moves forward to become ashes for the next year.”

While the ashes burned, Father Siefert took the alleluia banner, rolled up inside a tube and wrapped in a plastic bag to keep it dry, and buried it behind the statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The word alleluia means “God be praised,” and the banner will be unearthed during Holy Week in preparation for the joyful return of the alleluia on Easter.

“Burying that alleluia calls us to remember that it is a time of penance,” Father Siefert said. “To refrain from using that word inspires us through that symbolic burial just to focus on God, so that when we do

Father Jack Siefert burned palms as students at St. Ambrose School in St. Louis watched. After burning the palms for use on Ash Wednesday, Father Siefert buried an “alleluia” banner behind the nearby Our Lady of Fatima statue.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
celebrate Easter Sunday and we say that word again for the first time in a long time, it has that much more meaning because we’ve been through a desert experience.”

This is the first year that the school has participated in a palm burning and burying of the alleluia.

“It’s a visual reminder of the season we’re getting ready to begin,” St. Ambrose principal Michele Grellner said. “I think it prepares (the students) for the journey of the next 40 days. We buried the alleluia in a little tomb — we put it away, we’re not going to see it. And then on Easter, we’re going to resurrect it, so we’re going to see what resurrection means.”

During Lent, students at St. Ambrose also pray the Stations of the Cross every week, and classes create paper chains from strips of paper with their personal Lenten practices — typically something they’re giving up — written on them. When the students receive their ashes on Ash Wednesday, they’ll be able to remember where the ashes came from and why they’re important.

The use of ashes is found as far back as the Old Testament, where dressing in sackcloth and ashes was a form of repentance, mourning and humility. The ashes marked in the shape of a cross on the foreheads of the faithful on Ash Wednesday are a reminder of our own need to repent and grow closer to the Lord throughout the Lenten season.

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