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The Backstory of ‘We Are an Easter People and Alleluia Is Our Song!’

Eastertide links Sts. John Paul II and Augustine.

If you’re Catholic, you’ve likely heard the famous Easter quote from Pope St. John Paul II — “We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song!”

Did you know that he said this not at Eastertime, but in November — almost 40 years ago?

He proclaimed these encouraging words during his Sunday Angelus on Nov. 30, 1986, on his papal trip to Australia that year:

“We do not pretend that life is all beauty. We are aware of darkness and sin, of poverty and pain. But we know Jesus has conquered sin and passed through his own pain to the glory of the Resurrection. And we live in the light of his Paschal Mystery — the mystery of his Death and Resurrection. ‘We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!’ We are not looking for a shallow joy but rather a joy that comes from faith, that grows through unselfish love, that respects the ‘fundamental duty of love of neighbor, without which it would be unbecoming to speak of Joy.’”

Some commentators online have posited that the quote harks back to St. Augustine and his “Exposition on Psalm 148,” highlighting the phrasing “This is the Halleluia which we sing” and Easter focus. Here’s an excerpt:

“The subject of our meditation in this present life should be the praises of God; for the everlasting exaltation of our life hereafter will be the praise of God, and none can become fit for the life hereafter, who has not practiced himself for it now. So then now we praise God, but we pray to Him too. Our praise is marked by joy, our prayer by groans. …

“On account of these two seasons, one, that which now is in the temptations and tribulations of this life, the other, that which is to be hereafter in everlasting rest and exultation; we have established also the celebration of two seasons, that before Easter and that after Easter. That which is before Easter signifies tribulation, in which we now are; that which we are now keeping after Easter, signifies the bliss in which we shall hereafter be. The celebration then which we keep before Easter is what we do now: by that which we keep after Easter we signify what as yet we have not. Therefore we employ that time in fastings and prayer, this present time we spend in praises, and relax our fast.

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“This is the Halleluia which we sing, which, as you know, means (in Latin), Praise ye the Lord. Therefore that period is before the Lord’s Resurrection, this, after His Resurrection: by which time is signified the future hope which as yet we have not: for what we represent after the Lord’s Resurrection, we shall have after our own. For in our Head both are figured, both are set forth. The Baptism of the Lord sets forth to us this present life of trial, for in it we must toil, be harassed, and, at last, die; but the Resurrection and Glorification of the Lord sets forth to us the life which we are to have hereafter, when He shall come to recompense due rewards, evil to the evil, good to the good.

“And now indeed all the evil men sing with us, Halleluia; but, if they persevere in their wickedness, they may utter with their lips the song of our life hereafter; but the life itself, which will then be in the reality which now is typified, they cannot obtain, because they would not practice it before it came, and lay hold on what was to come.”

John Paul II quoting Augustine seems likely, as the Polish Pope wrote about the conversion of Augustine in August 1986.

Happy Easter!

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