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Latin form of the expression HallelujahHallelujah
or Alleluia
[Heb.,=praise the Lord], joyful expression used in Hebrew worship; cf. Pss. 104–6, 111–13, 115–17, 135, 146–50. Christian liturgies make wide use of it, particularly at Easter time.
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Alleluia, also spelled "hallelujah," means "praise ye the Lord," or more simply, "praise the Lord!" The word comes from the Hebrew phrase of the same meaning, hallelû (praise ye) Jah (the Lord). It is one of the few untranslated Hebrew words or phrases that the first Christians adopted into their worship. It has remained in the vocabulary of the church until present times.

In the first centuries of the Western Christian tradition, the word "alleluia" appeared most often in Easter season worship services. Pope Gregory I, also known as St. Gregory the Great (540-604), ordered the word used throughout the church year, except during Lent and pre-Lent, the three-week period preceding Lent. The purpose of this prohibition was to emphasize the austere, solemn mood of this part of the church year. In medieval western Europe, this period of abstinence from the word "alleluia" began on Septuagesima Sunday, the third Sunday before the beginning of Lent. In some places people performed rituals that bade a formal farewell to the word "alleluia." For example, in fifteenth-century France choir boys participated in a mock burial of this shout of praise. Carrying a coffin representing the alleluia, they filed out of the church in a formal procession, complete with cross, candles, holy water, and incense.

Similar folk religious customs still exist today. The Roman Catholic Church abandoned the observance of the three-week pre-Lenten period in 1969, so these customs shifted themselves to the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent according to the Roman Catholic Church calendar. In some Roman Catholic and Episcopal parishes, the word "alleluia," written on a scroll, is solemnly carried out of the church on the day before Ash Wednesday. Then the scroll is hidden or buried throughout Lent. During the Easter Vigil, the late-night service that takes place on Holy Saturday, the scroll is formally carried back into the church and the joyous word "alleluia" reinstated into worship.

In both the Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions, use of the word "alleluia" is still discontinued during Lent. It is first heard again at the late-night Easter Vigil service on Holy Saturday. For this reason Holy Saturday is sometimes referred to "Alleluia Saturday." The Orthodox churches of eastern Europe, north Africa and the Middle East never adopted this custom. They retain the use of alleluia throughout Lent and throughout the rest of the church year as well.

Further Reading

"Alleluia." In E. A. Livingstone, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Third edition. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1997. McBrien, Richard P. "Alleluia." In his The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Cathol- icism. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995. Niemann, Paul J. The Lent, Triduum, and Easter Answer Book. San Jose, CA: Resource Publications, 1998. Weakland, R. M. "Alleluia." In New Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 1. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967. Weiser, Francis X. The Easter Book. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1954.


a song of praise to God
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