The Meaning of Alleluia

Alleluia comes to us from the Hebrew יההללו and it means “Praise Yahweh.”  This Hebrew word was preserved, untranslated, by the early Christians as a superlative expression of thanksgiving, joy, triumph, and praise to God.

Our Lenten Exile

During Lent, however, worship is more restrained and somber than during the other seasons of the year. For this reason, hymns, anthems, and service music containing the word “alleluia” are traditionally not sung during these weeks. The omission of alleluia during Lent goes back at least to the fifth century in the western church. The association of alleluia with Easter led to the custom of intentionally omitting it from the liturgy during the season of Lent, a kind of verbal fast that has the effect of creating a sense of anticipation and even greater joy when the familiar word of praise returns.

The Return of the Alleluia at Easter

No day of the year inspires so much joy and hope than Easter Sunday, when we once again respond with alleluia. The dramatic effect of the return of the alleluia is heightened considerably by the fact that no alleluias have been heard since Lent began. The Lord is risen; the Kingdom has come; our joy is complete; and, in concert with the angels and saints, we greet the risen Lord with shouts of "Alleluia!”