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Choral Corner #12: What does the word "Alleluia" actually mean?

"Alleluia" (sometimes spelled "Hallelujah") is Hebrew for "praise the Lord" (literally, "praise Yahweh"). This term appears frequently in the Psalter, and in most, if not all, Christian worship traditions. Despite its Hebrew origins, in modern Jewish practice "Hallelujah" only appears in the Hallel prayers, a concatenation of Psalms 113-118 (112-117). prayed on holy days.

Compared to other liturgical Christian traditions such as Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism and Lutheranism, Orthodoxy employs Alleluias far more frequently, especially during Great Lent. In the West, the Lenten period is devoid of Alleluias, as the festive, joyous acclamation is considered at odds with the sad, doleful season of Lent.

In the East, we see no conflict between the word and the season, as our approach to Lent is one of solemn, yet deeply joyful, expectation and "bright sorrow". While lamenting our explusion from Paradise, we already rejoice in our Lord's promise of restoration to our original blessedness. While sorrowing for our sins, we joyfully accept God's promise of mercy to those who repent. Even on Great and Holy Friday, unquestionably the most solemn day of the year, we lay Christ in His tomb while singing, "The noble Joseph took down Thy most pure Body from the tree, wrapped It in clean linen with sweet-smelling spices, and laid It in a new tomb," which is immediately followed by, "The angel cried to the Myrrhbearing women at the tomb and said: 'Myrrh is meet for the dead, but Christ hath shown Himself a stranger to corruption.'" Having just laid our Lord in His tomb, we already anticipate His glorious Resurrection, trampling down death by death. How could our response be anything but Alleluia?

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