Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

The liturgical mystic expression is found

  • in the Book of Tobias, xiii, 22; then
  • in the Psalter ; for the first time at the head of Psalm civ according to the Vulgate and Septuagint arrangement, but at the end of the previous psalm according to the Hebrew text as we have it; after that at the beginning of psalms of praise, as a kind of inviting acclamation, or at the end, as a form of glory-giving ovation, or at the beginning and end, as for the last psalm of all; then
  • in the New Testament, only in the relation of St. John's vision of Divine service in Heaven as the worship-word of Creation ( Revelation 19 ).

In the old Greek version of the Book of Tobias, in the Septuagint Greek translation of the Hebrew psalter, and in the original Greek of the Apocalypse it is transcribed Allelouia . In accordance with that most ancient transcription, our Latin Vulgate gives it as Alleluia in the Old Testament and in the New. Thus it was given in the earliest Christian liturgies of which we have record. Yet, in place of it, for liturgical use, by way of translation, the English Reformers put the form of words we now find in the Protestant Psalter and Book of Common Prayer. The revisors of the authorized Anglican version of the Bible have used the form Hallelujah in the Apocalypse xix, 3. To justify this form authors and editors of some recent English Protestant biblical publications have adopted a new Greek form of transcription, Hallelouia , instead of Allelouia . [See " New Testament in the Original Greek"; text revised by Westcott and Hort (Cambridge, 1881), and second edit. of "The Old Testament in Greek according to the Septuagint ", by Sweete (1895). For change of form, compare Smith's Dict. of the Bible (new edit., 1893) and Hastings' Dict. of the Bible (1898-1904).] Alleluia , not Hallelujah , is the traditional Christian and proper English form of transcription. The accent placed as in our liturgical books over u marks its verbal analysis, as that clearly shows in the last line of the Hebrew Psalter : Allelu-ia . It is thus seen to be composed of the divinely acclaiming verbal form Allelu and the divine pronominal term Ia . So, preserving its radical sense and sound, and even the mystical suggestiveness of its construction, it may be literally rendered, "All hail to Him Who is!"--taking "All Hail" as equivalent to "Glory in the Highest," and taking "Who is" in the sense in which God said to Moses : "Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel ; WHO IS hath sent me to you." As such, when was the expression introduced into the Hebrew liturgy ? -- Besides reasons proper to the text of the Psalter, and those drawn from a purely philological consideration of the word itself, the data of ancient Jewish and Christian tradition all point to the conclusion that it belonged, as a divinely authorized doxology, to the Hebrew liturgy from the beginning. As to when it was first formed, there seems much reason for holding that we have in it man's most ancient formula of monotheistic faith --the true believer's primitive Credo, primitive doxology, primitive acclamation. That in part would explain remarkable fondness for its liturgical use. As a rule she so uses it wherever joy, consequently triumph or thanksgiving, is to be emphatically expressed. As to the time of its use, in the Eastern Church it is heard at all seasons of the year; even in Masses for the dead, as it formerly was in the West. There, at present, in the Latin Roman Rite, our own, according to St. Gregory's regulation referred to in his Office, from Easter to Septuagesima it never leaves the Liturgy, except for some passing occasion of mourning or penance, such as Mass and Office for the Dead, in Ferial Masses during Advent, on the feast of the martyred Holy Innocents (unless it fall on a Sunday ), and on all vigils which are fast days, if the Mass of the vigil be said. But it is sung on the vigil of Easter ( Holy Saturday ) and on that of Pentecost, because on each of those vigils, in early ages, Mass was said at night, and so was regarded as belonging to the joyous solemnity of the following day. During Eastertime it is the characteristic Paschal note of varying parts of Mass and Office, constantly appearing at the beginning and end, and even in the middle, of psalms, as an instinctive exclamation of ecstatic joy. Calmet thus expressed the Catholic view of its traditional import when noting (in Psalm civ) that the very sound of the words should be held to signify "a kind of acclamation and a form of ovation which mere grammarians cannot satisfactorily explain; wherefore the translators of the Old Testament have left it untranslated and, in the same way, the Church has taken it into the formulas of her Liturgy or of the people who use it at any time or place what it may.

ALLELUIA IN GREEK LITURGIES

From the Temple, through the Coenaculum's alleluiatic hymn of thanksgiving, the words passed into the service of the Christian Church , whose liturgical language, like that of the Septuagint and the New Testament, was at first, naturally, Greek. Of course its essential character remained unchanged, but, as an emotional utterance of devotion, it was profoundly affected by Christian memories, and by the spirit of the Christian Faith. To its original general significance was thus added a new personal sense as Paschal refrain and, with that, among holy words, a mystic meaning all its own. Even as a form of divine acclaim its force was intensified, the feeling it evoked deepened, the ideas it suggested widened and elevated, and, above all, purified under the spiritualizing influence of Christian thought. As that thought's supreme expression of thanksgiving, joy, and triumph, "Alleluia" assumed a wider and deeper, a higher and holier, meaning than it earlier had in the liturgy of the Hebrew people. With such supreme Christian significance it appears in the earliest portion of the earliest liturgies of which we have written remains, in the so-called "primitive liturgies of the East." These may be reduced to four, called respectively, and in the supposed order of their antiquity, those of St. Mark, St. James, St. Clement, and St. Chrysostom. The last, now more commonly known as that of Constantinople, is the normal liturgy of the Eastern Churches, used not only by the "Orthodox", or Schismatic, but by the Catholic, or "United", Greeks throughout the world. The Greek Liturgy of St. James is still used by the schismatic Greeks at Jerusalem on his feast day, and in its Syriac recension is the prototype of that of the Maronites who are Catholics. That of St. Mark, apparently the most ancient of all, is very often in verbal agreement with the Coptic Liturgy of St. Cyril and other similar forms, notably that of the Catholic Copts. The liturgy called that of St. Clement, though undoubtedly very ancient, seems to have never been actually used in any Church, so may be here passed over. Now, first glancing through the liturgy of St. Mark, as presumably the most ancient, we find this rubric, just before the Gospel: "Attend: the Apostle ; the Prologue of Alleluia."--"The Apostle " is the usual ancient Eastern title for the Epistle, which the "Prologue of Alleluia" would seem to be some prayer recited by the priest before Alleluia was sung by the choir or people. Then, for Alleluiatic anthem, comes the somewhat later insertion known as the Cherubic hymn, before the Consecration : "Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim, and sing the holy hymn to the quickening Trinity, now lay by all worldly cares, that we may receive the King of Glory invisibly attended by the Angelic orders: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!" In the next most ancient of these primitive Greek liturgies of the East, that known as the Liturgy of St. James, we find the following rubric :

PRIEST : Peace be with all.
PEOPLE : And with thy Spirit.
SINGERS : Alleluia!

Further on, immediately after the Cherubic anthem above noticed, there is the following beautiful invocation before the Consecration,

PRIEST : Let all mortal flesh keep silence and stand with fear and trembling and ponder naught of itself earthly; for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Christ our God, cometh forward to be sacrificed and to be given for food to the faithful ; and He is preceded by the Choirs of His Angels with every Dominion and Power, by the many-eyed Cherubim and the six-winged Seraphim who covering their faces sing aloud the Hymn : Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Finally, in the ancient Greek Liturgy of Constantinople, we find the word used, as acclaiming expression to a kind of chorus, apparently intended to be repeated by the congregation or assistant ministers, thus:

V. The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble; the Name of the God of Jacob defend thee;
R. Save us, O Good Paraclete, who chant to thee Alleluia.
V. Send thee help from the Sanctuary ; and strengthen thee out of Sion.
R. Save us, O Good Paraclete, who chant to thee Alleluia.
V. Remember all thy offerings; and accept thy burnt sacrifice.
R. Save us, O Good Paraclete, who chant to thee Alleluia.

Further on, when the choir has finished the Trisagion , we have the rubric :

DEACON : Attend!
READER : Alleluia!

The reading of the Apostle being concluded, the rubric gives:

PRIEST : Peace be to thee.
READER : Alleluia!

Then, when the catechumens have departed, after the " prayers for the faithful" before the Consecration, we have the Cherubic anthem, with its triple Alleluia for "Holy hymn to the quickening Trinity" as above in the Liturgies of St. Mark and St. James. These extracts will suffice to show that the word from the first has been as it still is used in the liturgies of the East and in our own day, a supreme form of Christian acclamation, or lyric cry, before, in the middle, and at the end, of the versicles and responses, and anthems and hymns. The only difference in regard to it between those of the East and West is that in the former it is still, as it seems at first to have been generally, used all through the year, even during Lent, and in Offices for the dead, as the Christian cry of victory over sin and death. Thus St. Jerome tells us it was sung at the obsequies of his sister Fabiola. With a kind of holy pride, in his own strong way he writes: "Sonabant psalmi et aurata temporum reboans in sublime quatiebat Alleluia." (See Hammond's Ancient Liturgies.)


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 6:10-20
10 Finally, grow strong in the Lord, with the ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 144:1, 2, 9-10
1 [Of David] Blessed be Yahweh, my rock, who trains ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 13:31-35
31 Just at this time some Pharisees came up. 'Go ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 30th, 2014 Image

St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
October 30: Confessor and Jay brother, also called Alonso. He was born in ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter