A better understanding of our worship makes what we do each Sunday much more meaningful. The Alleluia Verse that precedes the reading of the Gospel is one example.
The word “hallelujah” or “alleluia” is Jewish in origin and means “Praise the Lord.” Early Christians used it as an exclamation of joyful praise without translating it, just as we do today. Psalms that were used in Temple worship began and ended with “Hallelujah,” among them 106, 113, 135, 146 and 147. The word also figures prominently in the heavenly worship described in the Book of Revelation, chapter 19, for example. In a way, “alleluia” ties us both to our spiritual roots and to our heavenly destiny. One commentator describes it as a channel of communication between history and eternity.
In the earliest traditions, “alleluia” was reserved for the Easter celebration, then soon was extended to the Easter Season, and then to the entire Church Year, except for the Lenten Season (a more sober penitential time not given to joyful exuberance). In the liturgy, the Alleluia Verse comes directly before the Gospel reading, as people stand with high praise to greet and welcome the Lord who is about to speak. Typically, the Alleluia Verse has two parts—the actual words “alleluia, alleluia” at the beginning and the end, and a verse of scripture which is appropriate to that day. Example: “Alleluia—Lord to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life—Alleluia.” Sometimes the scripture verse is sung by the cantor or choir, and the people sing only the “alleluias.” The Alleluia Verse is also processional music, which accompanies the movement of the book to the center of the chancel or to the nave of the church for the reading.
Perhaps next time we can sing the Alleluia Verse more conscious that it ties us to our spiritual roots and to our destiny, but most importantly, to the Lord, in whose Gospel we hope and in whose presence we take delight.
–Retired Pastoral Associate Dean Bard, January 2011