Do you know Easter's special Greek code word?
Whether in Greek, or even in Hebrew, this familiar word was gone during Lent
By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor
OK, what's the code word -- the password -- for Easter?
It's simple, something we haven't said for a while -- for all of
Lent, as a matter of fact.
In that one familiar word, we express all sorts of prayer in
just four syllables.
Alleluia is a Greek word -- coming to us from the
earliest Christian liturgies -- that is equivalent to the Hebrew
Hallelujah translates as "All praise to you, the one WHO IS."
("WHO IS" is the Hebrew code word for God -- what Moses heard from
the burning bush (Ex 3:14) -- sometimes translated as YHWH, what we
This is only one Hebrew word used to praise God; there are at
least seven Old Testament Hebrew words that we translate today as
"praise." Hallelujah comes from hallel which means a noisy
and exuberant form of praise -- one writer translated it as "to
rave" about God.
The hallel appears in many of the psalms, some of which are
actually called "the Hallel psalms" (these include the final psalms
146-150), and in the psalms used for great Jewish feasts such as
Passover and Pentecost. The Passover psalms, Psalms 113-117 use the
the hallel to express God as the care for the poor (113), author of
the Exodus (114), Lord of nations (115 and 117) and the one who
saves us from death (116).
Early Christians, seeing a link between the Jewish Passover and
Jesus' passing over from death to life, naturally incorporated the
Jewish hymns of praise -- including the hallel as "alleluia" --
into their own liturgies. Besides its appearance in the Psalms,
Hallelujah appears at the end Tobit (chapter 13), speaking of the
eternal Jerusalem, with streets paved in gold and jewels. This
image appears again in the Book of Revelation (chapter 19) in the
victory song of the righteous at the eternal wedding feast.
The appearance of the Alleluia in Revelation, written toward the
end of the first century after Christ, as well as its prominent use
in early liturgies, show that it had a special meaning for
Christians. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that the
Alleluia was prominent in the most ancient of Christian liturgies
and was used not only to express praise for God and the Lord,
Jesus, but as the deepest profession of Christian faith, "a
And what does that primitive creed, or profession of faith,
express? The joy of resurrection victory in Christ. As St.
Augustine (4th century) said, "We are an Easter people and
Alleluia is our song!"
All during Lent, the church has refrained from using the
Alleluia -- sometimes called the Cherubic hymn -- in order that we
might remember during this season of repentance, of journeying back
to God, that we are called to change our hearts and turn to God.
Just as our 40 days of Lent express both Jesus' 40 days in the
desert and Israel's 40 years of wandering, so we suppressed our
greatest expression of joy and victory as we reflected on those
things that keep us from fully taking part in the new life God has
given us. But now, with Easter, we remember that our wandering, our
journey, has a triumphant end, guaranteed for us in Christ.
The full Easter proclamation is "He is risen! Alleluia!
Alleluia. Alleluia." With this one word -- Alleluia -- we
acknowledge the power of Christ's resurrection breaking into this
world and transforming it into the new creation. As Fr. Thomas
Keating, an expert on centering prayer, said, "Anyone who responds
to the sound of the Alleluia with the sheer experience of
oneness with Christ has understood the resurrection... Eternal life
has begun in us. We are the sons of God, incorporated into Christ's
body His Spirit dwells in us. All our sins are forgiven."
The ancient Hebrews had seven words for praise. One hundred
would not be enough to express the joy and wonder we experience at
the gift we have been given. And yet all we need is one word --
(Sources: The Catholic Encyclopedia; Awakenings, Celebrations
of Christ's Presence; The American Heritage Dictionary; The New
American Bible, St. Joseph Study Edition; and The Old
Testament Hebrew Lexicon at www.crosswalk.com)