Hallelujah is an English interjection derived from a Hebrew phrase meaning “praise God” or “praise the Lord.” The alternate spelling alleluia is taken from the Latin form of the original Hebrew. For both Jews and Christians, the term is often used as a joyful expression of praise and thanksgiving to God.
In the Bible
The Hebrew word is used several times in the Old Testament book of Psalms. In fact, Psalms 104-150 are frequently referred to as the Hallel Psalms or Praise Songs, due to their frequent repetition of hallelujah. The first part of the word, “hallelu” is an imperative verb, instructing hearers to praise. The last syllable, “jah,” is considered a shortened form of the name of God, often referred to as the Lord, Yahweh, Jehovah or the tetragrammaton.
Worship services, prayers and hymns of many Christian traditions have used this word for centuries. In the Catholic church, a liturgical chant known as the Alleluia is given in every Roman Mass except during Lent. Evangelical churches often shout Hallelujah during services as a sign of approval or thanksgiving. This is often followed by phrases such as “amen” or “praise God!”
The word hallelujah is also featured in both religious and secular songs of all musical genres. One of the best known uses of the term is in Handel's Messiah, which contains the hallelujah chorus. In popular culture, one of the best known usages of the term is in Leonard Cohen's song of the same name. As a nonreligious interjection, this word signifies happiness, similarly to “hooray!” It can also be said sarcastically in situations where the speaker does not feel the gladness expected of him or her. Though this use of the term may be offensive to some religious people, many take it in stride and may use the term in this way themselves.
Words that are often used along with hallelujah in Christian worship include amen, kyrie eleison, hosanna, maranatha, and Abba. Amen is used to assert agreement with something or to confirm something, while kyrie eleison is used to invoke God to listen to a prayer or to help the worshipers. Hosanna can also be used in this way, but it can also be used as an expression of praise. Maranatha is said when a person wants to emphasize the return of the Lord's return to earth, or to ask him to come quickly, and Abba, the Hebrew word for father, is used as an alternative name for God.
Other religions have similar terms of praise and worship. For example, in Islamic worship, the term alhamdulillah, or "praise be to God," is commonly used, as is allahu akbar, which means "God is the greatest." Buddhists often chant during worship, and may repeat mantras like om mani padme hum, which is associated with compassion. Likewise, Sikhs often repeat Waheguru, which is the name of God; or the Ardas, which is an intercessory prayer, during worship.