Moments of the Mass: Sanctus

02-05-2021Weekly ReflectionClaire Halbur

During the middle of Mass (after the Liturgy of the Word and the preparation of the altar) comes the Eucharistic prayer, which the General Instruction of the Roman Missal calls “the center and high point of the entire celebration...the prayer of thanksgiving and sanctification.” (GIRM 78)

This prayer begins with a dialogue in which the priest exhorts us to lift up our hearts. Then the celebrant chants or speaks the Preface, “in which the Priest, in the name of the whole of the holy people, glorifies God the Father and gives thanks to him for the whole work of salvation or for some particular aspect of it, according to the varying day, festivity, or time of year.”

The words of the Preface can be very poetic and rich. Since this is a moment when we are listening and not using our own voices, it can be really easy to zone out and miss this prayer entirely (I know I do far too often). But it’s actually a moment when we are called to active, intentional participation! How? By doing what we just responded to the priest: lifting up our hearts to the Lord. “The meaning of this Prayer is that the whole congregation of the faithful joins with Christ in confessing the great deeds of God and in the offering of Sacrifice.”

The preface always concludes with these or similar words: “And so, with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven, we sing the hymn of your glory, as without end we acclaim...”

We respond with the Preface Acclamation, also called the Sanctus or Holy, Holy. The words of this prayer come from various places in Scripture. The first line is the hymn of the seraphim in Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8. Revelation is the last book of the Bible in which the Apostle John recorded his visions of the heavenly Liturgy. Among his vivid descriptions is a singing army of angels and saints: “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue” (Rev 7:9).

In Biblical languages, repeating something three times conveys its weight and importance. Specifically, using an adjective three times (“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts”) is the way to express a superlative—the English equivalent of saying “the holiest above all others”.

The second part of the Sanctus—“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”—is the exclamation of the crowd cried to Jesus at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Mt 21:9). Hosanna is a Hebrew term which is derived from the words yasha, which means “save,” and na: an expression of entreaty or request that can be translated in a variety of ways (“I pray,” “I beseech,” “please,” or “O”). The Hebrew terms were combined—yasha na (“O, save!”), as in Psalm 118:25—and this became hosanna. In the Old Testament, this word was used as part of the Jewish temple liturgy during the feast of Tabernacles, when the priests carried willow branches and cried “Hosanna!” while processing around the altar of burnt offering. Over time, the crowd gathered to worship picked it up, and it became a cry of joy. The seventh day of the Jewish Tabernacles Feast even came to be called “Hosanna Day.”

In this moment of the Sanctus, the Church asks us to unite our voices and souls with the whole Mystical Body of Christ: the singing army of heaven, the souls in purgatory, and all the faithful on earth. If only we could see the full dimension of spiritual connection at this moment! For a moving glimpse of the hidden reality, go on YouTube and search “The Veil Removed”. (Show your kids the video too!)