Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Mark's thoughts: The Sanctus in the Service of the Sacrament - Why are we saying this?


In a previous post we considered the Preface and Proper Preface in the Service of the Sacrament.  We saw how these parts of the service fix our attention on what the Lord is about to do in the Sacrament, and introduce and express thanksgiving to God as the end of the Preface is followed by the Proper Preface. We noted that the Proper Preface gives thanks to God as it focuses on a particular part of God’s saving action that we meet in that season of the church year or particular feast day. 

 All of the Proper Prefaces end with the words, “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying….”  These words introduce the Sanctus and remind us that in the liturgy of the Divine Service we are part of something that is far greater than just the church building and the congregation members whom we see.

 In Revelation chapter 4, the apostle John is given a glimpse of heaven where God is seated on the throne, surrounded by the four living creatures (cherubim) and the twenty four elders (4:1-7).  In chapter 5, John then sees Christ, the Lamb between the throne and the living creatures, and states, “Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands” (5:11).  We find that the risen and exalted Lord is surrounded by the angels.

 The book of Hebrews adds to this picture as it says:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-23)

 We find here a description of the saints, who are with Christ and the heavenly host.

 The Proper Preface, Preface, and Sanctus are preparation for Christ to be present in his true body and blood.  The risen Lord, who is true God and true man, uses the pastor in the Office of the Ministry to speak His Words of Institution over bread and wine.  Because of Lord’s action, it is his true body and blood, given and shed for us, which is on the altar and ready to be distributed to his people.

 The ending of the Proper Preface that introduces our praise in the Sanctus reminds us that as we gather around Christ to receive His body and blood in the Sacrament, we join the angels and saints who also gather around Him.  Because in the mystery of the Sacrament our Lord is enthroned at the right hand of the Father and present on every altar where the His Sacrament is celebrated, we gather together with the angels and saints around Christ. With good reason, the celebration of Sacrament of the Altar can be described as the experience of “heaven on earth.”

 The Sanctus is composed of two Bible passages.  In the first sentence of the Sanctus we sing, “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of power and might: Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”  This is taken from Isaiah 6:1-3 where we are told:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!"

 The Latin word for “holy” is “sanctus.”  The Sanctus takes its name from the cry of the angels, “Holy, holy, holy,” that Isaiah heard in God’s presence.  We sing the words with which the angels praise God as they are in this presence (see also Revelation 4:8), and those words prepare us for the fact that we are about stand in the presence of the holy God who comes into our midst in His body and blood.

 In the rest of the Sanctus we sing, “Hosanna. Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest.”  These words are taken from Matthew 21:9 and occurred as Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday:

Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:8-9)

The crowd was using words from Psalm 118:25-26.  In the Old Testament, the Hebrew “Hosanna” meant “save indeed” or “save now.” However, by the time of the New Testament it had become a shout of praise.  

The crowd used these words to praise and welcome Jesus as He entered Jerusalem. We now sing them in the Sanctus to greet Jesus Christ as He comes to us in His body and blood in the Sacrament. They prepare us for the miracle that is about to occur in the Sacrament.


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