“Holy, Holy, Holy” by Fr. Brandon Jones

In 14 Book Corner on 2011/12/16 at 9:50 AM

“Holy, Holy, Holy”

Fr. Brandon H. Jones

“In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple. Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they hovered.One cried out to the other: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!” (Isaiah 6:1-3).

This vision of the prophet Isaiah is a glimpse of the heavenly liturgy, a window into the supernatural realities that occurred in the temple worship of the old covenant and even now continue in the Christian liturgy whenever the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered.

We know that before the death of Pope St. Clement in 96 AD, Christians were singing this hymn in the liturgy. In fact, if one looks at the Latin text, “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth,” we see that it transliterates a word from Hebrew, “Sabaoth,” which translates as “armies” or “hosts.” The same treatment is given to the word “Amen,” a Hebrew word, which essentially means, “so be it.” If one compares the Latin liturgical text to the Vulgate of St. Jerome from around 382 AD, we find that he translated this passage “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus exercituum,” or “Lord of armies.” The point is that the Latin liturgical text that the Church prays in the Roman Missal is older even than the Vulgate Bible of St. Jerome!

The 1973 English Translation, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might,” has now been replaced with “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts.” “Hosts” are spiritual armies, myriads upon myriads of angels who protect us and adore the Lord truly present on the altar. Our Holy Father, Benedict XVI wrote, “In the celebration of Holy Mass, we insert ourselves into this liturgy that always goes before us. All our singing is a singing and praying with the great liturgy that spans the whole of creation.” (Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 152).

Added to this text from Isaiah are words spoken on the occasion of our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, found in Matthew 21 and Mark 11: “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” “Hosanna” means something like: “Come to our aid,” or “bring salvation.” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” comes from Psalm 118, which “originally formed part of Israel’s pilgrim liturgy used for greeting pilgrims as they entered the city or the Temple.” (Pope Benedict XVI,  Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two, 7).

The Holy Father explains that, “The Benedictus also entered the liturgy at a very early stage. For the infant Church, “Palm Sunday” was not a thing of the past. Just as the Lord entered the Holy City that day on a donkey, so too the Church saw him coming again and again in the humble form of bread and wine. The Church greets the Lord in the Holy Eucharist as the one who is coming now, the one who has entered into her midst. At the same time, she greets him as the one who continues to come, the one who leads us toward his coming, As pilgrims, we go up to him; as a pilgrim he comes to us and takes us up with him in his “ascent” to the Cross and Resurrection, to the definitive Jerusalem that is already growing in the midst of this world in the communion that unites us with his body.” (Ibid., 10-11).

In the Sanctus we once again see how a small alteration in the wording of the revised Missal brings us closer to the way Christians were praying almost 2000 years ago.


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