07 March 2017


A really old, really popular rote prayer.

The name Sanctus comes from the first word of the Latin translation of this prayer.
Musical bonus: A song by a friend of mine, James Thomas La Brie. Big instrumental first part; and of course his version of the Sanctus in the “Hosanna in the Highest” part. YouTube
The first three lines come from Isaiah 6.3, where the serafs are shouting in praise of the LORD; the last three come from Matthew 21.9, where the people shout in praise as Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey.

Holy holy holy Lord
God of power and might
Heaven and earth are full of your glory
Hosanna in the highest
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord
Hosanna in the highest

The form comes from St. John Chrysostom. Earlier English translations, as are found in the Book of Common Prayer, have for the second line, “God of Sabaoth.” The Roman Missal has “God of hosts.” These are all translations of the Hebrew YHWH ChavaĆ³t/“LORD of vast numbers,” and Christians have variously translated chavaĆ³t as hosts, armies, “power and might,” troops, “angel armies” if you’re gonna make assumptions about what his armies consist of (and why can’t God mobilize his billions of human followers?), or “Sabaoth” if you don’t care to translate it. Me, I tend to go with “LORD of War,” because whenever YHWH ChavaĆ³t appears in the bible, the author usually expects God to kick some ass.

Many of these ancient prayers have of course been set to music. That’s the way most Protestants know of them: When I first wrote about the Sanctus years ago, one of the more common responses I got was, “I thought this was a worship song.” Well it is. But first it was a rote prayer. Musicians rediscover rote prayers all the time, and set ’em to music. If they don’t rhyme, chances are they began their existence as a prayer.

And like many a rote prayer, we can use this prayer to help us meditate. You wanna get your mind off the things around you, and concentrate on God? You tap those rote prayers. Repeat them to yourself, focus on the words, focus on the Lord, and praise him.

Focusing on Christ Jesus alone.

Both the Sanctus and the Jesus prayer are mighty popular among Christians. They’re well known.

However. I’ve heard various Christians claim they prefer the Sanctus because they feel the Jesus prayer puts too much attention upon ourselves. The “Have mercy on me, a sinner,” inserts “me” into a prayer, and they’d really rather deny themselves and entirely concentrate on Jesus.

Because most prayers mainly consist of requests—heck, the Lord’s Prayer entirely consists of requests—we get some Christians who tire of constantly asking God for stuff, and just wanna praise him. I get it. I have no qualms with that. If you wanna worship God instead of make your requests known to him, I don’t believe he has any qualms about that either. Problem is, if you never make your requests known to God, that’s not healthy. Part of the way God gives us peace is by answering our prayers. Pp 4.6-7 So don’t deny him your requests—and don’t deny yourself peace.

Like all praise prayers, the Sanctus focuses on God’s greatness and glory. Sometimes we just need reminders God is awesome. We’re not just praying to a cosmic dispenser of gifts and favor, but we’re praying to the most amazing being we know, or ever could know.

We also don’t need to praise God with false humility. The Sanctus doesn’t slide into expressions of our unworthiness, like many other prayers will (including certain well-known rote prayers). We don’t need to compare God’s infinite worthiness and holiness with our low position and unworthy situation. We don’t need to say, “You’re great and I’m scum.” First of all, God’s trying to lift us up and make us worthy, and make us his children. Jn 1.12 Don’t fight him! Simply tell him—and remind yourself—“You’re great.” That’s all we need do. The Sanctus does a good job of that.

At other times—you’ll know when they are—it’s more appropriate to remind ourselves we’re sinners. Say the Jesus prayer at those times, or one of the other prayers which say so, and ask God for mercy. But don’t reject those prayers because “the Sanctus is better.” It’s not better; just different. All are good and useful, when prayed properly.