Notes on the Liturgy #17 — Sanctus

(One of the goals of Brothers of John the Steadfast is to train the Brothers in good practice and theology. This article is one in a series that teaches about the liturgy.

These articles were initially intended to be put into bulletins or read during the service to educate the laity on the different parts of the service. They were therefore purposefully made short.

Notes on the Liturgy #17 — Sanctus

The Sanctus is a rich burst of praise sung before the Lord’s Supper. It continues the Preface. The Proper Preface concluded with the words, “Therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we laud and magnify your glorious name, evermore praising you and saying:” With that introduction, the Sanctus begins with the [cherubim’s] praise found in Isaiah 6:3, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord, God of pow’r and might: Heaven and earth are full of your glory…”

The church may be visibly separated by geography, language, false doctrine, time, death, etc but we are in reality one body in Christ. In regard to the Lord’s Supper Paul says, “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf (I Cor 10:17).” Thus, we sing the angel’s praise. We join with the angels and the whole church, for together we are one church. Outwardly we are divided but in Christ we are one body.

The Sanctus continues with the Benedictus that says, “Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” These words are drawn from Psalm 118:25-26 and Matthew 21:9. Hosanna means, “save now” and became an expression of praise. Historically, it was customary for the Jewish passover to end with the singing of Psalms 115-118. The Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus and his disciples concluded the Passover/first Communion by singing a hymn (Mk 14:26). Most likely Jesus sang Psalm 118 that included the words of our Sanctus (Tyndale Old Testament Commentary Psalms 73-150, pg 401). These are also the same words that the crowds greeted Jesus with as He triumphantly entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. They are the words used to greet the promised Messiah. It is no accident that this triumphant greeting is combined with the words of praise heard in the heavenly throne room. The combination of the holy, holy, holy and the same words that the crowds greeted Jesus with on Palm Sunday serves as a confession that this Jesus who now comes to us in, with and under the bread and wine is the Triune God who Isaiah saw in the heavenly throne room.

Theologically, the last phrase of the Sanctus points us to the elements in Communion. Our ‘Hosanna…Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” finds its fulfillment in the reception of the Sacrament. Under the masks of bread and wine, Jesus comes to us and gives us His very own body and blood for our forgiveness. Interestingly, Reformed churches expunged this portion of the Sanctus for the very reason that they deny the truth of Jesus’ words when He said, “This is my body, This is my blood.” (Lutheran Worship History and Practice, pg. 422)

Previous Notes on the Liturgy —
Introit, Psalm or Hymn
Kyrie and Gloria
Alleluia Verse and other responses
The Hymn and Hymns
The Sermon
The Creeds
The Prayers
The Offering
Preface and Proper Preface
Pre-Communion Prayer & Lord’s Prayer
Communion & the Peace
Agnus Dei
Post Communion Canticle & Collect

You may find all these by looking at our Regular Column on the Explanation of the Divine Service category or by using the shortcut

These notes were originally written in 2001 by Pastor David Oberdieck and have been edited. Thanks to Pastor Mathey for improvements to this segment.

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