Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Relevancy of the Sanctus

The Holy Catholic Church proclaims that the Eucharist is the sum and summit of the Mass.  Therefore, it is only practical that there be a preface to allow our minds to eagerly anticipate the Eucharist.  The prelude is an introduction to the Eucharist, consisting in an exhortation to thanksgiving made by the celebrant, in the answers of the minister or choir, and a prayer ending with the Sanctus, in which God is thanked for His benefits.[1]  This should cause our minds to think of what we are being thankful for.

There are times when we might, perhaps, lose focus and miss the Preface as recited by the Priest; therefore, we should know what benefits of God we are so thankful for.  I just do not believe that the one-word answer, “everything,” is a justifiable response.  We do not have much time in the Mass to reflect; therefore, it should be something that is paramount to us:  our redemption and sanctification.

The Preface of the Mass concludes with the Sanctus:

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
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.

I want to focus on two stanzas:  “Heaven and earth are full of Your glory” and “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

“Heaven and earth are full of Your glory.”  In what way?  Given a good amount of time to contemplate, we could come up with a myriad of answers to this question.  During the Mass, there must be a paramount reason:  Obedience to the will of God.  The angelic response, the first stanza, is recited by the holy angels, those obedient to God’s will.  God is greatly glorified on earth by the obedience of mankind to God’s will, through the Church.  This is confirmed by the stanza, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Scott Hahn, in his short book, Come Again? The Real Presence as Parousia, tells us that the Church sees the Eucharist as a “coming” of Christ—not the coming we commonly referring to as the Second Coming.  He states:

“Our Lord promised:  ‘You will not see Me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’—that is, until the [coming, the presence of Christ].  How right it is for the Church to place those words, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,’ on our lips just moments before the Eucharistic consecration in the Mass, just moments before our Lord’s Eucharistic parousia.”

This makes the Sanctus a reality.  We are eagerly anticipating what is about to momentarily occur:  Jesus coming, making His presence known, in the Eucharist.  Listen to this early Church prayer in the Liturgy of the Blessed Apostles:  “How breathes in us, O our Lord and God, the sweet fragrance of the sweetness of Thy love; illumined are our souls, through the knowledge of Thy truth: may we be rendered worthy of receiving the manifestation of Thy beloved from Thy holy heavens: there shall we render thanks unto Thee, and, in the meantime, glorify Thee without ceasing in Thy Church, crowned and filled with every aid and blessing, because Thou art Lord and Father, Creator of all.”[2]  This is going to be fulfilled in the Eucharist.

When I began consideration of the Catholic Church, I went to a few Latin Masses.  It was difficult for me due to my lack of knowledge when it comes to Latin.  However, there was one thing that really intrigued me:  The priest faced away from us.  I found this extremely beneficial because I knew the priest was in the office of Christ.  Therefore, when he faced the same direction as the laity, this was Jesus, the Man, leading us in prayer.  When the priest faced us, it was Jesus, the Son of God, teaching us.  It made the Mass so relevant.  Oh, to have Jesus personally leading us in prayer!  How great it would have been if it had been in English.  It makes the Mass come alive.  Can you imagine Jesus, the angels, the saints in heaven, in purgatory, and on earth singing the Sanctus?  How the whole universe must reverberate!  All of this because of the Sacrifice of the Mass which is occurring continuously!

Here is a great, great benefit of the Eucharist, which we are anticipating, from the words of St. John Chrysostom:

“Therefore that you may not assemble here in vain I shall not cease beseeching you with all earnestness, as I have often besought you before, ‘conduct your brethren to us, exhort the wanderers, counsel them not by word only but also by deed.’ This is the more powerful, teaching,—that which comes through our manners and behaviour—Even if you do not utter a word, but yet, after you have gone out of this assembly, by your mien, and your look, and your voice and all the rest of your demeanour you exhibit to the men who have been left behind the gain which you have brought away with you, this is sufficient for exhortation and advice. For we ought to go out from this place as it were from some sacred shrine, as men who have descended from heaven itself, who have become sedate, and philosophical, who do and say everything in proper measure: and when a wife sees her husband returning from the assembly, and a father his son, and a friend his friend, and an enemy his enemy, let them all receive an impression of the benefit which you have derived from coming here: and they will receive it, if they perceive that you have become milder, more philosophical, more devout."

"Consider what privileges you enjoy who hast been initiated into the mysteries, with what company thou offerest up that mystic hymn, with what company thou criest aloud the ‘Ter sanctus.’ Teach ‘them that are without’ that thou hast joined the chorus of the Seraphim, that thou art ranked as a citizen of the commonwealth above, that thou hast been enrolled in the choir of Angels, that thou hast conversed with the Lord, that thou hast been in the company of Christ. If we regulate ourselves in this way we shall not need to say anything, when we go out to those who are left behind: but from our advantage they will perceive their own loss and will hasten hither, so as to enjoy the same benefits themselves. For when, merely by the use of their senses, they see the beauty of your soul shining forth, even if they are the most stupid of men, they will become enamoured of your goodly appearance. For if corporeal beauty excites those who behold it, much more will symmetry of soul be able to move the spectator, and stimulate him to equal zeal."

"Let us then adorn our inward man, and let us be mindful of the things which are said here, when we go out: for there especially is it a proper time to remember them; and just as an athlete displays in the lists the things which he has learned in the training school: even so ought we to display in our transactions in the world without the things which we have heard here.”[3]

Is this not a paramount reason for communing with Christ?  Is this not discerning Christ in the Eucharist?  If this is not enough, let us hear the words of St. Ambrose:

“’Dost thou wish to eat and to drink? Come unto the feast of wisdom, who invites all with a loud voice, saying, Come, eat my bread, and drink the wine which I have mingled for you. Fear not lest, in the feast of the Church, there be wanting either grateful perfumes, or sweetmeats, or varied drinks, or noble guests, or suitable garments. What more noble than Christ, who, in the banquet of the Church, is both the minister and the ministered. Recline close by the side of this guest, and join thyself to God.’ … He (Christ) is a rich treasure; His is the bread of fatness, and truly of fatness, since he who shall eat thereof cannot hunger.

This bread He gave to the Apostles to be distributed to the multitude of believers; and at this day He gives it to us, which Himself the priest daily consecrates with his own words. Therefore has this bread become the food of saints. We can also receive the Lord Himself, who gave us His own flesh, as Himself says, I am the bread of life: your fathers did eat manna in the desert and are dead; but this is the bread of life which cometh down from heaven, that if any man eat thereof he may not die.… He receives that proveth himself; and he who receives shall not die the death of the sinner, for this bread is the remission of sins’…‘Oh blessed wood of the Lord which crucified the sins of all men; oh blessed flesh of the Lord which ministered food to all men.’…‘Attend diligently to these things; understand them prudently; sedulously seek after them. Not cursorily are these things declared to thee, but to thee the divine mysteries are made known...’Let not thy faith fail. For though thou art weak, Christ who fails not is solicitous for thee."

"He says to His disciples, Give you them to eat, lest they fail by the way. Thou hast the apostolic food; eat it, and thou wilt not fail. Eat it first, that thou mayest afterwards come to the food of Christ, to the food of the body of the Lord, to the banquets of the sacraments, to that cup wherewith the affections of the faithful are inebriated; so as to be clothed with gladness on account of the remission of sins, and so as to put off the cares of this world, the fear of death, and anxieties. Thus inebriated the body staggers not, but rises again; the mind is not confounded, but hallowed’.”[4]

Is it not with great exultation that we sing the Sanctus?

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
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.

[1] McGovern, J. J. (Ed.). (1906). In Catholic Pocket Dictionary and Cyclopedia (p. 159). Chicago: Extension Press.
[2] Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (Eds.). (1886). The Liturgy of the Blessed Apostles. In J. Donaldson (Trans.), Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily, and Liturgies (Vol. 7, p. 561). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.
[3] John Chrysostom. (1889). To Those Who Had Not Attended the Assembly. In P. Schaff (Ed.), W. R. W. Stephens (Trans.), Saint Chrysostom: On the Priesthood, Ascetic Treatises, Select Homilies and Letters, Homilies on the Statues (Vol. 9, pp. 227–228). New York: Christian Literature Company.
[4] Berington, J., & Kirk, J. (1885). The Faith of Catholics: Confirmed by Scripture and Attested by the Fathers of the First Five Centuries of the Church. (J. Waterworth & T. J. Capel, Eds.) (Second Edition., Vol. 2, pp. 280–293). New York; Cincinnati: Fr. Pustet & Co.