Sanctus: A Liturgical Setting
I am the music director of an Anglican church. We sing 10-12 songs every worship service. Some of these songs are hymns, some are contemporary choruses, and a few are liturgical settings. Liturgical settings are songs set to ancient texts and sung week after week to reinforce certain parts of the liturgy. In the Western church there are historically five settings that are used every week or rotated into the liturgy seasonally: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei.
Our church typically sings a Kyrie or an Agnus Dei setting during Advent and Lent. We are currently singing a Gloria setting for the season of Epiphany. And we speak the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed every week. All of these settings are foundational to our worship practice. But there is one liturgical setting that transports us to another dimension, as it were, and which we sing without fail every time we gather for the Eucharist.
The Sanctus is arguably the most transcendent moment of the liturgy. The worshipers are mysteriously collected up into a “thin place” where heaven and earth meet, where we join in the worship of heaven. Listen to the words of the liturgy.
The priest says:
Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your name.
Then everyone sings:
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.
Everything in the liturgy up to this point has taken place, so to speak, on the earth. Now we are lifted into heaven. This is the atmosphere in which we come at the table of the Lord, kneeling before his altar with open hands to receive what only he can give.