Thursday, December 30, 2010

Holy, holy, holy: How ancient is that song?

I have one more note in the series on holiness, a comment on the praise of God's holiness in the ancient song "Holy, Holy, Holy" in our worship. Exalting God's name and hallowing it does not reduce to this song; but this song has played an important part through the ages in hallowing God's name. I was surprised just how ancient and widespread that is in our worship.

The song "Holy, Holy, Holy" is part of the most ancient church services. In the ancient Latin liturgies, the song goes by the name Sanctus. In the ancient Greek liturgies, a similar prayer goes by the name Trisagion (thrice-holy), though in its form it is not so closely tied to the vision of Isaiah. But the place of this song in the worship service seems to be older than the Latin or Greek forms. When I went to my niece's bat-mitzvah, there in the service it was a long-expected friend: "Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh, Adonai Sabaoth!" (Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Hosts!).

The most ancient parts of the liturgy are inherited from Judaism: the Scripture readings, the lectionary to order them, the Psalms, the sermon, the fringed shawl worn by the leader, and at least this one song: Holy, Holy, Holy. Then again, the Hebrews do not suppose that the song originated in their liturgy. From the vision of Isaiah, they believe it to be part of the eternal song of heaven, and our liturgies merely participate in that. Some of the older Christian liturgies introduce this song by reminding the people that here we are joining the eternal song: "Therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify your glorious name, evermore praising you and saying:".


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Years and years ago, I went to confession and said my prayer life was stagnating; i couldn't think of a single thing to say except, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts!" and the priest said, "But that's the ceaseless song of the angels! What more did you want?"

Well, "Forgive me my countless sins" would've been appropriate, but anyway, the Trisagion tided me over until then.

Weekend Fisher said...

Of all the Biblical prayers, I expect the angels' prayers are better than the human ones, except in that: I expect they do not experience our need for mercy.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Weekend Fisher said...

Though, on second thought, I wonder if that's why they generally start by telling us, "Fear not." ... They may not understand our need for mercy from our side, but they understand it from God's side.