Holy, holy, holy… in the fourth century!?

I am slowly making my way through The Mass of the Roman Rite, by Joseph Jungmann, SJ. On average, I cover two pages a day. The Mass of the Roman Rite is a two-volume set best read, I think, in small servings. There many historical notes on the origin and development of the liturgy, which are often erudite. I frequently come across things that gives me pause–especially when current use closely resembles ancient practice.

Father Jungmann, quotes at length from the eighth chapter of the Apostolic Constitutions. This work dates from the fourth century. This section includes a partial outline of the Mass as well as some texts used. I was most interested by this quotation:

For all this, glory to Thee, omnipotent Lord! Thee do the uncounted hosts of angels praise, the archangels… who… without ceasing and without becoming silent cry out: —and all the people should say together:–Holy, holy, holy Lord of Sabbaoth, Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. Praised Forever! Amen.

Does this text remind you of something we hear at Holy Mass?

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.

The introductory material from the first quote sounds very much like the concluding part of many of the Prefaces that are used at Mass and precede the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy).

Historical facts like this one really increase my awe of the Church’s liturgy. The Mass isn’t something that we just made up; the Mass was instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church for its reverent celebration. The Apostolic Constitutions show that the Church’s use of the Sanctus date back, verifiably, over 1,600 years. In all likelihood, this practice emerged in the earliest years of the Church.

To my knowledge there are two references to this angelic hymn in Sacred Scripture. The first comes from Isaiah 6:2-4:

Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they hovered. One cried out to the other: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!” At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke.

The second is from Revelation 4:8:

The four living creatures, each of them with six wings,were covered with eyes inside and out. Day and night they do not stop exclaiming: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.”

When we go to Holy Mass we are present with all of the angels and saints in heaven. In a special way, we are in communion with all those who have worshipped God at Holy Mass through the centuries–saying the same things that we say!

Every person should love and be devoted to Holy Mass.

May each of us love the Mass and help others to do so!

Leave a Reply