The Preface and Sanctus

During services in which we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we begin this part of the service with the Preface.  The beginning responses prepare those who have gathered for what is to come.  The pastor first shares with the congregation the hope and promise that “The Lord be with you.”  This blessing mirrors Paul’s last words in several of his epistles, but especially the end of his second letter to  Timothy  (2 Timothy 4:22), “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”  The congregation responds by sharing that blessing with the pastor.

The second couplet begins by the pastor encouraging those present to “Lift up your hearts.”  This reflects the admonitions in Scripture to lift up the heart and the mind (Lamentations 3:41, Psalm 86:4, Colossians 3:1-2).  Origen (182-254 AD) wrote that a man must “lift up his soul before lifting up his hands; lift up his mind to God before lifting his eyes, and, before standing to pray, lift up his spirit from the things of earth and direct it to the Lord of all” (Origen, Prayer; Exhortation to Martyrdom).  The congregation responds in kind, “We lift them to the Lord.”

In the third response, the pastor invites the congregation, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” to which the congregation responds, “It is right to give Him thanks and praise” (or “It is meet and right so to do”).  The Lord’s Supper is sometimes called the Eucharist, which is from the Greek word which means “to give thanks.”  When Jesus celebrated the Supper with the disciples, He began by giving thanks.  Then, He gave them the bread and the wine as He told them it was His body and blood.  It is truly good to give Him thanks and praise for all that He has done for us.

This leads into the Proper Preface, as the pastor begins, “It is truly good (meet), right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places . . .”  There follows a set of statements specific to the season of the church year, highlighting the particular emphasis of the season.  Then the congregation responds to all of this by singing the Sanctus, which is the Latin word for holy.

“Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of Sabaoth . . . .”  “Sabaoth” is Hebrew for “armies” or “hosts”.  We laud the powerful Lord of the Universe, the God who has at His command legions of angels.  “Hosanna in the highest.”  “Hosanna” is the Hebrew request to “save” or “help”.  The Sanctus reflects the cry of Isaiah (6:2-3), recognizing the holiness of the Lord.  The people shouted “Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” as Jesus rode into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:9).

It is right and appropriate that we pray thus to the One who can save us.  And we pray it here because we know our salvation comes through the body and blood of our Savior.  The God of armies saves us not by a show of might and power; rather He came to us through the cross.