By Fr. Aaron Johanneck
Director of Worship
This month we continue our reflections on the nature of the Church’s liturgy. Last month we discussed how the Sacred Liturgy is the prayer, praise, sacrifice, and offering of Jesus Christ himself. It is his perfect prayer to the Father to which we are united by virtue of our Baptism, which unites us to him and makes us members of his Mystical Body.
As we said, this is one of the aspects of the liturgy described in the Second Vatican Council’s “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” (“Sacrosanctum Concilium”).
Another perspective from which this constitution discusses the liturgy is as a foretaste and participation in the heavenly liturgy. Here’s what the Fathers of the Council have to say in this regard: “In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle.”
They continue, “With all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, until He, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with Him in glory” (SC, no. 8).
What this means is that we truly do “Sing with All the Saints in Glory,” as the hymn goes, every time that we participate in the Sacred Liturgy. Imagine that as the Holy Mass begins the roofs of our churches are torn away and we are lifted up into the perfect and eternal praise offered by the angels and saints, who fall down in worship and adoration before the Lamb who was slain in the heavenly Jerusalem as described in the Book of Revelation (cf., for example, 4:1-11).
Here the living creatures give to the One who is seated on the throne, glory and honor and thanks. The elders fall down before Him and worship Him singing, “Worthy are you, Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things; because of your will they came to be and were created” (Rev 4:11).
Here they offer incense, which represents the prayers of the holy ones. Gathered around the throne they sing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev 4:8).
We, too, sing or recite this prayer at every Mass just after the priest invites and exhorts us with these or similar words: “And so, with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven, we sing the hymn of your glory, as without end we acclaim … Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts!”
This prayer, the “Holy, Holy, Holy” or “Sanctus” is found not only in Revelation, but also in Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah is given a vision of heaven in which he sees the seraphim singing this hymn to one another as they glorify God (6:3). In the liturgy, it is this worship and praise of God that we are drawn into.
This is why traditionally churches have often had images of angels and saints, especially in and around the sanctuary. This is a reminder to worshippers of the reality that we enter into when we gather as Christ’s Body to take part in the Church’s prayer, especially in the Holy Mass. It is the wedding feast of the Lamb; the adoration of the myriads upon myriads in the heavenly Jerusalem.