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Holy, holy, holy (pause)

posted Nov 12, 2011, 8:07 AM by Steven Vaughan   [ updated Dec 17, 2011, 8:31 AM ]
In the English version of the Sanctus, we regularly say or sing: “Holy, holy, holy Lord, (pause) God of…”
 
Translated into Latin, this would be: “Sancte, sancte, sancte Domine, Deus Sabaoth”

But that’s not the correct text, which actually is: “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth.”

The original Latin is in the nominative case, not the vocative; meaning it’s not a form of address.  It’s a complete sentence, with a period at the end, and contains the implied verb “est” or “is”:
“Holy, holy, holy [is the] Lord, God of hosts.”

Adoremus, a Catholic association that promotes authenticity in the liturgy points out that this text does not contain, even implicitly, a second-person pronoun or noun-phrase; nor is “Sanctus” an adjective.  Yet that is just how we proclaim it in English, as if we were addressing our holy Lord.  And while the Lord is holy indeed; dividing the phrase incorrectly isolates the word “Dominus” and alters the meaning of the original Latin text.

The word sanctus is uttered three times.  In Isaiah, this is a prefiguring of the Trinity, while in both Rev 4:8 and the Roman Missal, this three-fold “holy” is an explicit reference to the Trinity.  Yet too often in our English versions, (including Marty Haugen’s Mass of Creation we used to sing), connecting the word “Lord” to the third utterance diminishes the triple resonance of the word “Holy”, obscures the clarity of the Trinitarian reference, and weakens the totality of the following title, “Lord, God of hosts”.

So don’t just say new words.  Correct your phrasing. Composer Curtis Stephan has done it for you in his Mass of Renewal, with the proper result of:

Holy, Holy, Holy, (slight pause and breath)
Lord God of Hosts.

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