What To Do With The Sanctus

I can’t be absolutely certain, but I would say it’s a safe bet that there has never before been a blog post with this title in the history of the internet.

The “Sanctus” (rhymes with bonk-toos) is the song that appears in the communion liturgy after the opening call-and-response prayer that goes something like:

Celebrant: The Lord be with you
People: And also with you.
Celebrant: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them to the Lord.
Celebrant: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People: It is right to give him thanks and praise.
Celebrant: It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name:

Then we sing the Sanctus (“Sanctus” is Latin for “holy”). The text for this song is something along the lines of:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, 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.

If you lead worship in a church that is either nondenominational or fairly informal in its liturgy, you might not use this kind of liturgy for communion. But if you’re in a liturgical church, you’ll probably know what I’m talking about.

And whether you do communion every week or once a month, you might find yourself asking the question: “what do I do with the Sanctus?”

There are many different settings of the Sanctus in various hymnals, but if you’re like me, not many of them are all that appealing. Because of this, it can be tempting to stick with the one good setting of the Sanctus that you have and use it every single time. When this happens, the Sanctus can get to be predictable, rote, and boring.

Worship leaders who lead in the context of a liturgical church can work within the confines of that liturgy to help introduce and maintain a freshness and heartfelt engagement on the part of the congregation.

In this instance, with a song that can easily become robotic, we can use different settings and even different wording to help keep people engaged. The “Sanctus” is meant to be a song during which we join in with the song that all of heaven is singing around the throne. Whether or not we use the exact text as is in the Book of Common Prayer or use a beautiful melody shouldn’t be our primary concern. Rather, our concern should be stirring people to exalt and magnify God as we sing with all of heaven.

Here are the four songs I draw from to use as a Sanctus.

1. Holy, Holy, Holy Lord (Hosanna) by Peter Scholtes
This is an older one – but with some energy it still works well. Every recording I’ve heard of this song is pretty slow. I do it faster, around 100 bpm.

2. Salvation Belongs to Our God by Adrian Howard
Technically, this isn’t a “Sanctus” because it doesn’t have the traditional wording. But, when you use the first verse and chorus, it fits really well in the liturgy. Coming after the celebrant says “therefore we praise you, joining our voices with angels… and all the company of heaven who forever sing this hymn…” it works well to sing straight from Revelation 7:10,12: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb!

3. We Fall Down by Chris Tomlin
Again, this isn’t the traditional Sanctus text, but it still fits well. “We fall down, we lay our crowns at the feet of Jesus… and we cry ‘holy, holy, holy’ is the Lamb”.

4. Be Unto Your Name (chorus only) by Lynn DeShazo and Gary Sadler
Holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, worthy is the Lamb who was slain. Highest praises, honor and glory be unto Your name”.

Typically, the Sanctus isn’t a very long song. It lasts for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, and then the liturgy continues. So don’t repeat these very much, if at all, unless your pastor is OK with extending that portion of the liturgy.

It’s hard to find good settings of the Sanctus. Hopefully these suggestions help if you’re looking for some new ones, and please feel free to share any that I’ve missed!

3 thoughts on “What To Do With The Sanctus

  1. cardiphonia August 2, 2010 / 11:07 pm

    wow. thanks so much for this. I’ve been trolling around for musical possibilities for the sanctus. seriously. this is great.

  2. Matt Blick August 3, 2010 / 9:36 am

    rhymes with bonk-toos?

    In the UK we pronounce it to rhyme with cay po…

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