Sanctus

I have a few vivid memories of the sixth grade, most of which are unbidden and unwanted glimpses of pre-adolescence rocking the world as I knew it.  One unquestionable high point was the honor of being selected for All County Chorus.  I have always loved to sing; the joy of being wrapped on all sides with song while singing in a large choir was something I had never experienced as a small town girl, leading a small town life.  We rehearsed on Saturdays at one of the big high schools closer to the city than was our rural home town.  I, notorious now for my lack of height, was assigned music folder #1 as the tallest girl in the chorus at that time.  Five foot two is tall for the sixth grade.  Unfortunately for me, I had stopped growing by the time everyone else was just getting started.

In elementary All-County chorus we sang several songs which I vaguely remember…some medley of Hungarian folk songs, a version of the Tree Song (“I saw a tree by the riverside, one day as a I walked along…”) and a few other things that I might remember if I heard them.  But, unquestionably and without doubt, the most memorable to me was a song I called, “Sanctus, Sanctus” for which I needed to learn to correctly pronounce the words in Latin.  It felt so powerful, so strong, and so palpably important.  I didn’t really know why I loved it so much.  I was raised deeply religious, but in the pentecostal tradition, so the words of the Latin Mass meant little, if anything, to me at that time.  But, whenever I rehearsed that song it was stuck in my mind for hours on hours.  I could close my eyes and hear it, as if conducted by the wind whispering around me.

The afternoon of our big All County concert finally came.  I put on my required white shirt and blue skirt and my parents and I drove to the city, to Kleinhan’s Music Hall in downtown Buffalo.  My stomach churned with nerves as I lined up to sing these songs I had been learning with students from all around the county.  My folder #1 meant that I also was the line leader, and I marched in, climbed up and walked toward the end of the top row of risers.  I was still terrified that I might fall off.  But, somehow, I made it to the top riser and turned around.  I was awestruck by the lights that blinded me to see anything other than the arms of our conductor.

The opening strain of our performance gripped me, and soon I was thinking of nothing but the sounds of my voice blending with others around me, echoing each other in the alternating stanzas of the Sanctus that I now know as part of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem:

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth. Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua. Hosanna in excelsis.

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth.  Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. Hosanna in the highest.

In that moment, I felt that I was being carried to some otherworldly place and time.  The song had no context for me, no connection to my own religious upbringing.  I didn’t even know the translation of the Latin, the pronounciation of which had been drilled into me from weeks of rehearsing.  I simply knew that it spoke to me, remained with me, and took residence in a place in my mind and spirit where it made its home.

I revisited that time and place tonight.

Tonight, I stood beside the altar, assisting at the Solemn Eucharist of All Souls.  This is one of my favorite services of the year, and every year until this one I have practiced and rehearsed with my choir several selections from the Requiem Mass of Faure, Brahams, and/or Rutter.  My life has shifted now; my love for singing and for my choir remains.  But, my soul is following its calling and, like the wafting of incense, it has carried me to new places.  I find such deep beauty in the holiness of liturgy, and awe in service to the ministry to which I’ve been called.  Liturgy seems to course through my veins now, and The Episcopal Church is the place I call home.  I am honored to serve in that space and over time, that space has filled me in a way that pulls me outside of my familiar roles and into new ones.  I stood tonight, in the awe of Presence, and I heard my choir friends begin to sing a familiar refrain as we reached the Sanctus of the Eucharistic Prayer:

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth. Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua. Hosanna in excelsis.

In this moment, time and space seemed to fold.  I was standing with music surrounding me, beneath bright lights, standing at an edge.  This time, it was not the uneasy ledge of music hall risers.  It was the edge of eternal presence, the place where time and space are so thin that they are crossed in sacramental mystery.  It was as if those sacred words were given as a gift, long before my soul could truly hear them.  They were around me, and in me, and moving through me.  And not just me, of course.  In the wholeness of all who gathered, seen and unseen.  The communion of saints, the remembrance of the faithful departed, the shells of our former selves and the depths of our potential.  All gathered, all welcome, all united in the eternal and holy presence of that space and time.

Sanctus.

About harasprice

Social worker, professor, seminarian in The Episcopal Church, student, parent, teacher, writer, advocate, and grateful traveller along this journey through life
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