V. Rev. Fr. Barouyr Shernezian
Before the “Holy, Holy, Holy…” chant (known as “Sanctus”, or “Soorp, Soorp…”), the celebrant inaudibly prays the Anaphora over the Eucharistic gifts. The celebrant continues to pray inaudibly during the “Soorp, Soorp…”. We will reflect on the Anaphora as well as the celebrant’s motions during this part of the Liturgy in order to explain the process of gradually consecrating the Holy Gifts. We are now approaching the holiest part of the Liturgy.
First, we will walk through the prayer, paraphrased and translated below:
It is truly proper and right with most earnest diligence to always adore and glorify You, Father almighty, who did remove the hindrance of the curse by Your imponderable Word, Your co-creator, who, having taken the Church to be a people to Himself, made His own those who believe in You, and was pleased to dwell among us in a ponderable nature, according to the dispensation through the Virgin, and as the divine master-builder building a new work, He thereby made this earth into heaven.
For He, before whom the companies of vigilant angels could not bear to stand, being amazed at the resplendent and unapproachable light of His divinity, even He, becoming man for our salvation, granted to us that we should join the heavenly ones in spiritual choirs.
In order to understand the meaning of these words, we have to understand why and how Jesus became man to save us from the destruction of sin and death.
The Israelites experienced God through centuries. They understood that it was impossible to stand before God. If we can imagine the immenseness of the universe, we can understand God’s power and greatness. After all, He created all of it. The Creator of the universe became a man to save us from our own sins! In the time of the Israelites, only righteous, holy, and pure people stood before God. Yet God became a man and willingly suffered crucifixion, just to save the humanity from the stain of sin. During the Eucharistic prayer, the celebrant says that even the angels cannot open their eyes before God, because His nature is a divine flame. It is hard to imagine that a human body can “carry” that kind of divine power. Our Lord Jesus Christ did so, not to show us that He is God, but to show us love through His suffering, crucifixion, and death.
How can that be possible? How is it that we are able to stand before God? At the end of the Eucharistic prayer, we learn that the angels cannot stand before God.
In the Old Testament, we learn that God “made us a little lower than the angels.” (Psalm 8:5) Angels are spiritual beings who serve God in Heaven. However, they do not possess the grace to be in the true presence of God. They serve Him, but they cannot come near Him. The Seraphim and Cherubim are allowed to stand close to God, but must cover their eyes and their bodies with their wings. (Isaiah 6:1-8) Those who do not bear God’s “image and likeness” are not allowed to be in His presence. Our Lord Jesus Christ lived among people. He physically touched people. He gave Himself to us to enable us to find our way home to Him. He honored us and loved us even more than the angels. He gave Himself to create us, then sacrificed Himself on the Holy Cross to save us. Today, we touch Him every time we take the Holy Eucharist. Further, St. Paul the apostle asks, “[d]o you not know that we shall judge the angels?” (1 Corinthians 6:3) In other words, we are not only more honored than the angels, but we also have more authority than the angels.
Because we know, touch, and have Him in us, we experience God more deeply than the angels. We understand God through Jesus. Angels have a different understanding of God. Man, however, is created in God’s image and likeness.
Why is this important? How does it benefit our liturgical experience?
In order to fully grasp the Divine Liturgy, we have to understand who God is and what He did for us. Without understanding the meaning of the Holy Eucharist, the Divine Liturgy can easily lose its meaning. We tend to take things for granted, especially repetitive events. The Holy Gifts resting on the altar were given for our sins. Further, we are sinners, unlike the angels. With this in mind, let us prepare our hearts and spirits for the transformative nature of the Holy Eucharist.
Before singing “Soorp, Soorp…” with the angels, we should remember: God honored us more than them. The Lamb of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, showed His love through crucifixion. We can only receive it through the Holy Eucharist and the Divine Liturgy.