Music for The Sanctus

Copyright All rights reserved by Simon_K

In 2007 when my wife and I were living in London we attended Grace Church Hackney, which was part of the Anglican church.  During the communion liturgy everyone in the church began singing what I took as a simple contemporary worship song!  After the service I asked the music director about this song and he told me that it was called “The Sanctus” and was always a part of the Anglican eucharist liturgy, although not every congregation choose to sing it.

The Sanctus (latin for ‘holy’) usually refers to a musical piece based on the ‘holy, holy, holy’ of Isaiah 6:3 and is often followed by Psalm 118:26: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (the Benedictus).  During the early church it grew to be a sung response in the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving or ‘Eucharistic’ prayer that was sung as part of the Lord’s Supper liturgy.  It is rooted in the prayers of passover and helps to connect our Lord’s Supper celebration with the covenant renewal of all God’s saints in history.

The Worship Sourcebook puts it this way.

The Great Prayer usually consists of two parts. The first part is a rhapsodic, thankful remembrance of all God’s works of redemption, from creation to new creation. This part of the prayer often sounds like a psalm or a creed as it rehearses the scope of salvation history. In many traditional forms this part of the prayer is itself divided into two parts: thanksgiving for creation, ending with a song of praise based on Isaiah 6:3, “Holy, holy, holy” (the Sanctus); and thanksgiving for the work of Christ, ending with a memorial, spoken or sung, such as “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”

Here are the words of The Sanctus:

Holy, holy, holy Lord
God of power and might,  (or ‘God of hosts’)
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.


* Here are a number of musical arrangements and adaptations we have come across.

Also, you can try singing verse one of the traditional hymn Holy, Holy, Holy

Red Mountain Music
mp3 | leadsheet

Bethany BrooksQuarry Street Hymnal
mp3 | leadsheet

Alex Mejias – High Street Hymns
mp3 | leadsheet

Karl Digerness – City Hymns
mp3 | leadsheet

Evan MazunikBliss Street Studios
mp3 | leadsheet

Phil MajorinsGloriaNote Music
mp3 | leadsheet

Patrick Schlabs – Holy City Hymns
mp3 | leadsheet

Justin Brooks – All Saints Dallas
mp3 | leadsheet

*All of these versions are used with permission of the artists and all rights are reserved with them.


I also found this helpful post from “Worthily Magnify

Here is a brief article from Fred Sanders at The Scriptorium.

4 thoughts on “Music for The Sanctus

Add yours

  1. Bruce,

    Glad to hear that you are pondering this wonderful portion of ancient liturgies. Here’s another good brief post (

    Here’s the original Latin text:
    Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus
    Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
    Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua.
    Hosanna in excelsis.
    Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
    Hosanna in excelsis

    The more accurate translation of the second line is: “Lord God of hosts,” i.e. Lord God of armies. The “God of power and might” was adopted by modern translators who either thought that God of hosts (i.e., armies of angels) was too foreign for modern people, or too “violent” because it uses military-type imagery. But the modern translation actually strips the text of its specificity and allusion to biblical texts that extol God’s power to fight as a warrior on behalf of the poor, humble, and afflicted (cf. the use of “Lord Sabaoth his name” as a reference to the Lord who “wins the battle” in “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

    At Crossroads Presbyterian, we sing songs that I call “Ascension Songs” after the declaration of God’s forgiveness. I think the Sursum Corda and Sanctus-related songs are even more fittingly used as a response to God’s forgiveness of sins and prior to the ministry of the word for reasons that I explain on pp. 25-26 of this booklet:

    Click to access worship-at-crossroads-commentary1.pdf

    I would love to dialogue further about that if you’re interested.

    Lots of older and newer songs have sections that are inspired by themes of the ancient Sanctus and refer to our joining the worship of heaven around God’s heavenly throne, and/or include the words attributed in Scripture to angels and heavenly saints (e.g., “Holy, holy, holy,” “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.” and other songs from Revelation, Isaiah 6, etc.) You can find the lists of the “Sanctus” or “Ascension” songs that we use for this purpose in these files (scroll down to section 5):

    Click to access songs-for-worship-maplewood-site2.pdf

    Click to access songs-for-worship-olivette-site2.pdf

    And if you want an easy place to check on the texts of these songs, you can find them all here:

    Click to access songbook-for-crossroads-02-12-2012.pdf

    If you want further study about the Sanctus, the key book is Bryan Spinks, _The Sanctus in the Eucharistic Prayer_ (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2002).

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