23 February 2013
Among the many reasons for my love of our Anglican Use liturgy, not least is the thread of elements from the Eastern churches which shows itself at various times. It gives an emphasized sense of universality and timelessness and reminds us of the richness and diversity of the various liturgies in the Church.
During the Lenten sung Masses we use the Trisagion, the “Thrice Holy” in place of the Kyrie eleison. This ancient hymn is found in almost all of the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox liturgies: “Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us.” It is a preview of the Sanctus, with its roots in the angelic hymn found in St. John’s Book of the Revelation (4:8). The Coptic Church ascribes it first to Nicodemus who, when taking Christ’s body down from the cross, saw the divinity of our Lord manifested and cried out, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal!”
There is another tradition which says that during the reign of the Emperor Theodosius II (408-450), Constantinople was experiencing a violent earthquake. As the people were praying for God’s help, a child was thrown up into the air by the violent quaking. Everyone cried out “Kyrie eleison!” As the child fell to the ground he was heard praying, “Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal,” after which the child died.
In the Western Church the Trisagion found its way into the Sarum rite as part of Compline from the Third Sunday in Lent until the Fifth Sunday in Lent. It was included in the Gallican rite during the Reproaches at the Good Friday liturgy, where it is still used throughout the Latin Rite.
The Trisagion has a rich history, and its place in the Anglican Use Mass is yet another chapter in that living history.