…And, If So, When?
These are the words written on a scrap of paper I was given many years ago by an aged priest (I don’t remember why!) and ever since I happened to come upon it a few days ago in a little-used drawer of my desk, I have been totally mesmerized…to the extent of staying up until 4 a.m. more than once, surrounded by various editions and translations of the Bible as well as the Hebrew Tanakh, as I embarked upon my search...
[Note: the Sanctus referenced in the title of this article is a hymn from Christian Liturgy, forming part of the Order of Mass (or Communion Service).]
The "Tent Meeting"
I have often written about my father, the wonderful example he was to so many (and how he taught me to pray when I was very little) but I can honestly say that I only became a committed Christian, of my own volition, at the age of nine – at a tent meeting to which I was taken in the South African veld*, near Bloemfontein, by people with whom my mother had left me for the weekend. Ever since then reflection like this has been of the kind that has often riveted me, and which would drive me even to stand on a wooden crate in order to see through the window of the local Synagogue in Ficksburg, South Africa. (Was that because although I was baptized in a Dutch Reformed Church, I had a Jewish godmother – a schoolteacher who lived with us – and was prompted to ask Leah, a new immigrant who sat beside me in school, to teach me the Hebrew alphabet when I was six?)
And So Began My Search
I was thrilled to be able to ascertain that the Sanctus first appears in the fourth century, in a non-Eucharistic (Holy Communion) context and that it appears to have been derived from the Kedusha, which certainly contains that beautiful vision of angels as described, I believe, by Isaiah who saw all of this in a dream. The “holy, holy, holy…” has perhaps been borrowed from the Sanctus; and the credo is very similar to the Shema, “Hear, oh Israel,” the central prayer in the Jewish prayer book and often the first section of Scripture that a Jewish child learns. I have read that the Catholic mass evolved from the basic structure of Jewish prayer, and it is reasonable to assume that major prayers in the Mass are reminiscent of prayers in the Jewish liturgy.