• Education Forums

Story Behind the Sanctus

May 17, 2018

The Sanctus we will sing on Sunday has a story. 

One of the many things I love about liturgy is the way in which stories can be compressed into moments of word or gesture or music in our common prayer.  As we prepare to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit this Pentecost by praying in the manner of Taizé, the Sanctus is such a moment.  

In 2012, I was with a small group of native and non-native students at the Thunderhead Episcopal Center in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  We joined together to compose a piece of Taizé-style music with the help of musician Michael Smith.  They chose the Sanctus (Wakan in Lakota) as the piece they wished to compose, using the 1550 Merbecke setting, which is found in the Lakota hymnal, as a starting point.  

The word Wakan is a powerful one in Lakota.  It conveys the Hebrew sense of the Holy as a force or presence that is vast, mysterious, and even somewhat dangerous.  Yet the word wa is the umbilical cord that connects us to our mother.  Contained in the word which expresses the inaccessible grandeur of God is the assertion that we are intimately connected to that mystery, the source of our being.  

As the young people lived their week together, each day was a step toward creating the simple piece of music.  A picnic at the icy cold, crystal clear Roughlock Falls, a silent meditation that allowed the voices of the pines to come through in ripples of sound, singing Lakota hymns in chapel—all became part of the sonic landscape.  

The 3-part Wakan that the group created, after trial and error, and reviewed by the whole camp community, contains this story.  It was a privilege and a gift to sing this piece at the Taizé meeting of the Pilgrimage of Trust at Pine Ridge.  It was a way to honor the landscape and theology of the place, and is a tiny fruit of the reconciliation being tentatively lived out there.  It is a joy to sing it here on Pentecost in Boston!

See you on Sunday,

The Rev. Rita T. Powell


At "Educational Forums," enrich your spiritual journey by exploring our resources including videos of lectures, essays by priests, and other pieces about our faith, our church, and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the 21st century.