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Vol. XII, February 2006

 

“The Seraphim called: Holy, holy, holy is the LORD”
(Is 6:3)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The last meditation brought us into contact with the Seraphim. The prophet’s vision recalls to mind—but in fact, was also surely a source for—our “priestly ideal”, namely, being on fire for God, being humble and docile to His will. Isaiah, deeply awed, saw the Seraphim before the divine Majesty. We might have expected them to be in silent adoration as they covered their face and feet, as a sign of their submission and total surrender. The prophet, furthermore, sees these Seraphim also with two extended wings and hears them singing, or more precisely: “one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.’ And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke” (Is 6:3-4).

When we daily approach the altar to renew the Sacrifice of the Cross and, herewith “stand in [God’s] presence” (Eucharistic Prayer II), we are invited to join the Seraphim in this their unending hymn of praise and sing: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Power and Might! Heaven and earth are full of Your glory!” Let us observe once more these holy spirits before the throne of God in order to learn from them what is proper for our own service of God.

1. “Holy, holy, holy…”  

Filled with awe before the divine majesty, the Seraphim explode, as it were, in their unending song of praise and adoration. Our Lord Himself declares: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt 12:34). What is the truth to which these highest spirits are striving to give expression?

a) The Confession of the Triune God

First, they express the quintessential attribute of the divine essence: God is “holy”. We should understand “holiness” not only as the absolute transcendence of God. It can be seen also as the angelic summary of all attributes or divine “qualities”, the summit of all that a created, limited mind can grasp, the “indefectibility” in all regards. Holiness expresses the beauty of His being as an effect of the perfection of all He is. It speaks of a peace and rest through the total possession, “full” in quantity through His eternity and “full” in quality through His immensity. There never has been nor can there ever be any passage from potency to an act. No question, no fear, no doubt ever penetrates nor even approaches this Holy God: In Him all is eternally, infinitely One, in Him Who is God.

Repeating “Holy, holy, holy” three times may not simply be emphatic, but may be a hidden reference to the three distinct Divine Persons. Each one of the Divine Persons is equally “holy”, equally God. The triple repetition of the same attribute “holy” —together with the use of the singular “His glory” (singular according the LXX)—indicates that there are three and yet one, three Persons and one God. Subsequently, when the mission comes up, God speaks both in the singular and in plural “we”, as in Isaiah 6:8: “And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send? and who shall go for us?” Already the Fathers of the Church saw this reference to the Trinity, having received the light of the full revelation through Christ (cf. for example, St. John Chrysostom and St. Cyril of Alexandria). It is, therefore, the Triune God Whom the Seraphim see and confess in this address.

b) Full of His Glory

The Seraphim attribute this holiness to “the Lord of hosts”. Similarly, St. John hears the four Living Beings unceasingly sing their sanctus to “the Lord God Almighty” (Rev 4:8). And today we still sing this praise to God through Christ with “all the militant hosts of heaven”. The liturgical version amplifies: “Heaven and earth are full of Your glory,” so as to embrace all that is “seen and unseen,” “visible and invisible,” “material and spiritual.” All creatures give testimony to their Creator: first of all by their very being inasmuch as each effect points to its cause; and secondly, and most importantly (for men and angels), they do so freely and lovingly with all their being. In this way, each one is “full of His glory” (cf. CCC 41 and 2807, 2809-15). Not even by sin, the aversion from God, can a creature so divest itself of its ontological goodness, that it not by its very being still “declare” its Creator’s goodness. Therefore, we can say: The Seraphim express in words, what is written in the being of all creatures: All is “full of His Glory,” that is, it reflects in some way the beauty of His holiness!

2. “One called to another”: A Lesson in Prayer

The Seraphim are rightly held to be the highest choir of angels. As such they have the deepest natural comprehension. We cannot even have an idea of what they understand of God. Even humanly speaking we can understand their exuberance, the fact, that they cannot keep their lucid joy to themselves, but had to express their joy “one to another”.

This vision reveals to us that the Seraphim are persons who live in the presence of God. In their prayer they first admire, praise and adore God in Himself; then they contemplate His Glory in the entire earth, that is, in all creation. They are constantly before the throne of God, but are also “sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation” (Heb 1:14). So we participate in the vision of the Prophet through Sacred Scripture and certainly also through their help, even while we are still on earth, especially through the recitation of the “Sanctus—Holy, holy, holy”. In their love they draw us into union with themselves, to the end that they introduce us into their union with God.

“The Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God” (CCC 335) especially at the entrance of the Eucharistic Prayer at Holy Mass, where God is present in a special way, and where the Seraphim praise and adore Him as in heaven. And so, the Church hopes to offer Him already here reverent praise and loving adoration with the angelic hymn and in union with the Seraphim.

We can join with them also in the Liturgy of the Hours. The Seraphim share their joy and praise with one another. This became the model for the way the monks sing the Divine Office; they too form two facing choirs. They also recite repeatedly the doxology, “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit”, at each hour of the Office. This corresponds, humanly speaking, to the Seraphim’s “Holy, holy, holy.”

Finally, the frequent repetition of this praise and contemplation will help lead us towards a constant, habitual union with the Seraphim. With their help and the Holy Spirit’s Gift of Understanding, we can mature in seeing that the “whole earth is full of His glory.” In this way we see creatures in their relationship to God, and thus, more and more constantly, come to “walk in the presence of God and enjoy the light of the living” (Ps 56:14).

3. A help for prayer

The prophet’s vision of the Divine Majesty and his observation of the Seraphim lead us to reflect not only about our priestly ideal in union with the holy angels, but more concretely about our prayer life.

a) Faithful to Our Promise

It is no secret that priests too ask themselves “What am I to do in prayer?”—True enough. Some priests, of course, don’t pray at all, and their breviary can be found almost untouched.  

Others “pray” with the people only insofar as their ministry requires it, and do not even offer the Holy Mass if there is no one present. —One wonders how they fail to see their infidelity to their promise of prayer made before their ordination as deacons and the contradiction to the essence of their ordination to the priesthood of Christ Who, day and night, both in public and hiddenly, prayed to His Father, and Who, in the end even prayed: “As Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us” (Jn 17:21; cf. Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, 1994, 38-42 and General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, [vol. I], 1-33).

Again others go to the tabernacle armed with a book to read, or think of the next homily that has to be prepared; others concentrate on the prayers they want to say in order to fulfill their proposals.

b) Jesus’ Petition With Seraphic Help

May the example of the Seraphim stir us up and awaken anew the desire to bebefore God like them and with them. Isaiah’s vision shows us the possibility of freeing ourselves and of just going to the tabernacle and be there where we find God and His angels. “Father,” Jesus prayed, “I desire that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, may be with Me where I am, to behold My glory which Thou hast given Me in Thy love for Me before the foundation of the world” (Jn 17:24). The Seraphim practice what Jesus asked here for the Apostles; they are with God, around His throne. They certainly are most willing to help us find the time and the courage to separate ourselves from our other duties so as to fulfill this prayer of Jesus. Arriving there, we might hear Jesus saying: “The poor you always have with you,” and work you will always have too, “but you do not always have Me” (Jn 12:8). The Seraphim will help us to put our books and thoughts aside, to be with Him in silent love and through Him with the Father, repeating with them, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of power and might…”.

The prophet describes two different attitudes of the seraphim, the covering of their faces and their feet before God and their calling to one another with two extended wings. The first might serve us as example of the passive prayer, the silent listening to the Word of God in reading and meditation or contemplation. The second corresponds to the active response in praise to these ways of receiving (cf. for these four steps CCC 2654).  

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The example of the Seraphim shows us: Prayer and adoration is the occupation of the highest creatures! It is the direct service of the highest Being, of God. Let us join the Seraphim in their adoration through the frequent recitation of their prayer, the Sanctus. It helps us to have God always in mind, but also to form with even all the holy angels a spiritual “net” of interecesson to catch all souls, lest anyone should “fall through” or get lost.

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC