The Company of Heaven

By Herbert O’Driscoll

For four years – 1941 to 1945 – I was in a boarding school founded in 1673. Many years later, when we took our family to see the school, one of them remarked that it had not changed much since that date! However, my memory of it is not an unhappy one. There were periods of homesickness of course, especially in the early months, but, as with most things in life, they passed and one entered into the life of the school with one’s peers.

However, life was, you might say, spartan. Actually the motto of the school used that very term. On our caps and blazers was emblazoned the Latin words “Spartan Nactus Es, Hanc Exorna”, reminding us that we were indeed Spartans and we were to live up to that title! Spartan also might be applied to such things as food in the dining room – plain; desks in the classrooms – hard; and beds in the dormitories – old.

Sometimes we longed for the comforts of home. There came a time when for a few short months something of home was provided from an unexpected source – the local Anglican rectory.

The rectory was within walking distance of the school. I recall the rector as a quiet cultured man. To be in his company was, at least for me, a great pleasure.

In those days confirmation classes were mandatory and were usually given on your fifteenth year. Previously they had taken place in the school library, a bare and dull room cluttered with desks that had been retired from the classrooms. In this particular year the Rector suggested to the Headmaster that the candidates for confirmation might come to his study in the rectory.

So it comes about that on a certain Thursday day we are sitting on the floor of the rectory study, its warm rug beneath us, a cheerful fire burning. The Rector is sitting on his desk legs dangling. By now we have had a month of these classes and we look forward to them eagerly. The study, complete with the juice and biscuits brought by the rector’s wife, has become an oasis from the Sparta of the school.

It is on this particular Thursday that I will be given a gift that has proved life long. Each of us has a Book of Common Prayer and a Bible. The rector directs us to open the Prayer Book at a certain page. He then asks one of us to read from that page. A boyish voice reads

With angels and archangels
And with all the company of heaven,
We laud and magnify thy holy name,
Evermore praising thee, and saying:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts;
Heaven and Earth are full of Thy glory
Glory be to Thee, O Lord Most High.

The reader’s voice falls silent. Very quietly and deliberately the Rector speaks to us.

“These are very powerful words. Do you know that when these words are said in church something wonderful happens? If you look towards the Communion Table you will see the wall behind, and the great window beyond, fade away. You will find yourself looking out at a vast host. Among them you will see creatures from every part of God’s creation. You also see angels and archangels. Then you see a great throng of people.

Who are they? You are looking at all those who have worshipped God before us, and still worship God in heaven, countless generations. When we say these words in church we join in that great song they are singing. Just for a moment time and space are opened up and we all worship God together. Then the wall and the window return and the moment is past. But it happens every time we say – and then he paused because he was a wonderful storyteller, and then continued – every time we say…SANCTUS, SANCTUS, SANCTUS,

The awe-inspiring images have always remained with me, and the passage we call Sanctus has always remained a song in my heart. As I was given it as a gift, I now pass it on to you in this season when we prepare to receive the great gift of our Lord Jesus Christ.


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