The Sursum Corda
Prior to this point of the liturgy we have spoken in terms of entering the heavenly throne room with songs of ascent, declarations of allegiance to our enthroned King, requests for His mercy, and a willingness to learn from His teaching. Having then undertaken a period of preparation, prayer, confession, and absolution we are now ready to move from the throne room to the heavenly altar itself.
The Sursum Corda accomplishes just that. It is at this moment that we experience both an ascent to the heavenly temple and altar and also the decent of the heavenly altar to church. As we lift our hearts unto the Lord in thanksgiving you will notice the actions of the priest reinforce the words that are being chanted responsively. There is a lifting up of the hands up and out to the heavens, which is where the priest is directing the people at that moment. The hands are then drawn back to the body as the people respond, as if to gather that response from the people. The priest then gestures out towards the people, imploring them as a group to give thanks to God for allowing them entrance into this sacred space before the hands are drawn back as if to again accept the response of the people that it is meet and right to express thanks.
This is a moment that transcends time and space, for at this moment we are both transported to the heavenly altar and the heavenly altar descends upon the our earthly altar of wood and stone. We are in heaven where, Christ was slain before the foundations of earth but we are also on earth. This is poetically expressed in the ancient liturgy of St. James (from the late 4th or early 5th century):
Let all mortal flesh keep silent, and stand with fear and trembling, and in itself consider nothing of earth; for the King of kings and Lord of lords cometh forth to be sacrificed, and given as food to the believers; and there go before Him the choirs of Angels, with every dominion and power, the many-eyed Cherubim and the six-winged Seraphim, covering their faces, and crying out the hymn: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
We have now left the throne room and are in the heavenly temple before the heavenly altar itself. This will be reasserted for us with the words of the Sanctus, which we will discuss next.
(as published in St. Luke's Sunday Bulletin, 7/15/18)