Hosanna in the Gospels. When Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the people in the crowd kept crying out and saying: “Hosanna to the son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest” (Mt 21:9). Two other evangelists also report the use of the same cheer as Jesus rode a donkey from Bethany to the Holy City and entered the Temple on the occasion of the great feast (Mk 11:9,10; Jn 12:13; NAB 1986). But what did the people mean when they chanted “Hosanna!”?
Old Testament Meaning
“Hosanna” is the English rendering of the Hebrew word hoshianna which is found only in Ps 118:25, and it is hard to capture its exact meaning in English. In ancient times hosanna was a cry of distress or a prayer for deliverance in times of trouble, not a shout of praise. Normally this word was directed to the king or God, and it meant something like, “Please, save us;” “Help, I pray;” or, “O Lord, we beg you to save us now.” The New American Bible footnote says that it means, “O Lord, grant salvation.” Over the centuries hosanna’s meaning and usage gradually changed, and it evolved into a general cry of jubilation, a word of welcome, or a joyful acclamation of praise roughly equivalent to “Hail,” a greeting of honor for a king or a dignitary, or a liturgical or spiritual acclamation for God. In contemporary jargon it could easily mean “Hail to the chief!” “Praise God!” “Praise the Lord,” or “Alleluia!”
The Palm Sunday Cheer
By shouting “Hosanna!” the people in the crowd gave Jesus their homage. It was a grand display of respect and reverence, as well as a way for them to give Jesus their worship and adoration. Moreover, by chanting this word over and over again, they made an exuberant demonstration of their joy. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22) especially evident when God is present.
Hosanna in the Mass
Hosanna is a pivotal word in the Sanctus or Holy, Holy, the hymn after the Preface and before the Eucharistic Prayer. The verses are as follows: “Holy, holy, holy, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” For us, the cry “Hosanna!” is a way to offer Jesus our tribute, praise, and adoration. It often is set to music, and should be sung or recited with gusto and conviction.