Tuesday, April 23, 2013
The Hosanna Shout
The Hosanna Shout is friggin' weird.
At some point during high school, my family and I attended a televised temple dedication at our stake center. I think it was for the new Nauvoo temple, but I'm not sure. Anyway, we made sure to bring white handkerchiefs with us so that we could participate in the Hosanna Shout.
The dedication was pretty boring. I hardly remember anything about it. But I definitely remember the part when Boyd K. Packer got up, explained how to do the Hosanna Shout, and then led us in performing it. I remember feeling ridiculous as I waved my silly little handkerchief and chanted "Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna to God and the Lamb, amen, amen and amen" three times with the severely under-enthused congregation.
I think that was one of the first times I actually thought that some aspect of the church was undeniably stupid. This wasn't some kind of blessing for the new temple--there was no implicit or explicit beneficial consequence of performing the Hosanna Shout. It was simply an empty ritual, a superfluous tradition from an earlier era of church history. I didn't associate this experience with the word, but this was the most cult-like vibe I'd ever gotten from the church. This was weirder than calling people "brother" and "sister." This was weirder than having the missionaries over for dinner. It was even weirder than getting baptized for dead people.
The atmosphere in the chapel was strange. Nobody really seemed to be really into the shout, which was really more of a weak mass intonation. And it wasn't as though Packer was there in person to condemn us to eternal damnation if we didn't participate. But everybody did it because it was just something that everybody needed to do. I got the sense that if Packer had explained that we were to shout "I frequently have sexual intercourse with barnyard animals" three times, we all would have done it, hankies aflutter.
I'm having trouble locating a quote from a church leader concerning this, but I grew up with the impression (probably given to me by my parents, my Mormon leaders, or maybe General Conference addresses) that one of the great things about the Mormon church was that it wasn't crippled by a reliance on ritual--an oblique jab at the Catholics. Instead of sitting through a service full of empty traditions wrapped in Latin, those of us in the true church simply had a few "ordinances" to receive. The only rote rituals in our worship services were the sacrament prayers, which took all of thirty seconds. This was supposed to be one more stone in the mountain of evidence that the church was true and the other churches were far removed from any real divine authority.
But then...this? The Hosanna Shout is exactly the kind of thing that the church members used to criticize about other religions. It accomplishes nothing, it doesn't even come off as particularly worshipful, but it's tradition to perform it exactly the same way at temple dedications. Which makes it an empty ritual that our arch-nemeses, the Catholics, would laugh at us for.
If there is a god, I'm pretty sure he does some kind of cosmic facepalm every time he sees a performance of the Hosanna Shout.