Waving a white handkerchief and shouting “hosanna” may not be something many people expect to do at a temple dedication. But when we take the time to understand the deep historic and religious significance behind it, it becomes less unusual and more sacred.
What is the Hosanna Shout?
Though you may have heard of this unique Latter-day Saint ritual, it is not often discussed or explained. During the October 2000 general conference, as Church members prepared to dedicate the newly completed Conference Center, however, President Hinckley described it the following way:
“Now, my brothers and sisters, in a moment I shall offer the dedicatory prayer, in which all of you are invited to join. Immediately at the close of the dedicatory prayer, we invite each one of you who may wish to participate to stand and join with us in the Hosanna Shout. This sacred salute to the Father and the Son is given at the dedication of each of the temples. It has also been given on a few occasions of historic importance, such as the laying of the capstone on the Salt Lake Temple and the celebration of the centennial of the Church in the 1930 general conference.
“We feel it is appropriate to give the shout here, as we dedicate this great building, the likes of which we may never undertake again. Any mention of this by the media should recognize that for us this is a very sacred and personal thing. We request that it be treated with deference and respect.
“I will now demonstrate the shout. Each one takes a clean white handkerchief, holding it by one corner, and waves it while saying in unison, “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna to God and the Lamb,” repeated three times, followed by “Amen, Amen, and Amen.”
Where does it come from?
For many Latter-day Saints, the most commonly talked about origin of the Hosanna Shout is from Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, when the people greeted Him with shouts of hosanna and waved palm branches and acknowledged him as the Messiah.
However, shouting hosanna can be traced even further back, to the Hebrew Feast of the Tabernacles. This feast, which began and ended on a Sabbath day, involved sleeping in temporary huts, erected in remembrance of the 40 years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. It also celebrated the gathering of nations and deliverance they received at the Lord's hand. As part of the festivities, on the seventh day, which was sometimes called “the Great Hosanna,” a special meeting was held and shouts of hosanna were given while palm branches were waved. But why use the word “hosanna”?
The word hosanna comes from two Hebrew words which, roughly translated, mean “please save us.” And though the phrase was at first used as a prayer or plea, it eventually came to be associated with praise and joy and is used that way today.
Because the feast was a celebration, however, the shout grew to symbolize joy and rejoicing.
Why do we use it now?
As a part of Christ’s ancient church, we still used this sacred form of praise. However, over the years, it has become less and less common, used only for special occasions such as temple dedications and solemn assemblies. Today, too, it is often said in conjunction with singing “The Spirit of God” or the “Hosanna Anthem.”
President Lorenzo Snow described the Hosanna Shout in this way during capstone ceremony for the Salt Lake Temple:
“The words of the shout, Hosanna!” he said, “to be uttered upon, or after, the laying of the capstone to-day, were introduced by President Joseph Smith at the Kirtland Temple, and were there used at a solemn assemblage where the power of God was manifested and the vision of the Almighty was opened up to the brethren. This is no ordinary order, but is—and we wish it to be distinctly understood—a sacred shout, and employed only on extraordinary occasions like the one now before us. We wish it also to be distinctly understood that we want the brethren and sisters not only to express the words, but that their hearts shall be full of thanksgiving to the God of heaven, who has accomplished, through our agency, this mighty and extraordinary labor.
Others think of the shout as a reminder of our shout for joy in the pre-existence, when we declared in unison with our brothers and sisters that we would support our Heavenly Father’s plan.
But perhaps Elder B.H. Roberts described the power of this event best:
“It is impossible to stand unmoved on such an occasion. It seems to fill the prairies or woodland, mountain wilderness or tabernacle, with mighty waves of sound; and the shout of men going into battle cannot be more stirring. It gives wonderful vent to religious emotions and is followed by a feeling of reverential awe—a sense of oneness of God.”
When do we use it?
One of the first recorded instances of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints using the Hosanna Shout was during the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. This is also where the practice of singing “The Spirit of God” at temple dedications developed, whose chorus echoes words similar to those found in the Hosanna Shout. Some of the other special occasions this shout has taken place at include the following:
- The dedication of the Kirtland Temple
- The first entrance into the Salt Lake Valley
- The capstone ceremony of the Nauvoo Temple
- The capstone ceremony of the Salt Lake Temple
- The celebration of the centennial of the Church
- The dedication of the Conference Center
- Temple dedications
These are only a few of the times in modern years that members have had a chance to participate in this sacred, special event. So the next time you have a chance to raise your voice in hosannas, remember the significance of what you are doing—and rejoice in it.