Hosanna: Meaning and origin of the word

During the Christian liturgy many times the term “hosanna” is used, often without knowing its ancient origin. The word hosanna (Latin osanna, Greek ὡσαννά, hōsanná) comes from the Hebrew הושיעה-נא, הושיעה נא hôšîʿâ-nā and refers to the original Aramaic ܐܘܿܫܲܥܢܵܐ (ʾōshaʿnā) which means “to save,” “save us,” or even can refer to a “savior.”

In the Bible (Old Testament) it is used in the sense of “help/help us” or “save/save us” (Psalm 118, 25), while in the Gospel it is used more as a cry of jubilation, and this is where the Christian meaning comes from, which indicates in Hosanna “a way of honoring the one who came to save”. The literal interpretation would be “Save, now!”, based precisely on Psalm 118, and this meaning is common in other ancient languages: the Latin “salus” and the Greek “Σωτήρ” mean both health and salvation, of soul and body.

It is also used with the meaning of “help, relief” or “give (us) (salvation),” and could be shouted as the king passed by to request his help (2Kings 6, 26-27).

The Greek term ὡσαννά is the greeting of reverence and adoration that, in the New Testament, the crowds address to Jesus as he enters Jerusalem: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the LORD!” (Matthew 21, 9-15 ; Mark 11, 9-10 & John 12, 12-13).

Hosanna can be translated as, “Please save us.” It comes from a Greek word “ὡσαννά” which most scholars believe is a transliteration of two Hebrew words – יָשַׁע- “yasha” meaning “to save or deliver” and אָנּאָ – “anna” meaning “please, I pray”. Other scholars believe that its Hebrew roots come from a different tense of the verb “yasha” הוֹשַׁ֣ע which means to cause or bring about salvation. In this time, the hosanna becomes a message asking to bring or cause salvation to come.

Liturgical use today

In a liturgical context expresses an appeal for Divine help.

In Judaism

In Jewish liturgy, the word is applied specifically to the Hoshana Service, a cycle of prayers sung each morning during the feast of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles or Tabernacles described in Leviticus 23, 33-43). Hosanna (הושענא) is therefore an expression used very frequently during Sukkot, and on this occasion Jews build huts as temporary shelters and celebrate the feast with branches called “lulav” and “etrog” from palms, willows, other leafy trees and cedars.

During Sukkot the Psalms of Praise (Hallel) are read, which are Psalms 113-118, and “additional prayers are included in the service asking GOD to save us (hoshana, from which the word in Italian hosanna is derived). During the Hoshana prayers, worshippers march around the synagogue sanctuary holding the lulav and etrog. The seventh and final day of the festival is called Hoshanah Rabba, the “Great Hoshana” (הושענא רבא).

In Christianity

“Hosanna” was the cry of praise or adoration made in recognition of Jesus’ messianic status at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and is used in the same way in Christian praise.

The “Hosanna Hymn” is a traditional hymn of the Church sung on Palm Sunday and the first Sunday of Advent. It is antiphonal, that is, a song of call and response; traditionally, it is sung between the children and the adult congregation, although it is not unusual for it to be done in other ways, such as between choir and congregation, or played between trombone choirs.

Palm Sunday (sometimes called Passion Sunday) is the day when Christians celebrate Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. On Palm Sunday, they may wave branches in the sky, and exclaim together “Hosanna in the highest.” Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week leading up to the celebration of Easter. Many churches use palm branches as decorations, have children wave palm branches and sing down the aisles. Some also use palm branches from previous years as ashes for Ash Wednesday, to be placed on the forehead of the congregation.

How to use it today

Here are some ways to use this word with its ancient charm, but which still manages to denote the love that believers have towards GOD:

  1. We can use it to pray to GOD and give added emphasis to a phrase during our prayers: “Hosanna my GOD, hear my supplication! Let hymns of praise be sung to GOD, who is in the highest. Hosanna!”
  2. We can use it to praise and bless the Holy Name of GOD: “Hosanna the LORD GOD and blessed be He in the highest. Thank You for all Your grace and goodness bestowed on the children of men, and may all salvation, happiness and prosperity accompany the people who believe.”
  3. We can use it to invoke the salvation of GOD: “Hosanna LORD GOD! Give us Your salvation and Your peace. May the Messiah, son of David prove that all glory belongs to GOD alone, the ONLY FATHER and CREATOR. Hosanna!”


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