The Art of Celebration V: The Gloria

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to people of good will.

We praise you,
we bless you,
we adore you,
we glorify you,
we give you thanks for your great glory,
Lord God, heavenly King,
O God, almighty Father.

Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son,
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
you take away the sins of the world,
         have mercy on us;
you take away the sins of the world,
         receive our prayer;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father,
         have mercy on us.

For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father.

The Gloria is an ancient hymn, that is sung at Mass on Sundays (other than during Advent and Lent) and on Feast Days and Solemnities. It is fortuitous that our consideration of the hymn in this series of mini-essay coincides with the Gloria reappearing in our Sunday celebrations as we celebrate the Easter Vigil and begin our keeping of the 50 days of Easter Time.

The Gloria is one of the so called psalmoi idiotikoi – non-biblical psalms written by the early Church to serve the Liturgy and complement biblical songs. It first appears in the Apostolic Constitutions a late-4th Century Syrian Church Order – a guide to Christian life, church discipline and liturgy. The manuscript tradition reveals two forms of the song.

The first – presumably the older form – is addressed to God the Father only, making reference to Jesus as High Priest, Son and Lamb that takes away the sin of the world, but not addressing Jesus directly, and not making any mention of the Holy SPirit.

The second, like the text used in the Roman Rite , does address Jesus directly, as Lord, only-begotten Son, and Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. It also makes reference to the Holy Spirit, but in the address to Jesus not, as in the Roman Rite, in the concluding verse.

These features testify to the ancient origins of the song, suggesting it may have originated before the Arian controversy (c320-380 AD) concerning the divinity of Jesus and the theological reflection during the 4th and 5th centuries AD which gave greater precision to Christian discourse about the Holy Spirit, and clarity to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

The main difference between the Roman usage and that of the Eastern Church – to this day – is that for Latins the Gloria is a song sung at Mass, and for the Orthodox it is a song sung at Morning Prayer.

Somehow or other this Eastern song made its way West, and found its new home in the Eucharist. At first it was reserved for celebrations at which the bishop presided, but subsequently permitted in liturgies at which presbyters presided.

But whether it is sung at Morning Prayer or at Mass, the Gloria is a song of praise – a song for full-throated singing.

Sadly, this year, COVID restrictions will likely mean that the Church cannot sing the Gloria. In some places, instead, the singing of the hymn will be entrusted to socially-distanced cantors; in other places it will be recited by the congregation.

Reflection questions

  • Are there particular parts of the hymn that regularly stand out for you?
  • Why do you think the Church omits the Gloria on the Sundays of Lent and Advent?
  • How do you experience the difference between singing and reciting the hymn?
  • Do you have favourite musical settings of the hymn? If so, what makes them favourites for you?

A log with links to previous postings in this series is kept here.


~ Excerpts from the English translation and chants of The Roman Missal © 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.
~ Commentary: (c) 2021, Allen Morris
~ Photograph: (c) 2017, Allen Morris. ‘Gloria’ window, St Mary’s Priory, Abergavenny.


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