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Experiencing the Mass: The Gloria (part 1)

Thursday, January 19, 2023

by Fr. David M. Knight

View readings for today:

Dear Readers: Since the Church is presently engaged in a Eucharistic Revival, we thought it would be helpful to post excerpts from his booklet called Experiencing the Mass, for the next few weeks. (This is not a sales pitch. However, the booklet is available for order on this website for $5 per copy if you would like have a copy.)

The Gloria is a very ancient and venerable hymn in which the Church, gathered together in the Holy Spirit, glorifies and entreats God the Father and the Lamb.[1]

Glory to God in the highest...

Lord God, heavenly King,

O God, almighty Father.

Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son...

with the Holy Spirit...

The Gloria is a hymn that was used for morning prayer as early as the fourth century. It gradually became part of the Eucharistic liturgy. At first recited only by the bishop on special days, by the end of the tenth century it was “sung by all the priests and the entire assembly, as we do today.” And have been doing for a thousand years. Is that already exciting?

This hymn is one of the most beautiful liturgical compositions in existence. It is a genuine treasure for nourishing both personal and communal prayer. A thanksgiving prayer, a “Eucharistic” prayer to God our Creator and our Redeemer, our one unique God in three Persons. It is a veritable Magnificat of the Church of the early centuries.[2]

We are urged to “meditate at length on every phrase of this splendid act of praise that is the Gloria.” As an example, he lyricizes about the words that follow: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all whom God loves.”

The phrases accumulate and almost tumble over each other. The words pile up and pull each other along as we express our adoration: “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory!” Like an unquenchable spring, exultation and jubilation surge from the depths of our being and spill out of our lips as we contemplate the mystery of God.[3]

The Gloria puts us into the stance of “all Jewish prayer, which was that of Mary, Zachary, Simeon, of Jesus himself, Saint Paul, all the Apostles.” And of the Eucharistic Prayer itself. It is praise and thanksgiving.

This attitude places us within our relationship to God. It makes us enter into God’s action. Our subjectivity, our little personal problems, are swept away in the movement of Love that is God. We learn to love God and so to love other people authentically.

This prayer forms us to a love validated in forgetfulness of self and in giving thanks to God — an action in which we discover our true selves; an action by which the People of God is forged into its call and its mission. A prayer all the more able to bear all the suffering and sins of the world. This is the prayer of Christ that shows us what makes his Eucharist the peak of all prayer.

All of this tells us how important it is for the members of the Church to let themselves be formed to this Eucharistic attitude.

And all of this makes the point again that the Introductory Rites impress upon us the new identity we have through our unique relationship with God. This is page one of the Good News.


In summarizing the themes of the early Christian proclamation of the Good News, the Gloria is a hymn of evangelization, just as the Creed, or “Profession of Faith,” is an instrument of discipleship. Both list basic elements of Christian belief. But where the Creed simply presents Christian beliefs in their carefully-chosen objective formulation, the Gloria shouts them from the housetops as Good News. Where the Creed is dogmatic, the Gloria is kerygmatic.

There is all the difference in the world between affirming, “We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages,” and addressing him directly, in a hymn of praise, as “Lord Jesus Christ! Only Begotten Son! Lord God! Lamb of God! Son of the Father!” Both are dramatic declarations, but we should feel the difference when we say — or better, sing — the Gloria. And it should be evident in our tone of voice.

In the “Profession of Faith” we declare what we believe. In the Gloria we include our response to it.

And our praise is progressive. God is not just the “Lord God” whom we adore. He is the “heavenly King” who has chosen to involve himself in human history; to guide and govern us, his People, as our King on earth. He is the God who sent Jesus to establish the Kingdom. For this, “We praise you, we bless you!

We say to him as God, “We adore you. We glorify you.” But with an intimacy that goes beyond “O God,” we address him in a way that only our identification with Jesus makes possible: “O God, almighty Father.”

All of this accumulates in the cry: “We give you thanks for your great glory!” This echoes the beginning of John’s Gospel proclaiming the Good News:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us; and we have seen his glory, the glory of an only Son, coming from the Father, filled with enduring love.”[4]

We say to Jesus twice, “You take away the sins of the world.” And we echo the triple “have mercy” of the Kyrie, modified in the light of the Good News:

Since you “take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.”

Since you “take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer.”

Since you are “seated at the right hand of the Father—who is also our Father—have mercy on us.”

These are declarations that say who Jesus is, who we are, and where we stand in relationship to him.

Both the Gloria and the Creed are proclamations that identify us. During the Introductory Rites our intention is to identify ourselves as an evangelized People rejoicing in the Good News. So in the Gloria we proclaim what the Good News is in order to be aware of what we are rejoicing in. During the Liturgy of the Word, when we recite the Creed, our intention will be to declare unambiguously, in response to the Scripture readings, what we believe as disciples.

The Creed’s focus is on what we believe. The Gloria’s focus is on what is making us so happy. Both give us something to be excited about. If we pay attention to the words.

Come back tomorrow for more about The Gloria!

[1]General Instruction on the Roman Missal, 2002, no. 53. [2] This and much of what follows is translated from La Messe, a treasure of a book by Jean-Marie Lustiger, Cardinal Archbishop of Paris, Bayard, 1988. [3]Peace to all whom God loves” is the translation quoted by the Cardinal. It is Scripturally and theologically more correct than “to men of good will,” because eudokias or bonae voluntatis (Luke 2:14) refers to God’s good will toward humans, not vice-versa. [4]John 1:14, New American Bible 1970.

Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry

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