February 22, 1998
Brother John Raymond
At Holy Mass the Gloria is sung or said on Sundays outside Advent or Lent, on solemnities and feasts, and at solemn local celebrations. The Gloria is of great antiquity. Its style supports the theory that it is among the earliest of all Christian hymns. Every phrase in it appears either in the epistles of St. Paul or in the writings of St. John.
How did it come to be part of the Mass? Early Christians used to sing it in their meetings, usually early in the morning. They saw in the rising sun a symbol of Christ, the great light Who came to dispel the darkness. Soon it was introduced in the Mass, but only on Christmas day. In the sixth century, Pope St. Symmachus extended its use to the main solemnities, Sundays, and feasts of martyrs. But its use was restricted to only Masses celebrated by the bishop. Towards the end of the tenth century, the Gloria began to be used more or less as it is today.
With the Gloria, the Church, assembled in the Holy Spirit, praises and entreats the Father and the Lamb. (cf. GIRM, n. 31) It begins with the words the angels said to the shepherds on Christmas night. (cf. Lk 2:14) Because of this the Gloria has also been known as the Angelic Hymn.
After the words of the angels the next part of
the Gloria is addressed to God the Father. "Lord
God...Almighty God and Father...we praise You for Your
glory." Then Jesus Christ is addressed, "Lord Jesus
Christ...receive our prayer." Finally, the Gloria closes
with an act of faith in Christ and in the Holy Trinity, "For
You alone are the Holy One...in the glory of God the Father.
Amen." This last part has its origin in the Greek liturgy of
the first centuries. When the priest showed the Body of Christ
before Holy Communion, the people praised the Lord by saying,
"You alone are the Holy One, You are the Lord, Jesus Christ,
in the glory of the Father." (Understanding the Mass by
Charles Belmonte, p. 87) The words, "You alone are the Most
High" are taken from Psalm 82, verse 19, which have always
been applied to Christ.
It is interesting that one can find in the Gloria the four reasons for which the Holy sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated.
1) Praise of God: "We worship You...,we
2) Thanksgiving: "We give You thanks...for Your glory."
3) Atonement and sorrow for sins: "You take away the sin of the world: have mercy on us."
4) Petition: "Receive our prayer."
Since the sacrifice of the Mass is the same as the sacrifice of Calvary these fourfold reasons also express the sentiments of Jesus on the Cross. In a single hymn the Gloria enables us as a community to unite ourselves, our thoughts, desires and sentiments with Jesus on the Cross.
The Gloria is certainly worthy of our pious meditation. Perhaps one would incorporate into their own prayer life phrases or the whole hymn outside of Mass, just like the early Christians!