The Gloria starts with “Glory to God in the highest . . .” If you frequent the Catholic Mass, you know this prayer. You’ve heard it hundreds of times, maybe thousands. But how much do you know about it? Or have you ever wondered where it comes from, or how it got into the Mass?
First of all, it’s not itself in the Bible. At the same time, you’ve probably noticed that it takes much of it’s content from holy Scripture. The first line, for instance, comes directly from the Gospel of Luke: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will!” (Luke 2:14). This is the passage where the angels announce the birth of the Savior to the shepherds of Bethlehem.
The rest of the prayer draws on scripture in much the same way. The following list was compiled by Fr. James Chelich (full article here):
Lord God (Exodus 20:7; Amos 5:1-3)
Heavenly King (Psalm 24)
Almighty God (Genesis 17:1)
Father (Matthew 6:6-13)
Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:28)
Begotten Son (Hebrews 1:5)
Lord God (John 20:28)
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29)
Son of the Father (John 3:16)
Only Son (coming from the Father) (John 1:14, 18)
Seated at the Right Hand of the Father (Mark 14:60-62)
Holy One (John 6:69)
Lord (Acts 2:36)
(Son of the) Most High (Luke 1:32; Luke 8:28)
Again, despite its scriptural content, the Gloria is found nowhere in the Bible. It’s an example of what we call a psalmus idioticus. No, that doesn’t mean what it looks like it means. Idioticus means “private” in Greek. The word “idiot” originally mean someone who went off and did his own thing instead of working for the common good. In any case, a psalmus idioticus is a “private psalm.” Prayers of this sort in imitation of the biblical psalms were popular in the first centuries of the Church. The Te Deum is another example.
The Gloria itself is Greek in it’s earliest form, a product of the Eastern Church. Tradition credits St. Hilary of Poitiers with introducing it to the Latin Church. The Greek Churches today (both Orthodox and Catholic) sing the Gloria as part of the Divine Office during the hour of Matins, instead of during the Mass.
Mozart’s Mass in C
Many composers over the centuries have put the Gloria to music. One of the most glorious of these settings is the one Mozart composed for his Mass in C. I’ve posted Mozart’s Gloria below in its entirety. Don’t despair if you don’t have time for the entire clip (it’s about 26 minutes long). I recommend listening at least to the “Laudamus Te” (“We praise you”), which starts at the 2:40 mark. It simply soars.
The performers, by the way, are local (are least for me): the Concorde Chorale & Phillips Exeter Academy Chamber Orchestra.
The Gloria, in Latin and English
Gloria in excelsis Deo
et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.
gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam,
Domine Deus, Rex caelestis,
Deus Pater omnipotens.
Domine Fili unigenite,
Domine Deus, Agnus Dei,
qui tollis peccata mundi,
qui tollis peccata mundi,
suscipe deprecationem nostram.
Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris,
Quoniam tu solus Sanctus,
tu solus Dominus,
tu solus Altissimus, Iesu Christe,
cum Sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris.
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. Amen.