Gloria in Excelsis is the traditional Latin title of this very ancient hymn which originated in the Greek speaking church of the 3rd or 4th century. If the Lord, have mercy is our cry as beggars before God, the Gloria in Excelsis lifts us up to heaven. In its very first lines we join with the angels by singing with them the song they sung at the birth of Christ: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, among those with whom he is pleased”.
The rest of the Gloria in Excelsis amplifies this praise of God’s glory. First, God the Father is praised, thanked and blessed because of his great glory. God is adored simply because of his being glorious. Quite apart from his saving work, that is enough reason to praise him! But we also do remember his saving work, as next, Christ the Son is worshipped for taking the sins of the world away and now praying for us at God’s right hand. And then, after a final acknowledgement of the Holy Spirit, the hymn concludes where it started: with “the glory of God the Father”.
A few other observations:
- The Trinitarian structure of the Gloria in Excelsis recalls the Apostles Creed. This reminds us that praise of God is more than just our personal expression of worship – but is a always a confession of true faith. This hymn is therefore like a mini-creed in itself.
- The glory, height and holiness of God expressed here remind us of a similar hymn later in the service: the Sanctus. They are like sister hymns, a hymn of glory for the two main parts of the service.
- You may notice a slight “dip” in the middle of the Gloria in Excelsis, where we briefly pray for mercy, before ascending again to the praise of God’s glory. This expresses well the two poles of our life before God: we cry as beggars, yet we sing with the angels.
- Since the Gloria in Excelsis has always had a celebratory tone, the practice has been to refrain from singing it in more penitential seasons, like Advent and Lent.
Reflection: Do we glorify God simply for his glory?