November 24, 2011
Gloria that we now use at Mass was originally prayed outside of Mass.
The Apostolic Constitutions, a manual for clergy coming from Syria, contains the
Gloria as a morning prayer. As the sun was rising, Christians would voice their praise to God who sent his Son to dispel the darkness of sin.
It was Pope Telesphorus (128-139) who introduced the
Gloria into the Mass. He ordered it to be used in the Christmas Mass celebrated at night. Next, Pope Symmachus (498-514) extended the use of the
Gloria to every Sunday and to the feasts of martyrs. By the 11
th century, the
Gloria was being used as we do today, that is, on all Sundays outside of Advent and Lent, on solemnities and major feasts and in solemn local celebrations.
Rightly did the
Gloria first become part of Christmas Mass. When Christ was born, the angels in heaven broke into song at the coming of the Son of God to earth. At Mass, we join our voices with theirs at Christ’s coming among us in the Eucharist. Moved by God’s compassionate mercy, we sing our praise. Every single phrase that we form on our lips in this hymn of joy is biblical. We use God’s Word to return to him in prayer.
Gloria is composed of three parts. In the first part, we repeat the song that the angels sang when they announced the birth of Jesus to the humble shepherds. Next, we praise God for his goodness. Finally, we beg Christ to save us from our sins.
In the present order of Mass, the
Gloria follows the penitential rite. After confessing our sinfulness and begging the Lord for mercy, we raise our voices in exultant praise of God. Monsignor Ronald Knox once said that the
Gloria comes where it does in the Mass to cheer us up after groveling in the penitential rite. By focusing our attention on God, we move away from too much self-introspection. We turn our gaze where it should be: on God who loves us before we can even love him in return, on the Father who sends his Son to save us.
The new translation of the
Gloria adheres to the Latin of the Roman Missal and reflects more accurately the biblical basis of the text. No longer do we begin with the words “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth.” Instead, using the words of Luke’s gospel, we say, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.”
Scholars studying the Dead Sea Scrolls have discovered that the phrase “people of good will” that Luke places on the lips of the angels is a technical expression. In first century Hebrew and Aramaic, the expression “people of good will,” meant “God’s elect.” Thus, using this expression, the
Gloria is focusing on the divine election that makes us good. It is neither our effort to be good nor our own good will toward others that is foremost. No, it is God’s activity. God’s grace, given us in Christ, transforms us and makes us good.
How much more does this give us reason to praise and worship God! He has chosen us. We are his elect and we gather at Mass as the very Body of Christ.
To be continued…