Gloria in excelsis Deo
"Gloria in excelsis Deo" (Latin for "Glory to God in the highest") is a Christian hymn known also as the Greater Doxology (as distinguished from the "Minor Doxology" or Gloria Patri) and the Angelic Hymn/Hymn of the Angels. The name is often abbreviated to Gloria in Excelsis or simply Gloria.
Gloria in excelsis Deo is an example of the psalmi idiotici ("private psalms", i.e. compositions by individuals in imitation of the biblical Psalter) that were popular in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Other surviving examples of this lyric poetry are the Te Deum and the Phos Hilaron. In the 4th century it became part of morning prayers, and is still recited in the Byzantine Rite Orthros service.
The Latin translation is traditionally attributed to Saint Hilary of Poitiers (c. 300–368), who may have learned it while in the East (359–360); as such, it is part of a loose tradition of early Latin translations of the scripture known as the Vetus Latina. The Vulgate Latin translation of the Bible was commissioned only in 382.
The Latin hymn thus uses the word excelsis to translate the Greek word ὑψίστοις – hypsístois (the highest) in Luke 2:14, not the word altissimis, which Saint Jerome preferred for his translation. However, this word is used near the end: tu solus Altissimus, Iesu Christe (you alone the Most High, Jesus Christ).
Present-day Greek text
Present-day Latin text
Glória in excélsis Deo
et in terra pax homínibus bonae voluntátis.
grátias ágimus tibi propter magnam glóriam tuam,
Dómine Deus, Rex caeléstis,
Deus Pater omnípotens.
Dómine Fili unigénite, Iesu Christe,
Dómine Deus, Agnus Dei, Fílius Patris,
qui tollis peccáta mundi, miserére nobis;
qui tollis peccáta mundi, súscipe deprecatiónem nostram.
Qui sedes ad déxteram Patris, miserére nobis.
Quóniam tu solus Sanctus, tu solus Dóminus, tu solus Altíssimus,
Iesu Christe, cum Sancto Spíritu: in glória Dei Patris. Amen.
In the Byzantine Rite (used by the Eastern Orthodox and some Eastern Catholic Churches), the Gloria is referred to as the Doxology, and there are two forms: the Greater Doxology and the Lesser Doxology. The Greater Doxology is always sung, whereas the Lesser Doxology is read. There are certain textual differences between the two, and the order is somewhat altered in the two forms.
The Greater Doxology is used in the Orthros (Matins) on Sundays and feast days. The Lesser Doxology is used at Matins on simple weekdays and at the Apodeipnon (Compline), but not in the Divine Liturgy.
By contrast, in the Roman Rite this hymn is not included in the Liturgy of the Hours, but is sung or recited at Mass, after the Kyrie, on Sundays outside of Lent and Advent, during the octaves of Easter and Christmas, and on solemnities and feasts.
In Masses celebrated in accordance with the 1962 Roman Missal (still authorized as an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite), the Gloria is sung much more frequently: the 1960 Code of Rubrics require it at Mass when in the corresponding Office of the day the Te Deum is said at Matins. It is thus used not only on I and II-class feasts (corresponding to solemnities and feasts in the post-Vatican II Mass) but also on III-class feasts (corresponding to memorials in the later form). In the 1962 form it is also said on ferias of Christmastide and Paschaltide even outside the octaves, but is omitted during the Septuagesima season, which does not exist in the post-Vatican II liturgy. The Gloria is also sung in both the pre-Vatican II and in the later form of the Roman Rite at the Mass of the Lord's Supper in the evening of Maundy Thursday and at the Easter Vigil.
A tradition recorded in the Liber Pontificalis attributes to Pope Telesphorus (128–139?) the use of the hymn at the Mass of Christmas Day and to Pope Symmachus (498–514) its use on Sundays and the feasts of martyrs, but only by bishops; the right to use it was later extended to priests, at first only at Easter and on the day of their ordination, but by the end of the 11th century priests, as well as bishops, used it in the Mass on Sundays and feasts outside of Lent and Pre-Lent. After the 12th century Advent began to be considered a penitential period in imitation of Lent, to the exclusion therefore of the Gloria in excelsis Deo.
In the Church of England's 1549 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, it was used in the same position as in the Roman Rite but was later moved to the end of the service, immediately before the concluding blessing. Revisions to the Prayer Book occurred in 1552 and 1662, but this placement was retained by the Anglican Communion until the 20th century. The recently published Common Worship provides two Orders, one of which places the hymn in the earlier position.
The 1928 United States Episcopal Prayer Book also placed the Gloria at the end of the Eucharist service (like the 1662 Prayer Book). This edition, still the standard in the breakaway Continuing Anglican churches, allows the hymn to be used in place of the Gloria Patri after the psalms and canticles at Evening Prayer. The Episcopal Church's 1979 Book moved it to the beginning, after or in place of the Kyrie in Rite One. In a Rite Two (i.e., contemporary language) service of Holy Eucharist, the Gloria, or another song of praise, is sung or said on all Sundays except those in Advent or Lent. It may also be used at other times as desired excepting Lent and Advent.
Gloria in the Mass ordinary
Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis. Laudamus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te, gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam, Domine Deus, Rex caelestis, Deus Pater omnipotens.
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.
In the Tridentine Mass, the priest is instructed, when saying the opening phrase "Gloria in excelsis Deo", to extend his hands and raise them to shoulder height and, at the word "Deo", to join them and bow his head. He is then to continue the recitation standing erect with hands joined and bowing his head to the cross at the words "Adoramus te", "Gratias agimus tibi", "Iesu Christe" (twice), and "Suscipe deprecationem nostram", and at the concluding phrase (as also at the concluding phrase of the Nicene Creed and the Sanctus), to make a large sign of the cross on himself. At High Mass the priest intones the opening phrase, while the deacon and subdeacon stand behind him; then they join him at the altar and together with him quietly recite the rest of the hymn, after which they sit down and wait for the choir to finish its singing of the same text.
The Roman Missal as revised in 1970 simplifies this, saying: "The Gloria is intoned by the priest or, if appropriate, by a cantor or by the choir; but it is sung either by everyone together, or by the people alternately with the choir, or by the choir alone. If not sung, it is to be recited either by all together or by two parts of the congregation responding one to the other." No particular ritual gestures are prescribed.
In the usage of the Eastern Orthodox Church and those Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite, the Great Doxology is one of the high points of the festal Matins service. The priest puts on his phelonion (chasuble). When it comes time for the Great Doxology the deacon opens the Holy Doors, and the priest raises his hands orans and exclaims: "Glory to Thee, Who hast shown us the Light!", and the choir begins chanting the Doxology, while all of the oil lamps and candles in the temple are lit. The Great Doxology concludes with the chanting of the Trisagion and leads into the chanting of the Troparion of the Day. If the bishop is present he vests in his full pontifical vestments for the Great Doxology, and the subdeacons stand behind the Holy Table (altar) holding the lit dikirion and trikirion.
When the Lesser Doxology is called for, it is simply said by the reader, the priest does not put on his phelonion, the Holy Doors remain closed and no lamps or candles are lit. The Lesser Doxology does not end with the Trisagion and is followed by an ektenia (litany).
The traditional Orthodox Sunday (Lord's Day) Greek text of the Greater Doxology translated into English has been set for unaccompanied choir by the English composer Clive Strutt as section 12 of his All-night Vigil (2010).
The Gloria has been and still is sung to a wide variety of melodies. Modern scholars have catalogued well over two hundred of them used in the medieval church. The Roman Missal indicates several different plainchant melodies. In addition, several "farced" Glorias were composed in the Middle Ages and were still sung in places when the Roman Missal was revised by order of Pope Pius V in 1570. These expanded the basic Gloria by, for instance, adding to mentions of Jesus Christ a mention of some relationship between him and his mother. The use of these additional phrases in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary was so common that in editions of the Roman Missal earlier than the 1921 revision, the text of the Gloria was followed by the rubric: "Sic dicitur Gloria in excelsis Deo, etiam in Missis beatæ Mariæ, quando dicenda est" (When the Gloria in excelsis Deo is to be recited, it is recited in this way, even in Masses of Blessed Mary).
Almost all polyphonic settings of the Mass include the Gloria. In addition, there are a number of settings of the Gloria alone, including:
- Antonio Vivaldi, who wrote two, the widely recorded RV 589, and the less famous RV 588
- George Frideric Handel, whose setting for solo soprano and strings was re-discovered in 2001: Gloria
- Camille Saint-Saëns
- Francis Poulenc: Gloria
- William Walton
- John Rutter: Gloria
- Mike Anderson: Gloria
- Karl Jenkins, who interpolates other texts alongside the standard Gloria text: Gloria
A paraphrase of the text in German, the early Lutheran hymn Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr, has also been commonly set to music, in the form of chorale preludes or as part of larger compositions.
Some official English translations
Glory be to God on high
And in earth peace, goodwill towards men,
We praise thee, we bless thee,
we worship thee, we glorify thee,
we give thanks to thee, for thy great glory
O Lord God, heavenly King,
God the Father Almighty.
O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesu Christ;
O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
that takest away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.
Thou that takest away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.
Thou that takest away the sins of the world,
receive our prayer.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father,
have mercy upon us.
For thou only art holy;
thou only art the Lord;
thou only, O Christ,
with the Holy Ghost,
art most high
in the glory of God the Father.
Glory to God in the highest
and peace to his people on earth.
Lord God, heavenly King,
Almighty God and Father,
we worship you, we give you thanks,
we praise you for your glory.
Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
you take away the sin of the world:
have mercy on us;
You are seated at the right hand of the Father:
receive our prayer.
For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill among men.
We praise you, we bless you, we worship you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory.
Lord, King, God of heaven, Father almighty: Lord, only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit.
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, who take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us; you take away the sins of the world.
Receive our prayer, you who sit on the right hand of the Father, and have mercy on us.
For you alone are holy, you alone are Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.
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- Birkholz, Mark. "The Gloria in Excelsis", Lutheranreformation.org., December 24, 2016
- Ritus servandus in celebratione Missae, IV, 3 (page LVI of the 1962 typical edition)
- Ritus servandus in celebratione Missae, IV, 7 (page LVI of the 1962 typical edition)
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- See, for instance, page 216 of the 1862 printing by Pustet
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