On most Sundays at Mass — after gathering, signing ourselves with the cross, confessing our sins and acclaiming God’s mercy — we praise God with the singing of the Gloria. The Gloria is also sung on feasts and solemnities throughout the church year. While our liturgical books and documents allow for the Gloria to be recited, it is a hymn, and hymns are most effective when they are sung.
The Gloria is one of the church’s most ancient hymns, dating from as early as the fourth century. The Gloria has a peculiar place among the parts of the Mass that are sung: It is one of the few instances in which music is not accompanying another liturgical action. Much of our sung and instrumental music at Mass accompanies processions, including at the entrance, the procession with the Gospel book, the preparation of the altar and gifts, the distribution of Communion, and the procession at the end of Mass.
Sometimes our music accompanies a liturgical action such as the Rite of Sprinkling, or the breaking of the Bread — properly known as the Fraction Rite. At other times, our singing is a dialogue with the priest celebrant or other liturgical ministers. Our singing can also consist of interjected acclamations, like those sung during the Eucharistic Prayer. But the singing of the Gloria is the liturgical action taking place; nothing else is happening at that moment in the Mass.
Structure of the text
The Gloria begins by echoing the good news sung by the angel choirs at the birth of Christ. The Gospel of Luke records these words: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Our present translation of the Gloria reads: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.” The new translation will be, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.”
One notes that while all three passages begin the same way, the endings are quite different. The new translation seeks to be a more literal rendering of the Latin Mass text, “et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.” This illustrates an important point: The new translation of the Roman Missal is precisely that; a translation of the Latin Mass text, not a translation of the Scriptures.
In the new translation, the triune God is then praised in a type of litany: “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory.” Note that five verbs are used in this sentence: “praise,” “bless,” “adore,” “glorify” and “give” (you thanks). Our current translation uses only three verbs: “worship,” “give” (you thanks) and “praise.”
Here is a clear example of the new translation following the Latin text quite literally. The Latin contains these five phrases: “laudamus te,” “benedicimus te,” “adoramus te,” “glorificamus te” and “gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam.” Even those with limited or no Latin skills can see how closely some of the words are related: “adore” and “adoramus,” “glorify” and “glorificamus.”
After praising God the Father, “Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father” (language almost identical to the current translation), we direct our praise to Jesus Christ: “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.”
Here we can see some of the poetic form of the Latin text. Note the double usage of the phrase “you take away the sins of the world” and also the double usage of the phrase, “have mercy on us.” These repetitions were dropped in the current translation. Note also the extended string of titles by which we acclaim the second person of the Trinity: “Lord Jesus Christ, only Begotten Son, Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father.”
If you find yourself overwhelmed with all the textual changes listed above, fear not. The new text of the Gloria ends with the familiar translation to which we are accustomed.
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Some practical considerations
Based on the numerous textual changes above, music directors have come to the realization that virtually all English language settings of the Gloria — settings we have known and loved for 40 years — will be unusable.
Some composers have admirably adapted their old settings to fit the new words, and as can be expected, some results have been successful while some have not. While we may be forced to bid farewell to some musical settings of the Gloria, we will no doubt delight in all the brand new settings composers will be creating.
As the Gloria is not sung on the Sundays of Advent, many people will be encountering the new translation of the Gloria for the first time at the Christmas liturgies.
Music directors would do well to find a musical setting of the Gloria in which the congregation sings a refrain while the choir or cantor sings the majority of the Gloria text. Such refrain settings are indeed allowed, and the Latin refrain “Gloria in excelsis Deo” — so well known and beloved from the carol “Angels We Have Heard on High” — would be an excellent refrain to use on Christmas and throughout the Christmas season.
It is also possible for the choir alone to sing the Gloria. Rather than being seen as taking sung parts away from the congregation, the occasional use of a choral Gloria may be a festive way to heighten the music on special days — like Christmas.
An occasional choral Gloria also allows the choir to exercise its unique role in the liturgy. When sung by the choir, and especially when sung by all, the Gloria is nothing less than our opportunity to join our voices with the angel choirs in heaven proclaiming the glory of God, the God of glory who does great things for us.
Michael Silhavy is a member of the archdiocesan Parish Services Team.
Category: New Roman Missal