Gloria in Excelsis Deo: A New English Translation of the Mass

October 18, 2011

The following article was written by Fr. Darren Pierre, O.P., Promoter for the Lay and Priestly Fraternities of St. Dominic, Province of St. Joseph. If you would like to stay connected to the Fraternities of Saint Dominic, please sign up for the e-mail newsletter “eLumen.” This is the official Internet newsletter of the Fraternities of Saint Dominic, Province of St. Joseph, USA. Throughout the Easter Season we praise and glorify God. The Gloria that has been conspicuously absent from our celebration of the Mass has returned. During the Easter Octave, it is sung every single day. God is certainly due this praise for his glory, but I think it is safe to say that most of us have little idea what “glory” means. It is a word we use often at Mass and even in Christmas carols, but its meaning remains elusive. We understand what we mean when we say that God is good or loving, omniscient or omnipotent, but what does it mean to say that God is glorious? This difficulty is not new. Over 70 years C. S. Lewis noted the same problem in a rather famous sermon that is now called “The Weight of Glory.” He said that when most of us, modern folks, try to explain what glory is we come up with one of two things. The first idea is that glory is like fame—the mysterious quality possessed by pop stars leading crowds to fawn over them. Yet, this can’t be the unfading crown of glory that St. Paul says awaits us. To seek a heaven where we will be adored and lauded seems unworthy and self-serving. Further, a god who desired this kind of attention wouldn’t be much of a god at all. The second idea is perhaps even worse: the idea that glory simply means luminosity. This glory is like ET’s finger, Rudolf’s red nose, and an assortment of space aliens with cheap special effects. Certainly, this cannot be all we mean when we sing, “Glory to God in the highest.” Yet as is often the case, there is some truth behind both of these mistakes. On Mount Tabor Jesus reveals his glory and is transfigured before three of his disciples who report that “His face shone like the sun.” Whatever Jesus revealed was so incredible that those who saw it could only report that Jesus was glowing. Moses had a similar experience whenever he encountered God in the Tent of Meeting. Interestingly, for mankind, glowing has a deep connection with things that are not from this world, like ET’s finger or countless ghosts in our Halloween stories. This offers us a hint at what glory is about. However, true glory isn’t merely alien or spooky. Rather, it reveals something from beyond this world, something that somehow dwarfs and overshadows all of our regular daily life. Glory is closely connected with one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit called “The Fear of the Lord” or “Wonder and Awe in God’s Presence.” An encounter with glory takes your breath away and, indeed, brings about a kind of fear—not a fear that makes you want to run and hide, but a fear that makes the whole world seem insignificant. When you encounter glory, like Moses, you take off your shoes because the ground seems hallowed or like Peter you may start mumbling about “building tents” so you can stay in that moment forever. Now the other mistake has some truth in it too. Indeed, glory is a kind of fame, but not an appeal to adoring masses. Rather, glory reflects the praise given by God himself. God’s glory is his love and regard for himself. It is the love the Father has for the Son, the Son for the Father. Jesus says to his Father, “The glory which you hast given me, I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.” Certainly, there is a danger of getting too wrapped up in one’s own glory, but it is important to keep in mind that we are ultimately made to share in God’s glory. Not a single man, women, or child we encounter is ordinary. They are all destined for immortally and will ultimately be seen, one way or another, in the light of God’s glory, either partaking of it or choosing to reject it and being forever outside its light. This is the Weight of Glory about which C.S. Lewis preached. The Gloria that we sing at Mass is our response to encountering God’s glory. It is a song of praise acknowledging him. It is not meant to teach or efficiently communicate information but is rather our response to God who is indeed awe inspiring. In one sense the Gloria can be likened to words of someone madly in love. The lover doesn’t say “I love you” once and then move on to something else. A lover doesn’t seek the most efficient words to give due notice of his love. Rather, the lover says it again and again—using every phrase that can be imagined, repeating the same words over and over if nothing else comes to mine. The words are passionate, over-the-top, and not particularly coherent, but they are words demonstrating love. The Gloria is similar, praising God to demonstrate our love for him. The current version that we use at Mass has been “cleaned-up” in the translation. Repetition and seemingly extraneous lines have been removed, and the parts that remained were reorganized. It certainly did praise God, but it lost some of the raw exuberance of the original. In the new translation, the Gloria will change significantly, more than any other part the congregation says. The new translation will more closely match the original Latin and reveal a certain primitive exuberance. We will tell God that we praise him in every possible way, one right after the other: “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.”   It is repetitive and not efficient, but it is not supposed to be. Rather, like an adoring crowd or a mad lover, we throw out every phrase of which we can think. Some of this can be seen in the current translation, but the new translation will make it more clear. The Gloria begins praising God the Father, but then focuses on Jesus specifically, listing many titles for him:   “Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son, Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father.”   This is not drastically different from the current translation, but each title is now broken out more separately rather than combined. We praise Jesus not only for who he is, but for what he has done for us saying: “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.” Again these lines are not new, but the current translation combines and shortens them. Here we have them jumbled together. On one side we acknowledge that Jesus is both savior of world and God reigning in heaven. On the other side we acknowledge our needs, both for God’s mercy and to have our prayers answered. The final part of the Gloria, which remains unchanged, praises Jesus focusing on his uniqueness as the Son of God. Again it is repetitive and exuberant: “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.”

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