The New Roman Missal: Introductory Rites, part III

JosephChrismanBy Joseph Chrisman, Director for Worship

The ancient hymn-prayer known as the Glória follows the Kýrie in the introductory rites of the Mass. “The Gloria is a very ancient and venerable hymn in which the Church, gathered in the Holy Spirit, glorifies…God” (General Instruction [GIRM], 53).With a few exceptions, the Gloria is sung (or said) on Sundays, Solemnities, and Feast days outside of Advent and Lent (GIRM, 53).

Fundamentally, the Gloria is a doxology that praises God the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Gloria, in the early centuries, was distinguished as the “greater” doxology (as opposed to the “lesser” doxology that one would say at the end of a decade of the Rosary).

The precise origins of this hymn are unknown. The beginning verse, “Glória in excélsis Deo…” comes from Luke 2:14, when the angels greet the shepherds after the birth of Christ. The remainder of the hymn alludes to other scriptural texts, especially the Psalms. The Gloria in its entirety is found in Book VII of the Apostolic Constitutions, a text that dates somewhere around the fourth or fifth century. Originally, the Gloria was included in the Divine Office, but during the papacy of Pope Symmachus (498-514) it made its first appearance in the Mass. At this time, though, the Gloria was only prayed during Masses at which a bishop presided. As the liturgy developed the Gloria was gradually included in Masses at which a priest presided and by the eleventh century was established as a part of all solemn Masses.

The new translation of the Gloria is somewhat longer than the current one. The changes in words and word order express more literally the sentiments and nuance of the Latin original, which was a guiding principle for the translators. The current prayer begins, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth.” This statement is true, but it doesn’t exactly say what the Latin says. The new text begins, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will.” Rather than describing to whom the people belong (to God), it describes the quality of God’s people (of good will). True peace, then, can exist as we become people of good will, that is, people united to God.


In the current translation of the Gloria, “qui tollis peccáta mundi” is rendered, “you take away the sin of the world.” The word “sin,” which is plural in the Latin, was translated in the singular in English and takes on an abstract or generic meaning that doesn’t capture the fullness of Christ’s sacrifice. Christ poured out his blood “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mat 26:28), to take away the sin of Adam (Original Sin) and to take away individual sins, which rupture our relationship with God.  “You take away the sins of the world…” in the new translation better expresses the nature of Christ’s sacrifice both in general and specific (see Col 1:13).

The phrase “Only Begotten Son” replaces “only Son of the Father.” Only Begotten is a technical word used to translate “unigénite.” It means that Jesus is unique in kind and has a unique relation to the Father. The Father has many children through creation and adoption but has only one Son, the Word made flesh, begotten before all ages. This does not mean that the Son was created or produced by the Father; he exists before all eternity with the Father and the Spirit. We will talk more about this in the Profession of Faith.The final section of the Gloria, “For you alone…” has remained unchanged. And yet, the new translation of the entire prayer exposes more layers of meaning at the heart of Christian worship.

Next month we will look at the opening prayer or Collect, and the Liturgy of the Word.