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Musical Musings: Christmas

Gloria in excelsis Deo

Transcribed by Tony de Melo

This article is reprinted here with the kind permission of Kevin Knight, who has undertaken a project to transcribe an online version of the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia.
While this article is taken from a volume written well before the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, it is still relevant from an historical perspective, allowing us to study the history of the Gloria in excelsis.

The great doxology (hymnus angelicus) in the Mass is a version of a very old Greek form. It begins with the words sung by the angels at Christ's birth (Luke 2:14). To this verse others were added very early, forming a doxology. In a slightly different form it occurs at the beginning of a "morning prayer (proseuche eothine)" in the Apostolic Constitutions VII, xlvii. This text, which has a subordination colouring (su monos kyrios Iesou Christou), will be found in Duchesne, Origines du Culte chretien (2nd ed. Paris 1898 p.158 n.I). It goes back at least to the third century; Probst (Lehre und Gebet der drei ersten christl. Jahrhunderte, Tubingen 1870 p.290) thinks even to the first. A very similar form is found in the Codex Alexandrinus (fifth century) and in Pseudo-Athanasius, De Virginitate §20 (before the fourth century), in PG XXVIII 275. Extended further and with every trace of subordinationism corrected, it is sung by the Byzantine Church at the Orthros. In this form it has more verses than in the Latin, and ends with the Trisagion (horologion to mega, Rome 1876 p.57). It is not used in the Liturgy by any Eastern Church. Only the first clause (the text of Luke 2:14) occurs as part of the people's answer to the words, "Holy things for the holy," at the elevation in the Liturgy of the Apostolic Constitutions (Brightman, Eastern Liturgies, Oxford 1896 p. 25), as part of the Offertory and Communion prayers in Saint James's Liturgy (ibid., pp.45,64), at the kiss of peace in the Abyssinian Rite (p.227), in the Nestorian Prothesis (p.248) and again at the beginning of their Liturgy (p.252), in the Byzantine Prothesis (p.361). The tradition is that it was translated into Latin by Saint Hilary of Poitiers (d.366). It is quite possible that he learned it during his exile in the East (360) and brought back a version of it with him (so Belethus, Rationale divinorum officiorum c.36; Duandus Rationale IV 13, who thinks that he only added from "Laudamus te" to the Mass, and notes that Innocent III attributes it to Telesphorus, others to Symmachus). In any case, the Latin version differs from the present Greek form. They correspond down to the end of the Latin, which however adds: "Tu solus altissimus" and "Cum sancto Spiritu." The Greek then goes on: "Every day I will bless thee and will glorify thy name for ever, and for ever and ever" and continues with ten more verses, chiefly from psalms, to the Trisagion and Gloria Patri.

The Liber pontificalis says "Pope Telesphorus [128-139?] ordered that . . . on the Birth of the Lord Masses should be said at night . . . and that the angelic hymn, that is Gloria in Excelsis Deo, should be said before the sacrifice" (ed. Duchesne I 129); also "that Pope Symmachus [498-514] ordered that the hymn, Gloria in excelsis, should be said every Sunday and on the feasts [natalicia] of martyrs." The Gloria is to be said in its present place, after the Introit and Kyrie, but only by bishops (ibid., 263). We see it then introduced first for Christmas, on the feast to which it specially belongs, then extended to Sundays and certain great feasts, but only for bishops. The Ordo Romanus I says that when the Kyrie is finished "the pontiff, turning towards the people, begins Gloria in Excelsis, if it be the occasion for it [si tempus fuerit]" and notes specially that priests may say it only at Easter (ed. C. Atchley, London 1905 pp.130,148). The Ordo of Saint Amand (Duchesne, Origines, appendix, p.460) gives them leave to do so only on Easter Eve and on the day of their ordination. The Gregorian Sacramentary (dicitur Gloria in excelsis Deo, si episcopus fuerit, tantummodo die dominico sive diebus festis; a presbyteris autem minime dicitur nisi solo in Pascha) and Walafrid Strabo, Liber de exordiis, c.22 in PL CXIV 945 note the same thing. Berno of Constance thinks it a grievance still in the eleventh century (Libellus de quibusdam rebus ad Missæ officium pertinentibus, c.2 in PL CXLII 1059). But towards the end of the same century the Gloria was said by priests as well as by bishops. The Micrologus (by the same Berno of Constance 1048) tells us that "On every feast that has a full office, except in Advent and Septuagesima, and on the feast of the Innocents both the priests and the bishop say Gloria in excelsis" (c. ii). It then became, as it is now, an element of every Mass except in times of penance. Even in Advent, until it began to be considered such a time, it was said. As early as Amalarius of Metz (ninth century) (De officiis eccl. libri IV 30), it was said during Advent "in some places." This would apply, of course, to bishops' Masses on Sundays and feasts at that time. So also Honorius of Autun (1145) in the twelfth century, Gemma animæ, III 1. White vestments were used, and the Gloria said, in Rome during Advent to the end of the twelfth century, Ordo Romanus XI 4. After that, Advent was gradually considered a time of penance in imitation of Lent. The Te Deum and Gloria were left out during it, and the use of purple vestments introduced.

The so-called farced Glorias were a medieval development. As in the case of the Kyrie, verses were introduced into its text for special occasions. Such expanded forms were very popular, especially one for feasts of the Blessed Virgin that seems to have been used all over Europe. Thus in the Sarum Missal, after the words "Domine Fili unigenite, Jesu Christe," "Spiritus et alme orphanorum paraclyte" is added; after "Filius Patris" is inserted "Primogenitus Mariæ virginis matris." Again: "Suscipe deprecationem nostram, ad Mariæ gloriam," and the end: "Quoniam tu solus sanctus, Mariam sanctificans, Tu solus Dominus, Mariam gubernans. Tu solus altissimus, Mariam coronans, Jesu Christe" (ed. Burntisland 1861-1883 col. 585-6). The following rubric says: "In omnibus aliis missis quando dicendum est, dicitur sine prosa;" that is, in other Masses than those of the BVM, the additional tropes -- called prosa -- are to be omitted. These tropes added to liturgical texts ad libitum were contained in special books, Libri troparii. In spite of repeated commands to expunge them, they were still sung in places when the Missal was revised by order of Pius V in 1570. In the Bull Quo primum of that year (printed at the beginning of the Missal) the pope forbids anything to be added to, or changed in, the text of the books then published. The popularity of the forms about the Blessed Virgin accounts for the rubric in the Missal after the Gloria: "Sic dicitur Gloria in excelsis, etiam in missis B. Mariæ quando dicendum est." Since then these farced forms have happily disappeared. It may be noted here that the Gloria, originally foreign to the Milanese and Mozarabic Rites, has displaced the older Trisagion in them since the seventh century -- an obvious Roman importation (Duchesne, op cit, p.183 and note).

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Part 2: Use of the Gloria

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