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Musical Musings: Liturgy

Glory to the Trinity:
The Liturgical Doxologies

by Gary D. Penkala

Gloria in excelsis Deo...

Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto...

The term doxology in English comes from two Greek nouns, doxa, meaning "glory," and logos, meaning "word" or "saying." In Old Testament scriptures, God is frequently given glory and called "blessed," as in ancient Jewish liturgical formulas such as, "Blessed are you, Lord God, King of the universe..." Most often these prayers of praise arise from great deeds done by the Mighty God. The Christian era generalizes this glory, in a "form of prayer which recognizes most immediately that God is God. It lauds God for his own sake and gives him glory, quite beyond what he does, but simply because HE IS." [Catechism of the Catholic Church #2639] Rev. Peter Stravinskas calls a doxology "the climactic point of prayer, the highest moment of verbal expression and liturgical gesture of the gathered faith community."

The traditions of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church have incorporated many doxologies, most of them in liturgical settings. While the most familar are the "Greater Doxology," the Gloria in excelsis Deo of the Mass, and the "Lesser Doxology," the Gloria Patri of the Liturgy of the Hours, there are other prayers which exhibit the tribute and praise demarcating a doxology. For example, the words with which the celebrant ends each Eucharistic Prayer is called a doxology:

Through him, with him, in him,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father,
for ever and ever. Amen
This takes up a common Trinitarian theme among Christian doxologies, a theme to be expected -- the Trinity of Persons is the core and focus of all Christian worship.

Also during Mass we find the "Final Doxology" of the Lord's Prayer. This ancient conclusion, embraced by Eastern Christians and Protestants, is shunned by Catholics outside the liturgy. During Mass, however, we join with all Christians in the words: "For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever." The Catechism suggests that this prayer

takes up again, by inclusion, the first three petitions to our Father: the glorification of his name, the coming of his reign, and the power of his saving will. But these prayers are now proclaimed as adoration and thanksgiving, as in the liturgy of heaven. [#2855]
Other doxologies abound in liturgy and Scripture. We shall concern ourselves here with the two most common examples, the "Greater Doxology" of the Mass and the "Lesser Doxology" of the Divine Office.

According to Rev. Pius Parsch in The Liturgy of the Mass the compilation of the text of the Greater Doxology ("Gloria in excelsis Deo... Glory to God in the highest") dates from the fourth century, although different parts are of different antiquities. Saint Athanasius recommends this hymn as a morning prayer for consecrated virgins, along with Psalm 63. A complete Greek text is found in the Nestorian (Syriac) Liturgy and in the Apostolic Constitutions, where it is also assigned as a morning prayer. A text (still in Greek) very similar to our own is found in the Alexandrine Codex, which essentially agrees with the earliest Latin version in the Bangor Antiphonary of the seventh century. Our present text is found in the ninth century Psalter of Wolfcoz of Saint Gall, and since about the eleventh century has been universally accepted.

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Part 2: More "Gloria"

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