Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Good-bye to the Gloria

We have entered the season of Lent, which brings with it several changes in worship. While we chose not to change the setting, observant worshippers have no doubt noticed the new or missing pieces of the liturgy. Among the more notable changes is that we no longer sing the Gloria near the beginning of the service. (Alleluias are gone as well, but I'll save that for another day.)

The liturgical calendar is full of such quirks and rules, and some people are fascinated by the many proper things that must be included or excluded in any given service. But there are other people who feel compelled to ponder the status quo and constantly ask questions: Why, exactly, do we not sing the Gloria during Lent?

There seem to be only two answers to this question. The first, and simplistic, is that it is tradition or canon law or some such variation on "That's the way it has always been done." In its simplest version, I can't say that I find this argument particularly compelling. For one thing, an awareness of church history will uncover the many arguments and changes that have taken place in the liturgy over the centuries. It wasn't until the 11th or 12th century that priests were including the Gloria as a regular part of the Mass. Maybe it has been done this way for hundreds of years, but to make decisions based on that argument alone is a sure route to stagnation (and didn't Martin Luther himself work hard to overcome improper traditions?).

Dig a little deeper, and it is sometimes explained that the reason behind this tradition/rule is that Lent (like Advent) is a penitential season. The Gloria is not in keeping with the introspective nature of these Sundays. So it would appear that we are to spend 40 days seeking forgiveness, which will be granted on Easter. I know that most Catholic churches will not perform baptisms during Lent for the same reason.

Personally, I hope that we can always balance supplication with praise, even during Lent. At the same time, I do find comfort and meaning in the regularity and certainty of the liturgy. Like a mantra (or even just the habits and patterns of daily life), we can overcome thoughts about the mundane, arbitrary decisions in life and focus on higher thoughts and prayer. The changes made during Lent can refocus our attention, but I do still miss the tuneful prayer of praise that is the Gloria. Why wouldn't God want us to sing hymns of praise every day of our lives? Do you miss the Gloria or do you find that it creates new meaning in the season of Lent? Is liturgical tradition a comfort or a straightjacket - or something in between?

I won't be playing it again for weeks, but here's the text of the Gloria to hum to yourself in the meantime. Don't you agree it's a sentiment worth expressing every day?

Glory to God in the highest,
And peace to His people on Earth.

Lord, God, heavenly king,
Almighty God and Father.
We worship you; we give you thanks.
We praise you for your glory.

Lord Jesus Christ, only son of the Father.
Lord God, lamb of God,
You take away the sin of the world.
Have mercy on us.
You are seated at the right hand of the Father.
Receive our prayer.
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,


  1. Rev. Robert FerroMarch 4, 2010 at 3:41 PM

    Omitting the Gloria during Lent is a newer practice in Lutheran Churches. Although it has long been the practice in Roman Catholic churches, I can only find it recommended in Lutheran Liturgical writings since the publication of the LBW in 1978. Luther D. Reed's two very influential liturgical texts, "The Lutheran Liturgy" (c.1947) and "Worship" (c. 1959) both mention the Roman tradition, but do not specifically recommend it for Lutheran churches (although Lutheran practice has always been to replace the "Alleluia" during Lent).

    The first time I really find the Roman practice recommended for Lutheran churches is in the "Manuel on the Liturgy" (p.210-212) which was published with the LBW. Even then the practice is not required, but recommended ("may" vs. "shall" rubric).

    Personally, I miss the Gloria during Lent, but that is the very reason why we leave it out. Each season should have a slightly different liturgical "feel". It highlights that indeed the seasons are different. The anticipation of Advent leads to the joy of Christmas which leads to the peace of Epiphany which leads to the contemplation of Lent which leads to the exuberance of Easter which leads to the commitment of Pentecost which leads back to the anticipation of Advent.

  2. I hadn't really really read the Gloria for quite some time, and it's interesting to see the text laid out in one place like this. It is so very close to the Apostle's Creed that they would be almost interchangeable. Thanks for letting that connection come through.

  3. Seeing the text all in one place like this, I am struck by the parallel to the Apostle' Creed. When I sing the Gloria, I do not get that impression always. Very interesting.

  4. Rev. Robert FerroMarch 4, 2010 at 6:05 PM

    One of the comments that Luther made about the Gloria is that is didn't come from men, but directly from heaven. I miss singing the Gloria that I sang as a child from the old red "Service Book and Hymnal". I'd love to go back to that service sometime, but it's too "out of date" for most contemporary tastes.

  5. I guess I missed it so much I didn't just hum it, I sang it right out loud this morning!