Maybe The Gloria Is Inadequate

One of the current discussions in Catholic liturgical music is setting the Gloria. My parish invested time to introduce a through-sung setting, and mostly, it has paid off. The responsorial format, over the years, has often (but not always) resulted in the assembly singing the whole hymn, though in obvious pieces.

I was paging through an old LTP Liturgy Sourcebook when I found a brief commentary on the “responsorial” Gloria:

In 1972, Alexander Peloquin’s immensely popular “Gloria of the Bells” was published. This lively setting based on the Gloria from Gregorian Mass VIII was among the first to use the opening lines as a refrain throughout the hymn. Since then, the great majority of composers have followed this practice, and there are undoubtedly several practical advantages to this arrangement.

The easily learned refrain, and the gradual learning of verses are mentioned.

Also mentioned is the question:

(D)oes this arrangement do justice to this ancient hymn in praise of the Holy Trinity?

The arrangement of the text is pretty obvious and most composers have recognized a section in praise of the Father, a second which focuses on Christ, and a third which mostly bypasses the Holy Spirit and offers praise to the Trinity. LTP again:

To summarize, in the Gloria we praise the Father, then the Son, then the Three-in-One. But by using the opening lines of the first section as a refrain, the “flow” of this Trinitarian praise is interrupted, and the hymn begins to focus more exclusively on praising God the Father with a small section for the Son and a brief mention of the Spirit.

Maybe.

Worth considering, but maybe not wholly true.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to people of good will.

Is the Father automatically “in the highest?” Is Christ not also exalted? (Cf. Philippians 2:9ff.) Does the observance of the Nativity necessarily mean the Holy Spirit is in “hiding,” not yet on the scene, and Jesus is just “low?”

Maybe the problem with the Gloria is not that some have adapted it for responsorial singing. Maybe it’s not the optimal expression of Trinitarian praise. What if this ancient and venerated and traditional hymn only grades as a C-minus? And we could do better?

A “brief mention of the Spirit” doesn’t sound optimal to me.

I don’t have any illusions that Christendom is at all in a good place to explore a “better” hymn. Too much darn infighting as it is. If people are going apoplectic over refrains to make the learning and singing easier, they are unprepared to consider that the text itself may be faulty.

My own sense is that after entrance music, the Gloria is done too frequently to really matter. It becomes an “obligation” rather than a true opportunity to offer Trinitarian praise. Plus, the text itself gives not nearly enough attention to the Holy Spirit. Not that we need an epiclesis in the Introductory Rites … but then again, maybe we do.

My sense is that a brief acclamation of praise would suffice during Ordinary Time, and maybe even Advent and Lent. Something more than Kyrie Eleison! but something less than a two-minute setting.

The biblical core of the Gloria is the angelic acclamation of Luke’s Gospel. That could certainly be expanded for festive seasons and feasts with a more balanced mention of the Trinity.

So yes, I suppose I’m advocating a retirement of a time-honored text. Maybe in the 22nd century, we’ll be ready to consider it.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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4 Responses to Maybe The Gloria Is Inadequate

  1. Liam says:

    This critique strikes me as shallow and reverse-engineered.

    My sense is that musicians tend to prefer more variety (particularly because of the repetition involved in rehearsals) but tend to give the ordinary as a whole short shrift because of the unvarying texts that eat away at time that could be spent on More Interesting Things, whereas I think more is gained by applying much greater levels of patience and time and effort with the ordinary; it’s countercultural, to be sure, but I think in an excellent way. The Gloria as a hymn text has only the Magnificat as a rival for inspiration of the most beautiful choral music. Go deeper into it.

  2. Todd says:

    Maybe.

    I think the Gloria has certainly been well-set, but not because it’s the most lyrical text in the Christian repertoire, but probably because it’s in the Mass ordinary. The Magnificat is a much more appealing text. And it’s not a problem for it being in the daily prayer of Christianity rather than a weekly staple.

    I’m just advocating for a better Trinitarian balance. I’m not necessarily in favor of the responsorial format. But the LTP commentator is right to point out the weakness of not finding much of the Holy Spirit in a text that purports to be Trinitarian.

  3. Liam says:

    Consider the original Creed. And the Apostle’s Creed. Or the Roman Canon. Cursory or elliptical mention of the Spirit is characteristic of the more ancient liturgical texts coming from a time that progressive liturgists tend if anything to prize; it was only as a reactive gesture to a particular heresy that references got more amplified. The Latin Gloria, btw, is largely similar to the first part of the Orthodox Great Doxology used on feast days, which also shares the ancient characteristic of eliding reference to the Holy Spirit (and the Orthodox can’t be beat for their emphatic Trinitarianism; as the old saw goes, the Western Church leans towards a monotheism that gives short shrift to the Father and the Spirit, while the Eastern Church leans towards an almost tritheism that attributes more distinctions among the three divine Persons).

    I think the objection is weak.

  4. Mary says:

    Mmm, is this encouragement to those of us who are still using the totally non-approved – but amazingly Trinitarian – so called “Peruvian Gloria”, because we just cannot manage the resources to learn any of the more complicated settings?

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