Singing the New Gloria and a Bit More

Peter asks me my opinion about the “singability” of the new Mass texts. I would need to look at them all more carefully. Permit me to toss out a few general statements. First, nearly any text can be adapted for plainsong. Metered music is more difficult on the composition end. But if a good poetic rendering could be accomplished, it will permit easy memorization. Let me confine this post to the Gloria, and if time permits over the next few days, address other texts as well.

Adding my own separation of sentences, the red text is what Valle Adurni has for the Gloria, interspersed with my commentary:

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

This seems an unfortunate and awkward rendering of two comparable ideas. You have the potential for a classic Jewish two line phrase comparing the offering of “glory” to God and the prayer for “peace” to people of good will. If it were more poetically ordered, it would be more singable. A strict parallel:

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

… is even more awkward, so I’d settle for this, keeping the familiar first line unaltered:

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

The next three sentences work well enough, assuming the composer can set short phrases with some skill:

We praise you,
we bless you,
we adore you,
we glorify you,
we give you thanks for your great glory,
Lord God, heavenly King,
O God, almighty Father.

Lord Jesus Christ,

Only-begotten Son,
Lord God,

Lamb of God,

Son of the Father,
you take away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us;
you take away the sins of the world,
receive our prayer.

You are seated at the right hand of the Father,
have mercy on us.


What you have here are two litanies, one detailing the means by which worshippers interact with the Father. The second, a series of titles for Christ with a petition of mercy. My complaint here is more with the fault of the Latin original than the translation. The structure is muddled and final output poorly stated. 

It would seem that this embedded litany would better serve the liturgy if it were more explicitly rendered in text and music, possibly adding other titles of Christ, and trimming the repetitions. However, since vernacular compositions are not being accepted in Rome, perhaps it’s better to mention the defects of the original and move on from there to the concluding doxology: 

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.

This last sentence is what we have now, pretty much.

My hope for this Gloria translation would be to see more through-composed settings. Serious composers of all sensibilities are pretty much finished with the “responsorial” settings, with the exception of musicians who have been completely out of the loop for the past ten to twenty years.

I would see the embedded litany of mercy within the Gloria as a repetition of the Kyrie in the penitential rite. Musicians likely deep-sixed the either-Kyrie-or-Gloria possibility in the late 60’s, heading into the promulgation of Musicam Sacram. A more sensible approach would be to have a more reflective and less wordy penitential rite, followed by the Gloria as a hymn of praise for this grace of forgiveness (and others). But that would smack too much of a departure from tradition–at least at the present time.

Is this new Gloria singable? Not more so than the old. It’s still going to take work and skill to make it happen.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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5 Responses to Singing the New Gloria and a Bit More

  1. Gavin says:

    My hope for this Gloria translation would be to see more through-composed settings.


    I agree that the opening sentence could be a lot better. Of course, I think it would be best as “and on earth peace to men of good will.” Not just because I use the term “men” to refer to mankind, but the use of a single syllable makes it more singable. Try saying it a few times, it is better that way.

    I think the ultimate problem with the new translation is the awkwardness of trying to fit the Latin phrasing to English. I will say that while this uses some awkward language, it’s still better than the current translation both in accuracy and singability. Just pointing out the presence of the litanies (which are obscured by the ICEL) is enough reason to prefer this one. The musical possibilities with this are much brighter than anything published for ICEL.

  2. Todd says:

    “All” or “those” would be just as good one-syllable efforts without being needlessly provocative.

  3. Fred says:

    hard to arrange as a song, but not too hard to chant.

  4. Liam says:

    This is better than the current Gloria, because it’s structure is more apparent in a number of places; the current one is more schizoid in that regard.

    Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t suggest changes.

    The structure of the first sentence is a bit more subtle in it’s parallelism than Todd seems to realize: it’s palindromic in form, as it were. That is, the references to place bracket the phrase break in the middle. That said, I think it’s better to go with the more direct parallelism suggested by Todd.

  5. Gavin says:

    “those” would be a good translation, but I’d of course dispute that “men” is provocative. Michigan may be a more liberal area than KC (not that I would know) but still I remember my confusion when, at the age of 9, I noticed my new church wouldn’t use “men” in the hymnals. I figured they were on some ridiculous agenda, and thought if I as an elementary school student knew what men meant, anyone can! So I would going out of one’s way to avoid using “men” as the provocative act.

    That fruitless argument aside, I’d like to see some discussion of what you’d like to see in a translation. If for no other reason than to bring up some more interesting conversations on the matter. It’d be interesting to go through, presenting the Latin, the ICEL, and the rumored translation and give some thoughts on each.

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