Year B – Epiphany 5 – Gloria in Excelsis

Glory be to God on high
And on earth peace, goodwill towards men,

We praise thee, we bless thee, we worship thee,
we glorify thee, we give thanks to thee for thy great glory.

O Lord God, heavenly King,
God the Father Almighty.

O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesu Christ;
O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
that takest away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.
Thou that takest away the sins of the world,
receive our prayer.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father,
have mercy upon us.

For thou only art holy;
thou only art the Lord;
thou only, O Christ,
with the Holy Ghost,
art most high
in the glory of God the Father.

Summary – This is a very ancient hymn, perhaps one of the oldest known to the Church.  This week, it will be sung during communion which is a special treat and is especially fitting given its great content and sweet, mystic melody.  It opens with the words that God, through His angel, spoke to shepherds, the lowliest, commonest people within walking distance of Christ’s birthplace.  This is what we are called to remember during the season of Epiphany.  This is what God did when He sent His Son to us.  Before that moment, the great patriarch Jacob had been the only one to see the angels ascending and descending, but outside Bethlehem that night, humble shepherds were treated to this vision as well.  It is easy to imagine while singing the notes of this ancient hymn which radiate up and down, toward and from Heaven – the praise of glory ascending up to God and the benediction of peace and goodwill descending to all the people on earth.

Insight – Imagine picking up a beautiful antique book in a rummage sale and opening the front cover to find the autographs of Christopher Columbus, George Washington, C.S. Lewis, and Michael Jordan.  That would be an incredibly special book because of all the hands that had held it before yours and left their mark.  The Gloria hymn is like that.  It dates back to the first centuries of the Church’s life.  The paper trail begins around the 300’s when a French Bishop named Hilary translated it from Greek into Latin for the Western Church.  Before that, it had been used in the morning prayer service of the Eastern churches [and still is today].  Hilary was known as the “Hammer of the Arians” because of his preaching that Christ was fully God.  Like his more-famous contemporary, Athanasius, he was a defender of this great truth and suffered sharp times of persecution because of it.  It quickly became a favorite of Christians everywhere.  The version we sing was translated from the Latin by a man named Nicholas Decius, who was a Reformer along side Martin Luther in Germany in the 1500s.

It is strongly trinitarian with particular focus on Christ, Who ‘only is the Lord’ and along with the Holy Ghost is the one, only holy, God of glory.  The great thing about this song is that it doesn’t merely lay this theology out in dry textbook fashion.  It draws us into praise to the Father and prayer to the Son, acknowledging the work He does for us now, in Heaven, every day, as our Prayer advocate, sitting right there next to the Father.  Now that is certainly an uplifting thought.  In some of his writing St Augustine referred to the work of Bishop Hilary by using the phrase “sanctus hilarius”.  And that is exactly how we should sing this song and approach the Lord’s table, with holy joyfulness.

Child Catechism – Who takes away the sins of the world?  Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Discussion – In this hymn, we praise the Father and pray directly to the Son.  When we pray, which persons of the Trinity should we address?  What examples and guidance do we have in Scripture?

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