Glory to God in the highest,
and peace to God’s people on earth.
Gloria in excelsis Deo is one of the oldest Christian hymns still sung. In the East it forms part of the Office. In the West it was traditionally used early in the Eucharistic liturgy – just prior to the collect.
That’s the position it had in the first Book of Common Prayer, but 1552 BCP moved it to the conclusion of the Eucharist. And there it stayed. Right through the 1928 alternative. In NZ, the first contemporary revision, 1966 moved it not back to the 1549 and earlier position, but rather, right to the start of the service. It essentially became the gathering hymn. In practice, services probably went Hymn – greeting – Gloria…, and the Gloria probably was often said, rather than sung.
In NZ, little changed to this pattern in the 1970 revision. The rite had been designed so that the “first part of the service” (excluding the Ministry of the Sacrament) could stand alone as an office, led by lay persons.
By the 1984 revision there was an eye on RC revisions, other revisions, and presumably back to pre-1552 days. The text of the Gloria was printed directly after the greeting (as in 1966 & 1970) but the traditional position, prior to the collect, was permitted, but no text was printed there, so the book-bound would have to turn back.
In Celebrating Eucharist I wrote:
Each Eucharistic Liturgy provides for a hymn after the greeting and presents an option in the text (“Glory to God in the highest,” page 405; the Benedicite Aotearoa, page 457; and two options, pages 477 and 478). This first hymn functions as a “gathering song” and also sets the mood for the service (rather than needing to be strictly thematic). It is appropriate that the Glory to God be used for this during the Christmas season and from Easter Day through the Day of Pentecost. It is not used during the seasons of Advent and Lent. If necessary, various metrical versions of the Glory to God are available (which can be sung to well known tunes). Furthermore, during the Easter season it may be more appropriate to sing a joyful hymn which captures resurrection delight more immediately than the Glory to God.
Unless you are a community that recites hymns rather than singing them (yes, there are such communities) I suggest the Gloria be sung (reciting it should feel as unusual as reciting “Happy Birthday to you…”).
I suggest that unless the Gloria is used as the opening hymn, having it follow directly sung on another opening hymn, with a greeting wedged in between, can be improved upon. The Gloria, however, can be seen as a placeholder for the opening hymn.
Otherwise I suggest the traditional pattern works well:
Kyries (if used)
Bidding – silence – collect
What does your community do? What do you think works well? What do you think works badly? Why?
- Our Cluttered Vestibule
- Liturgical Individualism
- Keep it simple
- collect – four parts
- Liturgy as language (part 2)