The Mass in Slow Motion – The Gloria

 So we have gathered, acknowledged God’s presence in several ways (hymn of praise, incense, veneration of the altar and the greeting of the celebrant). We have examined our consciences and asked God to give us pure hearts and minds to praise him. At most Sunday Masses what comes next is a kind of outburst of praise called the Gloria (Glory to God in the highest!) Knowing and experiencing God’s presence and mercy brings forth joy and a desire to praise him. And so we sing:

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.  Amen.

The Gloria is a very old and venerable hymn sung by which the Church. It is sung by the congregation, or by the congregation alternately with the choir. If it is not sung it is to be recited by all in unison or alternately. It is sung on Sundays outside the Advent and Lenten seasons, as well as on solemnities and feasts and at special, more solemn celebrations. The text of the Gloria echoes the song of the angels at the Nativity. Further it praises and invokes both the Father and Son and concludes with a brief doxology to the Trinity.

History – The Gloria was not created originally for the Mass. It is and heirloom from the treasure of ancient church hymns. Indeed it is a precious remnant of a literature now mostly lost but once certainly very rich. These hymns imitated and borrowed from biblical themes. Indeed they may even be said to take after the tradition established by Mary who proclaimed her Magnificat by borrowing heavily from the biblical themes with which she was so familiar. So too Zacharia in his Benedictus. Few of these early hymns of the Church remain however. One other hymn which does remain is the Te Deum and it, unlike the Gloria has retained its existence apart from the Mass. The roots of the Gloria may be found as early as the 4th Century where a text very close to our present text is found. Likewise another text from the 7th Century is also very close. Again, this hymn was not originally part of the Mass but was probably sung as the Te Deum is today, as a thanksgiving hymn for feasts and celebration. It was sometimes included in the Mass as a hymn as early as the 6th Century and perhaps even earlier by some accounts. But definitely by the 6th Century Pope Symmachus permitted its use on Sundays and feasts of martyrs but only at a mass presided over by a Bishop. Pope Gregory allowed its use at the Easter Mass even if the Celebrant be only a priest. It was not until the 11th Century that the distinction allowing it only for Bishop’s masses was dropped. This was due to continual requests that it be allowed. Today, the Gloria is said at all masses of a festive character outside of penitential seasons.

A full analysis of the hymn could be a course in itself. However suffice it to say that it is understood to be a hymn of praise which is almost ecstatic in quality. This is not as well brought out in the present English translation for use in this country. However, a look at the Latin text (see appendix 2) is helpful. Lastly, it is well that the Gloria be sung if possible. Reciting the Gloria is comes in a very poor second. It is kind of like reciting the National anthem. We just don’t do this because the very festivity and honor of the song requires it be sung. The Gloria is like this. If at all possible it should therefore be sung. However this is not always possible and it ends up being recited. It should at least be recited in a vibrant and pious manner to avoid the possibility of the text becoming wooden and dull.

In the end, these introductory rites of procession, penance and praise all serve to establish the fact that we are in the presence of God. Casting aside our sin and sorrow we enter God’s presence with reverence, confidence and joy. Next we will pause to pray before we sit to attentively listen to God speak to us.

The following video shows the opening the movent of Vivaldi’s Gloria in D Major. Church music for the Baroque era became very elaborate with the use of orchestras and large choirs. Sometimes the Gloria and Credo of a Mass could last 20 Minutes or more. Also, the text of the Mass had become so well known and popular that it was not uncommon for settings of the Mass to set by the great composers as concert pieces sung outside of Mass. This was an era when the Church influenced the world much more so than today. Enjoy this festive opening movement of the Gloria in D by Vivaldi, a Catholic priest and composer from the early 18th Century.

How is Mary our Mother?

We Catholics often call Mary our Mother and rightly so. But how is she in fact our Mother? Granted, Jesus announced her as our Mother when he said to John from the Cross, “Behold your Mother.” (John 19:27) John represents every disciple and hence when Jesus declares Mary to be his Mother, he also speaks to us” Behold your Mother. But still the question of how is she our mother. Jesus does not simply declare her to be so in some arbitrary way, as a sort of nice thought.

As you might suspect there is something more at work here. The most straight forward theological answer is simply this: Mary is our mother because she is the Mother of Jesus and we, by baptism are incorporated into Jesus. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.  (1 Cor 12:27) . Jesus is the head of the body, the Church. (Col 1:18) But if Mary gave birth to the head of the Body of Christ she also gave birth to the rest of the Body of Christ (us). What mother do you know who ever gave birth to the head of her child but not the rest of that child’s body? So if Mary is the Mother of the head of the Body, she is also mother to the members of the body. Why? Because of Christ is one and we are one in Christ. Hence Mary is Mother of Jesus, we are in Jesus, Mary is thus our Mother. It is not some mere sentimental thing. It is a real motherhood.

Happy Mother’s Day Mary!

Mother’s Day Weekend

What is the best gift you can give your mother on Mother’s Day? Scripture surely gives the best answer: Let her who bore you rejoice. (Proverbs 23:25) In other words the best gift we can give our mothers is to live a life that would make them proud. The Blessed Mother has told us what she wants: Do whatever he (my Son) tells you. (John 2:5) 

 So the flowers may be nice, the dinner, a phone call, all nice but the best gift for our mothers is a beautiful and holy life.

Enjoy this beautiful video which is a tribute to our mothers:

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Beware of the Soloists!

There are a lot of “Solos” sung by our Protestant brethren: Sola Fide (saved by faith alone); Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone is the rule of faith); sola gratia(grace works alone). (See the Protestant Logo to the right). Generally one ought to be suspicious and careful of claims that things work alone. It is our usual experience that things work together in harmony with other things and are interrelated.

Hence faith alone is rejected by the Bible itself as an unreality. Faith without works is dead (James 2:26) It is not really faith at all since faith does not exist all by itself but always present with and works through love. Galatians 5:6 says: For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love. Hence faith works not alone, but through love. Further as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 13:2 if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. Hence faith alone is a null set, it is nothing in that it does not exist. True faith is never alone, it bears the fruit of love and works of holiness. Beware the soloists who cry “faith alone” and ask where faith, all by itself can be found.

As for grace alone, this too is a puzzling claim since grace builds on nature. You and I may have grace, but it works through our human nature to have its effects. Hence one who has the grace to preach must use his mind, voice, lungs etc. One who sings well must do the same. Even the grace of holiness builds on our nature since we called to be holy in a human way. It is our humanity that must be transformed: our mind, heart, attitudes and behavior. Even to the extent that we manifest the holiness of God we cannot forget that we are made in the image and likeness of God. So again beware the soloists. Human nature is not depraved but wounded and grace is not alone, it works with and builds on our nature and heals it.

Finally beware the soloists who say Sola Scriptura! Namely the claimthat Scripture alone is the measure of faith and the sole authority for the Christian. There are several problems with this. First, Scripture as we know it (with the full New Testament) was not fully assembled and agreed upon until the 4th Century and it was Catholic Bishops in union with the Pope who made the decision as to what books belonged in the Bible. The early Christians could not possibly live by sola scriptura. Secondly, until recently most peoplecould not read. Kind of strange that God would make a book the sole rule of faith. Even today large numbers of people in the world still cannot read well. Thirdly, and most importantly, if all you have is a book that book still needs to be interpreted accurately. Without a valid and recognized interpreter the book can well serve to divide more than unite. It this not the experience of Protestantism which now has tens of thousands of denominations all claiming to read the same Bible but interpreting it in rather different manners? The problem is if no one is Pope everyone is Pope!  Protestantism claims that everyone alone with a Bible and the Holy Spirit can authentically interpret Scripture. Well then why does the Holy Spirit tell some that baptism is necessary for salvation and to others no.  Why the Holy Spirit tell some that the Eucharist really is Christ body and blood and others only a symbol? Why does the Holy Spirit say to some Protestants “Once saved always saved” and to others, “No” ?? So you see Scripture is not meant to be alone. Scripture itself says this in 2 Peter 3:16 our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, also wrote to you, Our Brother Paul speaking of these things [the Last things] as he does in all his letters. In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures.So Scripture warns that it is quite possible to mis-interpret Scripture. Well then, were is the truth to be found? The Scriptures once again answer this: you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth. (1 Tim 3:15) Hence Scriptures are not to be read alone. They are a document of the Lord through the Church and must be read in the context of the Church and withthe Church’s authoritative interpretation and Tradition. As this quote says, The CHURCH is the pillar and foundation of the truth.

So beware of the soloists. Scripture is the most authoritative and precious document of the Church but it emanates from the Church’s Tradition and must be understood in the light of it. Further, faith is not alone but works through love, grace is not alone but builds on nature.

Here is a brief video where Pope Benedict reminds us that we must read Scripture not alone, but in union with the Living Tradition of the Church.

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The Mass in Slow Motion – The Kyrie (Lord Have Mercy)

Now if I were to ask you if the Kyrie Eleison (Translated “Lord Have Mercy”) were part of the Penitential Rite most likely you’d say “Of course it is.” After all we are asking God’s mercy. But interestingly enough it serves more as an acclamation of praise both historically and liturgically as we shall see.

The History of the Kyrie – the Kyrie is often thought of as a part of the penitential rite but this is not necessarily the case. The General instruction describes it this way: “After the penitential act the Kyrie Eleison is begun unless it has already been used in the penitential act. It is a song in which the faithful acclaim the Lord and ask for his mercy therefore it is usually to be sung by all, that is by the congregation as well as the schola or cantor.” Hence the Kyrie may or may not be a part of the penitential rite. As we shall see in its origins, the Kyrie is historically more a hymn of praise than a penitential act.

The early history may be seen in pagan antiquity. There was the  custom of imploring the help of the gods with the phrase “eleison.” Likewise, the phrase was used in reference to the emperor. A singer would announce some praise of the emperor and the people would respond with this or another cry of homage. However, there are also scriptural roots in the Old Testament. For example, in the Greek translation of the O.T. (the Septuagint)  there are many phrases particularly in the psalms such as, “eleison me Kyrie.” (Have mercy on me Lord) (Psalm 6:2 inter al.) Also in the New Testament there are many places where the phrase is used: Son of David have mercy on us. This phrase is indeed quite common in the N.T. Nevertheless Kyrie litanies where not common in the Church until after the Age of Constantine (4th century) likely due to their connections with paganism. After the persecutions ended and paganism move to the background it was deemed appropriate to use these forms of courtly honor to honor the Lord.

The entrance of the Kyrie into widespread use in the Church may be described as follows. The practice was first reported in use in  Jerusalem wherein the phrase “Kyrie Eleison” was sung in response to a series of petitions sung by a deacon. This practice was noted both within Mass (where it took place after the Gospel) and outside of Mass (for example at Vespers). The practice was brought back to the West probably by returning pilgrims and it was considered widely appealing. Eventually its  use came to be quite universal in the Church. In some areas it was located at the beginning of Mass while in other areas it had its place after the Gospel. Eventually it came to be generally located at the beginning of mass. It was specifically introduced into the Mass by Pope Gelasius in the later half of the 5th century.  The form of the Kyrie was retained as a litany of praise and supplication before God and these prayers grew in elaborateness. You can see the Kyrie Litany of Gelasius HERE .

In a desire to simplify and shorten the liturgy, Pope Gregory the Great in the early 7th century removed the prayers and kept only responses Kyrie eleison and Christe eleison. First this was done only on ordinary days, leaving the prayers on more solemn feast. Later their use faded completely leaving only the responses. The Kyrie responses were said at first only by the people. But gradually the priest and the people began to alternate, responding back and forth with a nine-fold response (KKK,CCC,KKK). Gradually the singing of these became more elaborate and tended to be done by a choir of trained singers. In the Tridentine mass the Kyrie was recited by the priest alternating with the servers in the ninefold Kyrie. In solemn Mass it was also sung by the Choir or schola. But it was NOT considered part of the penitential rite which had take place at the foot of the Altar and was separated from the penitential rite by several things: the ascent of the altar steps, kissing the altar, possibly incensing it, making the sing of cross to begin Mass, reading the Introit (entrance song) and only then reciting the Kyrie.

Today it is returned to having the priest and people alternate in what is usually a sixfold Kyrie. There is also the option of introducing the Kyrie into the penitential rite in which case it is returned to its older litany-like form with certain petitions and/or praises attached to each Kyrie and Christe.

Complicated enough?? The Kyrie has somewhat of a dual personality. It may serve either as a penitential rite or a hymn of praise. However, even when it is used as a penitential act, we still give glory to God on account of his great mercy. The history of the Kyrie Litany gives rise to an appreciation of  the source of our practice today of the intercessory prayers after the Creed (sometimes called the “prayer of the faithful”). In fact, it should be remembered that the response “Kyrie Eleison” may in fact be made instead of “Lord hear our prayer.” More will be said of this later on.

Here is a polyphonic Kyrie, a Kyrie in Gregorian Chant, and a Modern Kyrie litany: