This article first appeared in the March 2015 issue of our parish magazine.

The “Gloria”, or Greater Doxology is sung in churches every Sunday all over the world, unless of course it is either Lent or Advent. As you probably know, this hymn begins with the words that the angels sang to announce the birth of Christ to shepherds in Luke 2:14. Other verses were added very early, forming a doxology:

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

There are many versions of the words, and many musical settings, but the essential meaning remains the same. Christians are united every Sunday in proclaiming their love of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, three in one.

The communion setting currently in use at St Margaret’s is by Anthony Greening. It is for four part choir with organ. A trope is also used in the Agnus Dei – but that’s for a different article! The Gloria begins up-beat and in a major key. The middle section is slower, more reflective and in the relative minor. It ends up-beat again and back in F major.

Other versions have also been sung at St Margaret’s over recent years. The “Merbecke” setting is very traditional plainsong; the St Anne Mass setting has been offered by the choir during communion, as has the St Bride setting. Of those, the St Anne Mass setting is my personal favourite. I love the lilting Celtic flow of the music (650 in the purple Church Hymnary in use at St George’s), which complements the words so well.

The simplest setting of the Gloria I have come across is from Peru. I first discovered the Peruvian Gloria on a Music in Ministry day at Armitage Bridge in 2010. It is sung unaccompanied, as ‘call and response’, that is, one person (the cantor) sings a phrase and everyone else sings it back. That day, Jeremy was the cantor, and all the others of us present sang it as we processed and danced (sedately) around the church, as the Holy Spirit took us. Beautiful in its simplicity, this “folk Gloria” stayed with me for some considerable time afterwards. When I started helping with Sunday School singing practices I taught this Gloria to the children. They did well, so well that it was offered as their anthem at the parade service in February 2011. It didn’t occur to me when I scheduled it that Lent would have begun the previous Wednesday. The congregation was gracious about my error though, and the children sang it again the following February – before Lent started! The most recent offering of this Gloria by the Children’s Choir was during communion at the parade service in February 2015, and I have to say, it was the best I’ve ever heard them sing it.

Here is a recording of the Merbecke Gloria.

Peace be with you during your Lenten preparations – without a note of a Gloria.

Carol P

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