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The Gloria in Excelsis

Gloria in Excelsis (Latin for “Glory in the highest”) is a magnificent hymn of praise and prayer that dates back to at least the fourth century.

Luther said of this part of the liturgy that it “did not grow, nor was it made on earth, but it came down from heaven.” This is not saying too much, for the thoughts and words of the Gloria in Excelsis have come down to us from God in heaven in the Holy Scriptures.

A brief review of the Gloria in Excelsis bears out the truth of Luther’s statement about it.

Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will toward 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.

We recognize the opening sentence of the Gloria in Excelsis as the familiar words of the multitude of the heavenly host to the shepherds on the night of Christ’s birth (Luke 2:14). They bring to our minds God’s great act of grace in sending His own Son to take on our human nature and as both God and Man to rescue us from our sin and death. We praise and thank Him for His great glory revealed in His grace and love.

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

We praise the Son of God as the Lamb of God Who offered Himself as sacrifice for human sin. Twice we sing that He has taken away “the sin of the world,” assuring one another that He has taken away the sins of every one of us. On the basis of this love that Christ has shown us, we plead for His mercy, which we very much need in this fallen world where we are subjected to trials and temptations. We express confidence that He is able to hear and answer our prayers, for He has risen from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father; He is able to intercede for us with the Father so that daily our sins are forgiven and our prayers heard and answered.

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. Amen.

We cry to Jesus for His merciful intercession because He is the Holy One; He is the only perfect Man acceptable to God the Father, the beloved Son in Whom He is well pleased. By faith His righteousness is ours, and we too are accepted by the Father. We call to Jesus for help also because He Who is our Brother is also Lord, one with the Holy Spirit and the Father.

The Gloria in Excelsis as quoted above is from The Lutheran Hymnal (pages 7, 17). Other forms of it include versions in more modern English and paraphrases in the form of hymns. Whatever version of it we use, this hymn of praise passed down to us from the early church lifts us from our earthly fears, cares, and troubles as it brings into our view the glory of our Savior God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

John Klatt is a retired pastor. He lives in Watertown, South Dakota.