After the penitential rite at the beginning of the Communion service follows this rubric:
The Gloria or some other song of praise may be sung or said, all standing. It is appropriate to omit the song of praise during penitential seasons and days appointed for fasting.
Placement of the Gloria…
For those who grew up accustomed to the Roman Rite or the 1979 Prayer Book, this is expected – the Gloria is the standard historic hymn of praise following the Kyrie, signalling the movement from penitence to absolution, from abjection to joy, from unworthiness in God’s sight to worthiness, from fear to perfect love. What many don’t realize is the peculiar tradition of the classical Anglican Prayer Books in placing the Gloria after the Communion and Post-Communion Prayer!
Thus, when we read in the rubric on page 107 & 125 that the Gloria “may be sung or said”, what we ought to see here is the permission to save it for its traditional placement near the end of the liturgy. The reason for saving the Gloria for that point in the liturgy is that there it functions as an expression of unadulterated praise to God in light of his saving work on the Cross that we have just memorialized in prayer and received in the Sacrament. So the flow of penitence-to-praise at the beginning of the service doesn’t really apply, but the celebration post-communion is certainly much grander. It’s also interesting to note that in Lutheran tradition they tend to keep the Gloria in its traditional (Roman) position near the beginning after the Kyrie but also have a special post-communion canticle like the Prayer Book tradition, though in their case the Nunc dimittis. Now that’s a much more sober (or sobering) way to reflect upon the reception of the consecrated elements!
Instead of the Gloria…
I know lots of congregations that have a contemporary “praise and worship set” in place of the Gloria. Although this provokes the ire of hymns-only traditionalists, this can rightly capture the spirit of the modern prayer book (and traditional Roman) rite, as the Gloria is a song of pure praise. Indeed, in my own church, we long had a hymn or contemporary song of praise in addition to the Gloria. As long as you find lyrics that are very God-centered, they’ll fulfill the same function as the Gloria. But keep in mind, how many times does the Gloria mention “us” or “me”? If you’re appointing songs in its place, try to make sure that they live up to that standard of pure and undistracted adoration.
During Advent and Lent, though, it is customary to omit the Gloria, whether you’ve got it near the beginning or the end of the liturgy. The 1940 hymnal even has, in its liturgical index, suggestions for which hymns could replace the Gloria during those seasons. This is an excellent place to use a season-specific hymn, as they typically capture the tone and mood of the season in a very appropriate manner, and thus support the shift of emphasis that the liturgical calendar is meant to convey to us.
Singing the Gloria…
Last of all, it’s worth noting that the rubric states “sung or said“, as if to imply that it’s more appropriate to sing the Gloria than to read it. This is where the otherwise-bloated 1982 hymnal can be a valuable resource, as it provides a number of musical settings for the contemporary translation of the Gloria that our new Prayer Book continues to use. The Book of Common Praise 2017 has only one setting in the contemporary language, which is original to that edition, I believe, and has worked pretty well with my own congregation. But sometimes it’s nice to have options.
You could even take a page out of medieval tradition and change the musical setting of the Gloria for different times of year or occasions! For example, my congregation sings it on major feasts and high Sundays, but just says it on ‘normal’ Sundays.
4 thoughts on “When to sing the “Gloria in excelsis””
Very rare to see articulated something I have thought of for years. Bravo. Thank you!
(“…keep in mind, how many times does the Gloria mention “us” or “me”? If you’re appointing songs in its place, try to make sure that they live up to that standard of pure and undistracted adoration.)