The new translation of the Gloria emphasizes an overflowing of praise for God
by Most Rev. Terrence Prendergast
CNS file photo/Nancy Wiechec
Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of articles on the Roman Missal in anticipation of the new English-language translation, effective in the United States beginning Nov. 27.
One of the prayers that will be most affected by the new English translation of the Mass is the Gloria. Yet, when English-speaking Catholics around the world begin praying the revised translation of the Gloria, it will not seem all that different — only more exuberant.
When the current Roman Missal was originally translated in the early 1970s, literary theory encouraged "dynamic equivalence" — that is, translating the sense of the words rather than a word-for-word literal equivalence, which Pope John Paul II later mandated.
But English-language translators went further than just giving the sense of the text: In the Gloria, they reduced what was said, perhaps to avoid exaggerated repetition. For example, the Latin for "we praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory" was reduced to simply "we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory."
What was lost in the original translation was the effusiveness, the going overboard with praise of God! This is restored in the new translation.
The Gloria's opening words repeat the message of the angels to the shepherds at the birth of Christ: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will" (cf. Lk 2:14). Until now, we have been adapting the Scriptural text, saying "and peace to his people on earth."
The Gloria reminds us that, although we are mere mortals, we are privileged to join immortal angelic hosts in praising God, thereby participating in the heavenly liturgy. This prayer is no ordinary "thank you" to a friend or loved one. Rather, we are joining angelic choirs in adoring the Trinity.
Scholars have observed that the litany of praise ("we praise you, we bless you," etc.) imitates the kind of exultations heaped upon Roman emperors. Adapting such phrases for the Gloria, Christians showed where their true allegiances lay: claiming loyalty to God's rule took precedence over loyalty to any earthly ruler.
Praise of the triune God begins with the Father and then moves to praise of the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the new translation, the title of the Lord Jesus Christ is no longer the "only Son," but the "Only Begotten Son," underlining what John's Gospel several times declares: Jesus is the ultimate expression of God's love.
The second part of the Gloria begs the mediation of Jesus with the phrases, "Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son, Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father." And twice, rather than only once as in the current version, we ask Christ for mercy ("have mercy on us").
Rooted in Scripture, the Gloria evokes John the Baptist's designation of Jesus as the Lamb of God (cf. Jn 1.29). The fourth Gospel speaks of Jesus taking away the sin of the world (singular, but viewed as encompassing all the sins of the world). This reference to sin (singular), mentioned by John the Baptist, may have motivated our present translation ("you take away the sin of the world"), but the Latin text of the Gloria reads peccata (sins in the plural), so our new translation will also be plural ("you take away the sins of the world").
The last part of the Gloria, which remains unchanged, turns toward the Holy Spirit, placing him alongside the Father and the Son and indicating his equal status as God.
The rhetorical style of the Gloria uses an ancient technique called anaphora, a speech pattern whereby part of a phrase is repeated so as to emphasize its importance. We do not use this technique in ordinary conversation, but we are familiar with its use — as in Martin Luther King Jr.'s repetition of "I have a dream" in his famous speech. The use of anaphora in the Gloria reminds us that something very special is taking place in this prayer.
If we examine the previous text of the Gloria alongside the new version, we note that although the wording has been expanded, it does not sound very different. There are changes, but it does not seem as if we are praying something altogether new.
The Gloria has been an obligatory part of festive Masses since the fifth century, so with the renewed Roman Missal translation, we will be closer to praying this hymn as the Church has done for the past 1,600 years.
MOST REV. TERRENCE PRENDERGAST, archbishop of Ottawa, Canada, serves as a member of the Vox Clara Committee, formed to oversee the new English translation of the Roman Missal.