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Vicar's Musings for the Third Sunday in Lent

4 March, 2018

For me, one of the most moving liturgical moments of the entire Christian year is the singing of the Great Doxology, Gloria in excelsis Deo, during the Easter Vigil High Mass. From Ash Wednesday onwards, we omitted this great hymn of the early church. Just as the paintings and other images in church were veiled throughout Lent, so our liturgy was pared back: no Gloria, no Alleluias, Advent hymns, solemn readings preparing us for the Passion. We attended Lenten courses and fasted in order to focus — body mind and spirit — on our Lord's journey to the cross. With fellow parishioners and other Holy Week pilgrims, we entered into the Triduum Liturgies of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday; and then finally we gathered for the Easter Vigil. The fire is lit in the car park, the Light of Christ is carried into the darkened church, the Exsultet is sung, and the Old Testament lections draw us into a meditation on salvation history. Finally, in preparation for the New Testament readings, all the lights in church are turned on, bells ring out, and the choir sings in full voice: Gloria in excelsis Deo — Glory to God in the highest! The hairs often stand up on the back of my neck at this point, and I can't hold back the biggest of smiles. Christ is Risen ... he is risen indeed. This is our faith!

The Gloria opens with the words that the angels sang at the announcement of the birth of Christ to the shepherds (Luke 2:14). From the early days of the Christian Church, other verses were added to form a doxology, which in the fourth century became part of the office of morning prayer, and is still recited in the Byzantine Rite. The Latin translation of the Gloria is traditionally attributed to St Hilary of Poitiers (c.300-368) who may have learned it while in the East (359-360). The Vulgate Latin translation of the Bible was commissioned only in 382. The Latin hymn thus uses the word excelsis to translate the Greek word υφιστοιζ (the highest) in Luke 2:14, rather than the word altissimis, which St Jerome preferred for his translation.

On this Day of Resurrection, may we be truly open to the living mystery of the Risen Christ; a truth that transforms and draws us into fullness of life; a truth that challenges, and disturbs; a truth that is eternal.

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster

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