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27 November 2018

Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Not the chorus; the rote prayer. (And a bit about proper pronunciation of “excelsis.”

Before I discuss the rote prayer itself, lemme rant a bit about how everybody mispronounces excelsis.

When I was a kid, most folks I knew mispronounced it |ɪk'sɛl.sɪs|, ’cause it’s spelled like our English word “excel,” so people assumed of course that’s how you say it. Around high school one of the music pastors decided to correct everyone: “It’s pronounced |ɛks'tʃɛl.sɪs|; the C makes a |tʃ| sound like the word ‘cello,’ not |s| like ‘cellar.’ ” And everyone responded, “Ah of course,” and learned to say it that way.

Both are wrong.

The |tʃ| sound comes from Italian, which worked its way backwards into present-day Latin. (Which you thought was a dead language, didn’tcha? Nope. It’s still the official language of Vatican City, which means people there actually do speak it… when they’re not speaking Italian or English, or the pope’s native Spanish.) As for Roman Empire and early medieval Latin—in other words proper Latin—the C made a |k| sound, like “cardinal.” When an X came before it, that sound turned into an |s|. (Oh, and the vowels in Latin sound like the vowels in Spanish and French.) Hence the proper pronunciation of excelsis is |eɪs'kɛl.sis|.

Gloria in excelsis Deo |'ɡloʊ.ri.ɑ 'in eɪs'kɛl.sis 'deɪ.oʊ|, whether we mean the prayer, or the line we use for various Christmas-song choruses, is Latin for “glory in the highest to God.” It’s what angels said (not sang; read your bible again) when they appeared to the Bethlehem sheep-herders, and comes from the original dóxa en ypsístois Theó. Lk 2.14 But it comes from a more ancient Latin translation, ’cause St. Jerome rendered it gloria in altissimis Deo for the Vulgate.

When we’re speaking of the rote prayer—“the Gloria,” for short—we mean what Orthodox churches call “the Great Doxology.” There are eastern and western versions of it. The eastern version was written first, so let’s go with it first.

PRIEST. “Glory to you who has shown us the light.”
CONGREGATION. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to all people.
We praise you, we bless you, we worship you,
we glorify you, we give thanks to you for your great glory.
Lord, King, heavenly God, Father, almighty;
Lord, the only‑begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit.
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father who take away the sin of the world,
have mercy on us, you who take away the sins of the world.
Receive our prayer, you who sit at the right hand of the Father,
and have mercy on us.
For you only are holy, only you are Lord,
Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Each day we bless you,
and we praise your name forever and to the ages of ages.
Lord, grant that we may be kept this day without sin.
Blessed are you, Lord, God of our fathers.
Your name is praised and glorified throughout all ages. Amen.

The western version, as found in Roman Catholic and other western liturgical churches (i.e. Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians) goes more like so.

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, oh God Almighty Father.
Lord Jesus Christ, only-begotten Son, Lord 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 the Lord.
You alone the Most High, Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

And that’s how you’ll find it in various services.

Of course there are musical versions. (No, not “Angels We Have Heard on High,” obviously.) Most of those musical versions are in Latin, but there are more than 200 of them—including this one by Johann Sebastian Bach. Find one which helps you memorize it best.