Saturday, January 30, 2010


Since I've been referring to the little sentence by sentence way he broke up the Gloria, here is his Organ setting of the hymn from the Messe pour les Paroisses.

Part one:

Part two:

A la Couperin: Quoniam tu solus Sanctus...

Quoniam tu solus sanctus, tu solus Domi-nus, tu solus altissimus Jesu Christe, cum Sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris. Amen

Ὅτι σὺ εἶ μόνος Ἅγιος, σὺ εἶ μόνος Κύριος, Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, εἰς δόξαν Θεοῦ Πατρός. Ἀμήν.

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.

The final phrases of the Western Gloria have this sense of separation between us and God. "Only...holy" and "Only...Most High" seem to depict a very old idea of a remote God so very far removed from His Creation. Yet they are applied to Our Lord Christ which produces quite a fascinating paradox, for Christ is the Person of the Holy Trinity with Whom we have had Human to Human interaction. How can this Human Christ who chose, together with the Father and the Paraclete, to be with us be simultaneously so remote from us?

Let us think a little more deeply because we can find ourselves being rather equivocal in the way we treat the words "remote" and "separation". In what way is God remote from us? The hymn says it all: He is remote in Glory. We return to the beginning of the hymn talking about the impact that God has on Creation. No other being has this impact, and this demonstrate God as being utterly unique in the whole of Existence, so unique that we can only really describe Him with analogies that sometimes we stretch and twist too far to prove a point (mea maxima culpa). This immediately sets Him him apart from all that there is, but this is not an isolation.

God could have chosen to be isolated from Creation, but He hasn't. For whatever reason, He chose to create us; He has chosen to share it with us all the way; His isolation is in His uniqueness, but not in His intention. In this way we see a humble God, fully aware of Who He is, yet not wishing to revel in that Being as the only thing that mattered, but rather to share it respectful of our wishes and will. This seems to me to be why we were created -as visible expressions of God's humility. God shows us an intense desire to share beauty, love, and warmth with everything which is not-Him. He demonstrates that sharing is a two-way activity, though the nature of that activity is clearly different. What God shares with us is vastly different from from what we can share with Him.

Perhaps this is also why Evil exists: God shares with us the problem of what things are without Him in order that we can see Him more clearly, though this is a terribly trite and pitiful statement in the light of the recent sufferings in Haiti. This too demonstrates the unknowable nature of God. The knowing of God's mind will not help those suffering, but actions of love do speak louder than theodicies and philosophies in this matter.

The Gloria brings us full circle into the Mystery of a God who is unknowable and yet demonstrates His own revelation, presenting us with the unfathomable made visible, showing us realities beyond observability and always pointing to what is greater.

In the East, things don't end there.

Καθ' ἑκάστην ἡμέραν εὐλογήσω σε, καὶ αἰνέσω τὸ ὄνομά σου εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα καὶ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα τοῦ αἰῶνος.

Day by Day shall I bless Thee and praise Thy name now and into
the Age of Ages.

Again, I've already spoken about that wonderful phrase "Age of Ages", an the Eastern Church rejoices in having this phrase as continuing their reading of the Gloria. They then incorporate ten more verses from the psalms, a trisagion and a Gloria Patri.

However, thus ends a hymn with which we begin or end our Mass, depending on whether we are using a Missal or a strict observance of the format of the BCP Communion. From what I understand, it belongs at the beginning, because it points to the inadequacy of words to describe our relationship with God and leads us into the rites and ceremonies of the sacrament where we meet with God Himself. It lifts our hearts to Him, and we are called upon several times in the Mass to reflect back to this hymn ("Glory be to Thee, O Christ" "Lift up your hearts", "Lamb of God...").

And this hymn resounds with that final and ubiquitous "Amen", a word often forgotten because it is said so frequently and yet punctuates the Christian life so frequently and penetrates it so fully. We should never despise our "Amen".

Glory be to God on High? Amen - YES! So Be It.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A la Couperin: Domine Fili ... miserere nobis.

I notice that there are one or two differences in the translation in the Greek which have confused me today. Oh that I had the learning of genuine scholars such as Fr Hunwicke! I've put in an addendum to last week's offering.

Domine Fili unigenite Jesu Christe, Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris, qui tollis peccata mundi miserere nobis, qui tollis peccata mundi suscipe deprecationem nostram, qui sedes ad dexteram Patris miserere nobis.

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

Κύριε ὁ Θεός, ὁ ἀμνὸς τοῦ Θεοῦ, ὁ Υἱός τοῦ Πατρός, ὁ αἴρων τὴν ἁμαρτίαν τοῦ κόσμου, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς, ὁ αἴρων τὰς ἁμαρτίας τοῦ κόσμου. Πρόσδεξαι τὴν δέησιν ἡμῶν, ὁ καθήμενος ἐν δεξιᾷ τοῦ Πατρός, καὶ ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς.
The Greek is almost the same, though the phrase "O Lord, the only begotten Son Jesu Christ", together with the Holy Spirit, is associated with those formulæ for our worship that we discovered last time and thus is not included in what amounts to the Agnus Dei.

The word that struck me today is the word Πρόσδεξαι. The δεξαι on its own means "receive", so the sense of the whole word is stronger "receive to Thyself" or perhaps more naturally "take to heart".

One of the things that seems to cause the Atheists offence is what they perceive to be grovelling in the Presence of God. They would look upon this passage in the Gloria and its repetition as the Agnus Dei and then quote Monty Python at us:
O Lord, please don't burn us,
Don't grill us or toast your flock,
Don't put us on a barbecue,
Or simmer us in stock,
Don't braise us or bake or boil us,
Or stir-fry us in a wok.
Oh please don't lightly poach us,
Or baste us with hot fat,
Don't fricassee or roast us,
Or boil us in a vat,
And please don't stick thy servants, Lord,
In a Rotissomat.

The beauty of Monty Python's parody is that of course it makes us think about what we are doing and what we are saying. Lack of humility goes both ways, we can think too much of ourselves and we can think too little of ourselves. Both attitudes deny the Creative power of God. In thinking too much of ourselves, we try to usurp God's authority over us, His Creation, to the extent that we deny ourselves to be His Creation. In thinking too little of ourselves, we deny the fact that we are temples of God's Holy Spirit and therefore have some dignity before God. Thus we frighten ourselves into Quietism and complete passivity.

We have, then, this threefold petition to God, twice for mercy and, in the Gloria, the request that God takes our petitions to heart. In the Agnus Dei, the third petition is for Peace. These are not the petitions of grovellers who seek to deny themselves the dignity of humanity, but a recognition that we need mercy, freedom from sin, the assistance of God to live and the peace to cope with a chaotic world.

In referring to the Lamb of God, in Whose sacrifice we partake, we refer to that most intimate of relationships -more intimate than any relationship between humans - namely, receiving Our Lord in the Sacrament. We take God into ourselves - "and the Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His temple". We may make ourselves unworthy by our manifold sins and wickedness, but this is a prayer of those who possess worth as the Creation of God to fulfil their potential as temples of God. We pray that God would take our petitions to heart and that we should take Him to heart too in the Sacrament.

While this may be a prayer of submission, it is not a prayer of grovelling. We Christians can be bold to approach the Throne. We may do so only with fear and trembling, but the Presence of God does not cause us to lapse into a completely passive being. We pray God to have mercy on us, to hear our prayers and give us peace, so that all our faithful actions may be perfected in Him and that we may find rest with Him in Eternity. He does actually promise us that, you know.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A la Couperin: Laudamus te....Deus pater omnipotens

Laudamus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te, glorificamus te, gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam, Domine Deus, Rex cœlestis, Deus Pater omnipotens

Ὑμνοῦμέν σε, εὐλογοῦμέν σε, προσκυνοῦμέν σε, δοξολογοῦμέν σε, εὐχαριστοῦμέν σοι, διὰ τὴν μεγάλην σου δόξαν. Κύριε Βασιλεῦ, ἐπουράνιε Θεέ, Πάτερ παντοκράτορ, Κύριε Υἱὲ μονογενές, Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, καὶ Ἅγιον Πνεῦμα.

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.

Addendum: 17th January. I noticed today that I omitted to comment on the fact that the Greek adds the Trinitarian formula here and is thus translated:

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, the Only Begotten Son, Jesu Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

I am reluctant to divide this up as minutely as I have the previous installments since reductionism is notoriously misleading and in some cases, downright dangerous. Of course, I have the whole Gloria in mind, but this section hangs naturally together following the Gospel verse that begins the hymn.

In our Mass, part of our sacrifice is that of praise and thanksgiving. Of course we re-present the sacrifice of Christ at the Altar in order to enjoy full communion with the whole Church (Militant, Suffering and Triumphant), but we also bring with us the people who we are in order to offer to God what we can. We remember King David refusing to give anything to God which cost him nothing, and we try to give what we can in addition to the edifying one perfect oblation of Christ.

The Gloria gives us five actions to perform before the face of Almighty God the Heavenly Father and King: praise, bless, worship, glorify, give thanks.

I get the impression that, these days, these five actions can get somewhat confused. That isn't too great a problem really, since our whole relationship with God should be looking to transcend any clarification and nomenclature, but it does us good to make sure that what we offer to God is as full as we can make it.

We praise thee: The Greek "Hymnoumen" of course gives us the root of hymn which is precisely what the Gloria is. I suppose that the verse could be translated "We sing thy praises." It puts us in mind of those times when we are just so overcome with a joyful emotion that we want to burst into song, even if our singing is like a glass door scraping along concrete. Singing is such a personal activity, and yet we should be working towards doing just that and harnessing that rather numinous yet peculiarly joyful (if not necessarily happy) emotion that only singing can invoke.

We bless thee: Blessing always seems to be a top down activity, something that should only come down from God to His little Creatures. Our little ones come forward at the Mass for a blessing and it is something that fathers are supposed to do with their children. Yet the Greek literally means "to speak well of". We can hear God's blessing for His only-begotten Son thundering around creation: "Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" This is a blessing, a statement of deep pleasure. We may be infinitely lower than God, but we can still issue statements of taking pleasure in Him and what He does for us.

We worship thee: I have heard of priests make the mistake of saying that they worship Our Lady. I very much doubt if they actually meant that. What they were (hopefully) alluding to is the nature of what worship is, literally a worth-ship. Clearly Our Lady has worth in the Church, but she is categorically not to be the object of worship in the same way as God. Indeed, I hope the phrase "I worship Mary" has been replaced by much clearer and more rightly-intentioned statements. I value the role of Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin in Creation in that her "yes" enabled the incarnation of God. To worship God is to ensure that He takes the greatest place of worth in our thinking, speaking and action, in our daily lives, in our possessions, in our philosophies, in our sciences - no exceptions. To be a Christian is to be eccentric, because God is at the centre of the life of a Christian.

The Greek term (προσκυνοῦμέν) however, colours our action of worship because it literally means "to kiss towards" though it is probably better translated as doing homage or reverencing. Are we to blow kisses to God? You can imagine the look on the priest's face if he were to turn and see the congregation all blowing kisses in what appears to be his direction. Again, the indication is that the act of worship is something deeply personal and intimate and yet something we need to do in the presence of others. Is it wrong to love God so much that we should want to kiss Him? Surely we should be loving God more than that! Look at how much He loves us.

We glorify thee: I have really mentioned this earlier. In glorifying God, we are responding to the impact that he has on our lives. In glorifying God, we look at our own life and see just how much He is responsible for who we are now.

And after contemplating what God has done...

We give thanks to Thee for thy great glory! Exactly. We consider the impact of God in our lives and we are grateful for it, showing our gratitude again by submitting ourselves to Him.

All of these five actions are about recognising God as Almighty, as Lord, as Heavenly (in the sense of transcendent, perhaps?) King, as Father, and reacting to His use of those different qualities of Himself that He reveals to us.

We praise the Lord.
We bless the Father.
We worship God.
We glorify the Almighty.
We give thanks to the Heavenly King.

All these actions are unified in the Being of God.

Of course, the Gloria occurs in the liturgy (literally the work of the people) of Mass in which we participate in the seven liturgical actions of Christ: - taking, blessing, breaking and giving of bread and taking, blessing and giving of wine and water. At Mass, these seven actions are present in the four actions of the Offertory, the Eucharistic Prayer, the Fraction and the Communion, each one prefigured in the Hymn that is sung at the beginning of the liturgy.

It is important, in this increasingly secular day and age, that we take stock of just how we are praising, blessing, worshipping, glorifying and thanksgiving that we not only do at Mass, but in our lives.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

A la Couperin: Et in terra pax hominibus bonæ voluntatis

et in terra pax hominibus bonæ voluntatis

καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκία

and in earth peace, good will towards men

This, of course, concludes the song of the Angels as reported in St Luke ii.14.

I am not a Greek Scholar; my Greek is very rudimentary, but I am struck again by the seemingly fundamental nature of these opening lines because the subsequent teaching of Our Lord hangs on these two clauses sung by the angels. First, one is to glorify God, to recognise His impact in bringing us as individuals into being, and to react to Him accordingly in nothing less than worship. Does the second clause really suggest that one is to have a good intention to all human beings indifferently to their state? This would encapsulate the two Dominical commandments beautifully.

The Gloria demonstrates that peace and goodwill are for all mankind but who is the source of this goodwill, Man or God? The word εὐδοκία means good favour, or an enjoyment, and this song of the angels which we echo at Mass ascribes first Glory to God and then intends for His people to be at peace in His pleasure. It appears to me to be rather covenantal in its structure: we give God glory, He takes pleasure in us, and Earth is at peace. It would be nice if εὐδοκία were qualified with a possessive pronoun in order to distinguish whether it is truly God's good will that we receive in covenant or whether it is a good will in which we must also participate together with Him.

Of course, from what we know with hindsight is that this is not an either/or situation but very much a both/and. From what the angels sing to the shepherds on the day of Our Lord's birth, it is a clear announcement of the New Covenant, a vision of what should be, and indeed will be - God living with men at peace in His glory.

However, when we sing it at Mass, we are singing of this covenant, especially mindful of our side of the bargain. This is where the second statement brings us in mind of the good will that we should have for each other, that we should take pleasure in our neighbours and look to live in peace with them. So we do indeed find that Our Lord's commands are enshrined within the Gloria, but notice that they are suffused with God Himself, as He intended them to be.

Friday, January 08, 2010

A la Couperin: Gloria in excelsis Deo

I've been meaning to try and tackle something a little more substantial for a while, and I must confess that my previous post has been something of an inspiration to which I hope I can do some justice. Having looked at the Doxology that is used in conjunction with the psalter, I thought it might be an idea for me to try tackling the larger Doxology, that of the Gloria in excelsis.

My own parish has jettisoned this hymn at Mass in favour of a "song of praise" inserted into the liturgy. I am convinced that this is simply another instance of dumbing down and making the liturgy more understandable and therefore less edifying. This "song of praise" is just a modern song from Mission Praise and just doesn't point out into the infinite in the same way as the traditional texts which have stood a greater test of time, and inspired a good many Christians from all walks of life - not just the bishops, saints and theologians.

Hmm, in considering the Gloria bit by bit, I feel rather like Francois Couperin.

Let's start at the beginning.
Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις Θεῷ

Glory be to God on High.

The word "Glory" fascinates me. Gloria and Doxa both translate the Hebrew word כבוד (chabod) which itself derives from a Hebrew word meaning weight, substance and honour. To me, this suggests that Glory is about the impact that something makes on the world around. The more substantial a body is, the greater its impact. Compare the glory that a ping-pong ball, a cricket ball and a foot ball possess bouncing off the top of one's head!

A sunrise is glorious precisely because it thrills the heart to see such resplendent colours first thing in the morning across a snowy landscape - that is its impact on our lives. Of course, Kings and Queens have their glory, as do presidents, but can one properly talk about the glory of a terrorist? The impact that they have on people's lives is devastating. That the terrorist's community will applaud his actions and honour him suggests that he does possess glory, but clearly not for the innocent victims of his actions.

There seems to be a subjective element to glory - an impact on people's lives which we deem to be honourable, and we recognise this impact with awards, peerages, honorary doctorates, pats on the back and a box of chocolates with a "thank you" card on it. Such is the glory that man gives to man, yet doesn't it soon cloy? Our media likes nothing more than to exaggerate the glory of one person, and then revel gleefully as it takes it away again.

In saying "Gloria in excelsis Deo", we are making a very definite statement that God has made an impact which has benefitted everything that exists. This is our statement of faith; it is practically credal in what is says.
It is You, O God, to Whom we attribute the greatest achievements that Creation has experienced.

In the Te Deum it is "Heaven and Earth are full of the Majesty of thy Glory". Again, just as my friends and I discussed and as I posted below, we are faced with not a vacuum of space, but a plenum filled with God.

In the cosmological award ceremony (which, thankfully, is unlikely to be hosted by Billy Crystal), we give to God all the trophies, all the accolades, all the medals when we say or sing this little phrase on a Sunday morning (if we are lucky enough to have a traditional liturgy).

It is also a plea. Brother Lawrence was aware that he was full of the glory of God as he practiced the Presence of God, and it is this glory that is indelible in each human being though many are not fortunate to see it. Thus in singing our Gloria, our plea is that as we attribute to God all glory, He would make us more and more aware, that He would impact Himself more and more on our lives so as to call us into His presence.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

World without end?

I was recently asked: at the end of the doxology, what is the "world" in "world without end"? Is it the world to come?

Well, I answered this question, and sent my reply to my friends. This got Ed Pacht, Jim Ryland and me talking and discussing, and suddenly I find that this doxology, which is often so glossed over in psalms is so powerful in what it suggests.

It's essentially from the Authorised Version's translation of Ephesians iii.21

ipsi gloria in ecclesia et in Christo Iesu in omnes generationes saeculi
saeculorum amen

αὐτῷ ἡ δόξα ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ καὶ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ εἰς πάσας τὰς γενεὰς τοῦ αἰῶνος τῶν αἰώνων· ἀμήν.

Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

Greeks use the doubling of a word in a phrase to give it emphasis. In Greek, the double negative is an emphatic negative, not a positive, so the phrase "I haven't never been to the pub" so often uttered around here is meant in the Greek sense of emphasising the speakers tendency to be teetotal, rather than a subconscious admission to a lock-in at the King's Head. Hence "age of ages" gives a greater emphasis on the scope of how Glory is attributed to God.

I did put forward an opinion that it wasn't the greatest triumph of the AV's language, but Ed reminded me that I am living in a different milieu. Indeed, the scientific world is materialist, and lives under the belief that everything that exists can be scientifically observed and measured and explained. Hence the word "World" is narrower than its meaning in the 16th century.

The "world" certainly might be indicative of the world to come which is Eternal in nature, yet if it is Eternal (and hence timeless) what does it mean for a world "to come" which implies temporal movement? If it does refer to world at is is now (i.e. an Aeviternal world) then the phrase "age of ages" might be more pertinent referring to our existence now throughout the entirety of Time. Certainly to say "forever" appears rather dull and one-directional than "age of ages". Giving Glory to God is not just something that shall be done in the future, but something that has a greater potency.

However, the phrase is "world without end" implying a world without boundaries, i.e. in which the boundaries of Time and Space are meaningless, so personally I think that the translators are trying to get this idea across of the Glory to Christ within our existence (i.e. in Aeviternity), but beyond our existence (i.e. into Eternity) and into the Hypostastic Union. It is essentially a text that was and is used to denounce Arianism, and the fact that we use it in our doxology makes this a central indication of how we are expected to attribute the Glory to God.

We can only make such an attribution from our paltry existence as infinitesimal beings sandwiched between the oppressive inaccessibilities of the Past and the Future (as St Augustine would have it). However, each person in the Hypostatic Union attributes glory to each other person of the Trinity and this takes place within the richer existence that God enjoys and promises to share with us in His offer of Theosis.

Ed pointed out to me that it is precisely this Theosis which makes us part of the "Ages of ages", of the "Word without end."

The trouble with human beings is that we have an inbuilt sense of time that we just cannot truly escape. Our heartbeats simply cannot but remind us of the passage of time, and it takes some very good quality contemplation (which is after all a gift from God) to dip into the sense of timelessness which seems only to be a lack of awareness of Time passing.

Certainly, there are theoretical transformations that turn the temporal dimension into a spatial dimension (though these transformations are prohibited by Einstein if one is to make sense of how his theory is to describe reality) , but then one of the spatial dimensions must become temporal. One can try to view spacetime as one object, but if one does, one experiences a weird sense of motion without motion as our brain tries to comprehend it.

I don't know what this means for Eternity. From a theoretical point of view it would look absolutely static, as there would be nothing for it to move into. For a temporal being, it would behave in a confusing manner as everything tries to present itself to the finite brain at once. I think of how the image of God the Holy Trinity jostles in my mind as I try and fail to comprehend the implications of Who God really is. There is a dynamic in the Hypostatic Union, but blowed if I can describe it other than each person of the Trinity giving Glory to the other two!

And again, I'm drawn back to the beginning, to Genesis when we are told that God rested, and in the Venite where we are told that those who harden their hearts will not enter into His rest. Could this mean rest as a toy car comes to rest, i.e. it falls into a state of equilibrium without any further force to continue its journey? Is that what Eternity is - perfect stability and equilibrium? Again, that does not necessarily imply complete stasis, but simply no motion relative to itself.

This world without end, is perfect equilibrium, but is far from static. It is Hypostatic.

And what about the "World to Come"? It's a credal statement, after all.

I wonder if it is our movement towards an awareness of Eternity, that we are being propelled into it. We are told that the Kingdom of God is within us and that it has already come in Christ who provides the Way into Timelessness, through the Mass and yet has never really been very far from us since the beginning. We say in the Creed that we believe in the "life of the world to come". Is this the issue of relativity? Relative to us, the Sun does go around the Earth. Relative to us, the Kingdom is coming. Yet are these observations true from an objective observer - in the first case it seems reasonable to suppose that the evidence is that the Earth and Sun orbit the centre of gravity, in the second, there is no such thing as an objective observer save the Almighty God Himself, and our movement is towards Him (or at least should be if we follow Christ).

It's amazing. Every day I say:

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the Beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.

I guess that I ought to say that phrase with a little more appreciation now.