What Does “Gloria In Excelsis Deo” Mean Today?

A “mondegreen” is a misunderstood word or phrase usually because it’s in a song lyric that is misunderstood. In Christmas carols, many mondegreens come from the fact that the Old English lyrics are sometimes up to 200 years old and simply aren’t the way Americans talk today. One of my favorite mondegreens comes from I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day where people say “the bell freeze up all Christians dumb” instead of “the belfries of all Christendom”! 

If this happens to 200-year-old songs written in English, can you imagine what happens to a song that is 1700 years old and was originally written in Latin?! I’m talking about the chorus from Angels We Have Heard On High which simply says, “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” 

That Latin phrase means Glory to God in the highest! The idea is that our praise of God is both excellent and increasing in its level of adoration. The Latin phrase is shorthand for a doxology that is traced back to 300 AD.

The angels aren’t the subject of this carol, but the focal point is to Whom their song is being raised—“Come to Bethlehem and see Him Whose birth the angels sing; come adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

The idea of gloria in excelsis is to keep making our praise bigger and more magnificent. We are to MAGNIFY what God has done for us through the advent of Jesus.  

In Hebrew, the word gadal is usually translated as “magnify” or “glorify” in English, and it means something that is growing and becoming more powerful. David uses gadal as he not only praises God from deep within his soul but encourages others to join in his song (Psalm 34:1-3). 

In Greek, the word megalynō is also translated “magnify,” and means to make something great, make it obvious, declare it to be great, celebrate it. Mary’s song called The Magnificat begins with this word (Luke 1:46).

I cannot make God great because He is already THE GREATEST! 
I cannot make God powerful because He is already OMNIPOTENT!
But I can make His greatness and His power more obvious by celebrating Him!

 

Just like a magnifying glass doesn’t make an object bigger, it just helps us see it better. So, too, our praise and adoration don’t make God bigger, it just helps others see Him better.  

So I have a question to ask you—which I’ve already been asking myself—

How will you give gloria in excelsis Deo this Christmas season and beyond?

Poetry Saturday—Angel Hymn

Glory to You who have shown us the light.
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 takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us, You who take away the sins of the world. —Angel Hymn / Doxology (~300 AD)

Glory to God in the highest
and peace to His people on earth.
Lord God, heavenly King,
Almighty God and Father,
we worship You, we give You thanks,
we praise You for Your glory.
Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
You take away the sin of the world:
have mercy on us;
You are seated at the right hand of the Father:
receive our prayer.
For You alone are the Holy One,
You alone are the Lord,
You alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father. Amen. —updated in the Book of Common Prayer (~1975)
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