The Gloria marks the beginning of our upward journey. In response to the promise of forgiveness announced by the priest, we stand up, so quite literally we raise our hearts, and we give glory to God.
But can we really give God glory? Does God lack glory, that he needs us to provide it? What does it mean to praise God?
Let us look briefly at the idea of 'glory'. In the Old Testament, 'glory' refers to the luminous or shining manifestation of God's power and the impression this creates on others. The Hebrew word is kabod and it especially refers to the sense of God's presence in the 'ark' - the special tent where God was worshipped by his people in the wilderness of Sinai.
The Old Testament also looks forward to a time when this glory will be fully and permanently manifested, not just fleetingly glimpsed. Isaiah says: "Arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you." [Isaiah 60.v1] The New Testament understands this to refer to Jesus of Nazareth. The story of the Transfiguration of Jesus [Mark 9. vv2 - 8] expresses the unity of the Old and New Testaments and the fulfilment of the Old by the New in the person of Christ - he is seen 'shining' on the hilltop in the company of Moses and Elijah. It confirmed that being in the presence of Jesus, as some of the disciples were on that occasion, was being in the presence of God.
Through Jesus, we ourselves are returned to the real presence of God. If we have humbled ourselves before him and confessed - named our sins - then through his mercy, his love for us and his forgiveness, we can enjoy his presence for ourselves, free of the misery of guilt.
One of my favourite theologians is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was involved in the plot to kill Hitler and was hung by the Nazis in the last days of the Second World War. He wrote about how we are 'returned' to our origin - the place of closeness and intimacy with God where we ought to have been all along. In the story of Adam and Eve, it is striking that they had an absolutely direct relationship with God without the need for any intermediary. When things went wrong, they lost this immediacy. Through Jesus we are all returned to our origin in the direct presence of God.
The big thought here then is that we all share and take part in God's glory, God's radiance. We reflect his radiance. You can see it in the faces of those around you who enjoy God's presence.
But - this is not about being glorious and honourable and praiseworthy and shiny in our own right. That was Satan's mistake in Milton's Paradise Lost! Remember that Jesus did not come down from the mountain all shining and glorious. He set his face grimly towards Jerusalem, towards his suffering and death, towards his passion.
And so to share in God's glory is always to share in his suffering and humiliation. That is what we are enacting in the drama of the Eucharist - the drama of the glorious God who reveals his glory in suffering and in ultimate, passionate love. And we are all called to share in such glory too.
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