November Reverend Reflections

Hello First Presbyterian Church,

After the confession of sin, assurance of pardon and passing of the peace every Sunday we sing what is called the Gloria Patri, which simply means “Glory to the Father” in Latin. It is called that because that is the first line of the song:

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. Amen, amen.

If you come to the Evening Office we will say these same words several times throughout the service, but what do they mean? To me, the entire thing begs the question, “As what was in the beginning, is now, and every shall be?” What does the “it” refer to? 

Positioned as it is within our worship service you might say that the “it” is the reconciliation we experience with one another in light of the forgiveness we receive from God. On account of the restoration of these relationships we sing glory to God. Our relationships were always meant to be characterized by such grace and love that when we recreate this reality in our liturgy we rejoice in the beauty of the moment by singing with one voice the glories of our reconciling God. 

But what about when the Gloria Patri is used on its own? What does it mean when it is not sung on the heels of the assurance of pardon and passing of the peace? In a way, by placing it where we do within our liturgy, we are artificially infusing the “it” of the Gloria Patri with the message of reconciliation. We are reconciled to God and to one another, therefore we glorify God. But what does the Gloria Patri mean on its own?

When you consider the Gloria Patri outside of the liturgy then you come to realize that the “it” which was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be is none other than the glory of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When God created the world, he created all things to bring him glory. The stars did so by lighting up the night sky. The flowers did so by opening before the sun. The wren did so by singing her beautiful song. The brooks did so in their babbling. Each created thing sang of God’s glory, wisdom, and power.

As Psalm 19 reads, 

The heavens declare the glory of God, 
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 
Day to day pours out speech, 
and night to night reveals knowledge.

Human beings are no exception. We were created for the same purpose. The first question of the Westminster Larger Catechism asks, “What is the chief and highest end of man?” The answer is, “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God and fully to enjoy Him forever.” We are worshipping creatures by God’s design. More specifically, we are worshipping creatures set on this earth to worship our Creator and to glorify him in all our works. 

The worship of God is the most important and satisfying thing we can do. However, the human story is that we have chosen to worship many things besides God. We worship ourselves, others, and even objects in which there is no life. As worshipping creatures, we will always worship someone or something, for that is what we were created to do. But if we worship the wrong thing, our worship will only lead to death. It is the worship of God alone that brings life.

When we sing the Gloria Patri, therefore, we are reminding ourselves of this purpose for which we were created, and we are returning to it. When we sing the Gloria Patri we are glorifying the Triune God who conspired to create and redeem us, and then we are reminding ourselves that this (the glorification of God by human beings) is how it was in the beginning, is now, and always will be, world without end.

The Gloria Patri is the most human of songs we can sing. It calls us back into the activity for which we were created. In our persistent brokenness it is worth regularly repeating this song to ourselves and to each other—not just during our worship service, but all throughout the day, as we are tempted to worship anything other than God.

May your lives be lived to the glory of God alone. 

Grace and peace,
Jonathan +