This giving of glory to God is expressed in most of the prayers during which we repeat “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.” However, we see that in the Bible, we encounter numerous other mentions of “glory” that can make us aware of its very important significance. For example, in his first epistle to the Corinthians (11:7), Saint Apostle Paul teaches us that man is the “image and glory” of God, while woman is the “glory of man.” We may legitimately wonder, what do these mysterious words mean?
In the Gospel of the same apostle, John, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, answers the most troubling question we could think of: why did many of those of His contemporaries – especially the ancients and the priests – not believe in Him? The given explanation has at its core the very notion of “glory:”
“How can you believe, who receive glory one from another: and the glory which is from God alone, you do not seek?” (John 5: 44)
The first noticeable thing is the presence in this text of two types of glory: on one side, there is “God’s glory,” on the other side, there is “vain glory.” These two kinds of glory are absolutely irreconcilable: where vain glory is, there is no place for the glory of God. And vice versa. Before delving into such difficult issues, it is absolutely necessary to understand, first of all, what “glory” is. After that, we will be able to understand what we ought to give to God, the Holy Trinity, in order to fulfill what we say every time when we pray “Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.” Understanding this, not only will we be able to practice the virtue of religion better, but we will also understand what is one of the essential goals of mystagogic catechesis: that of revealing to all the baptized the presence of the glory of God, which, although it can rarely be seen directly, – as the apostles Peter, John and James saw it when Jesus was transfigured and became radiant in glory – , can be understood through an adequate formation.
Even though God is surrounded by this radiance – His glory – the heavenly host still sings, “Glory to God in the highest.” Being absolutely self-sufficient, God does not need anything – from the angels or from us. Why do the angels “give glory to God”?
The Gospel according to Luke contains what we call “the Greater Doxology” (Lat. Doxologia maior) – the song of the heavenly army of angels praising God incarnate for the salvation of fallen humanity. This song is preceded by an important verse:
“And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them; and they feared with a great fear.” (Luke 2: 9)
The description refers not only to the fear of the shepherds who come into contact with the unseen world, but also to the source that generates this state: what surrounds them is the radiance of God. Although this supernatural luminous phenomenon is triggered by the appearance of an angel, he is not the source of the radiance, but God Himself. From this, we deduce a fundamental attribute that is specific to celestial beings: transparency. Do you remember how Sister Lucia from Fatima described the angel who appeared to the three little shepherds before their encounters with the Holy Virgin Mary? He had “the appearance of a young man of fourteen or fifteen, whiter than snow, which the sun rendered transparent as if it were of crystal.”
The radiance of the holy creatures – angels and saints – does not originate from themselves but from the radiance (i.e., the glory) of God, which becomes visible to those around them due to their transparency. The shepherds are amazed by the divine radiance that erupts suddenly in the cold darkness of the night through the angel, who acts as a transparent medium like crystal. But even though God is surrounded by this radiance – His glory – the heavenly host still sings, “Glory to God in the highest.” Being absolutely self-sufficient, God does not need anything – from the angels or from us. Why do the angels “give glory to God” since the glory belongs to the Creator of all that exists anyway?
To answer such a crucial question, we will quote a revelatory definition formulated by the authors of the unparalleled Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, a monumental work spanning more than 20 huge volumes, coordinated by the Fathers Jean Michel Alfred Vacant (1852-1901), Eugène Mangenot (1856-1922), and Émile Amann (1880-1948):
“We call glory the radiance that attaches to someone because of the well-known excellence of his state, his merits, his actions.”
The same authors explain that there is an “intrinsic glory” (Lat. gloria intrinseca), which results from the appreciation of one’s own qualities. There is also an “extrinsic glory” (Lat. gloria extrinseca), which is the appreciation of someone’s excellence by others. To this distinction, we will add another one, suggested by a text from Saint Thomas Aquinas:
“Wisdom is twofold, created and uncreated. Man is said to be endowed with both and to improve himself by advancing in them. Uncreated wisdom, however, cannot be changed in any way, whereas in us created wisdom can be changed for some extrinsic reason, though not by reason of anything intrinsic to it.” (Questiones Disputatae de Veritate, Q.11, Art. I, 10)
Similar to the “wisdom,” we affirm that “glory” also comes in two forms: first, the divine glory, uncreated and eternal; secondly, the created glory, specific to each category of creatures – angels, humans, and inferior species. This explains the biblical statements that refer either to the “glory” of creatures or to the “glory” of the Creator. Of course, there is an unbridgeable gap between the two. For the “glory” of any creature, being finite, can be considered as nothing compared to the glory of the Creator Himself, which is infinite.
The Incarnation of the Savior, Jesus Christ, represents the magnificent beginning of this restoration: here is the essential reason why the angels sing “Gloria in excelsis Deo!” Every time we recite “Gloria…” we praise God for His work of salvation.
Thinking on the episode in which the shepherds see the heavenly host singing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” we recognize there the uncreated, intrinsic divine glory, which shines around the shepherds when the angel appears to them. We can also notice the extrinsic glory, which is the result of the angelic choirs’ recognition of God’s excellence, praising Him. To the extent that a created being is suited to glorify God, it becomes increasingly transparent to God’s glory. Additionally, that creature shares, through sanctifying grace, in the divine qualities, the most important of which is immortality. Once baptized, as we will see in the mystagogic catechesis dedicated to Holy Baptism, a person becomes truly immortal. Not in a physical sense, as even the baptized experience physical death, but in a spiritual, metaphysical sense: their souls are “resurrected” – through Christ’s sanctifying grace – from a purely biological and material (i.e., “physical”) existence to a supernatural life. From such a perspective, physical death is nothing more than the “gate” through which we enter into another state of existence characterized by immortality. Only at the end of the world, all human beings will receive their bodies back, which will be transformed into immortal bodies – a “metamorphosis” that will be fulfilled, according to Saint Paul, through glory (I Corinthians 15: 40-44).
Besides the glory of God, whether extrinsic or intrinsic, there is also human, created glory. If in Paradise, before original sin, this glory was transparent in the light of God, through original sin, death entered the world, and human nature – including human created glory – became opaque to God. Plunged into darkness, we had no other possibility of being restored to our original state except through a divine intervention. The Incarnation of the Savior, Jesus Christ, represents the magnificent beginning of this restoration: here is the essential reason why the angels sing “Gloria in excelsis Deo!”
Like the angels, every time we recite “Gloria…” we praise God for His work of salvation. In order to do this as best as we can, we must meditate on the significance and magnitude of such a divine intervention. Many saints – like Francisco de Osuna, Louis of Granada, Francis of Sales, and the well-known Alphonsus Maria de Liguori – encourage us to practice the art of Christian meditation. In this way we can deeply grasp the exceptional value of the divine work and honor it as it deserves. The ceremonies, gestures, symbols, and sacred songs that constitute the Christian Sacraments and the Holy Liturgy serve precisely to facilitate our meditations – acts of active contemplation, based on what we can do by seeking God’s help through prayer. To these, we ought to add good, meritorious deeds.
Everything we are, everything we have, and everything we do will be oriented towards the glory of God. Since we possess nothing that has not been given to us, we can return the things we have received to praise God. If we are wealthier, we can commission a golden chalice to offer it to a priest for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. If we are poor, we can give a simple glass of cold water to someone who is thirsty. Our deeds, big or small, can become concrete opportunities to give glory to God. What kind of glory? Our human, created, perishable glory. However, God can transfigure it through the influx of His eternal, divine glory, which He bestows upon us as a reward for our good and meritorious deeds. Although we do not see this glory with our physical eyes, we constantly perceive it in the sobriety, sacredness, and beauty of any authentic work of sacred art that respects the canons inspired by the Holy Spirit himself. Just as we see in the case of Solomon’s Temple, God dwells enveloped in His eternal Glory in those architectural creations made according to plans inspired by Him. Similarly, His eternal Glory shines in the Holy Sacraments and the Holy Liturgy.
Divine glory is the substance that fills the insurmountable gap between Creator and Creature, the axis that connects the uncreated nature to the created nature. Man must respond to the generosity of the Creator by giving Him glory through everything he is, everything he says, and everything he does.
For most of us, lacking the mystical graces necessary for the direct vision of God’s uncreated glory in this life, mystagogical catechesis is the means through which we become aware of the existence of what our physical eyes cannot see. However, be aware that this happens only when priests faithfully observe everything that organic development, guided by the Holy Spirit, has been transmitted to us as being loved and desired by God. The greatest danger is that instead of giving Glory to God, we may be filled with the most destructive ingredient that can turn us into burdens of lead destined to collapse into the abyss of hell: vain glory. Affected by it, many of Jesus' contemporaries – including members of the priestly order – could not believe in Him. Saint Thomas Aquinas gives us the details:
“The reason they could not believe in Christ was that, since their proud minds were craving their own glory and praise, they considered themselves superior to others in glory, and regarded it as a disgrace to believe in Christ, who seemed common and poor. And this was why they could not believe in him. The one who can believe in Christ is the person of humble heart, who seeks the glory of God alone, and who strives to please him.”
If nowadays we can see countless “theologians,” hierarchs, politicians, etc. seeking to change the revealed Christian doctrine, we must be sure that it is the vain glory with which they are imbued that drives their actions. We find the description of this process of the perversion of glory, with all its consequences, in the Epistle to the Romans by the holy Apostle Paul:
“And they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man, and of birds, and of fourfooted beasts, and of creeping things.” (Romans 1: 23)
By renouncing the search for the glory of God, the man places himself at the center of creation, giving glory to creatures instead of offering it to the Creator. This is the root of any form idolatry. From here, all imaginable sins arise (especially those related to sexuality). What is to be done?
The restoration of man can only be achieved by giving the due glory to the Creator in a rightful manner (with a Greek phrase, this is called “ortho-doxy”). In return, God bestows upon us His uncreated and eternal glory. This “right glorification” of the Creator is learned, more than anywhere else, in the context of the Holy Liturgy. The glory of man supported by the Glory of the Creator is the axis that connects the creature to its Creator. This reality represents the deepest substance of the encounter between God and man. “Glory” is, in a certain way, the axis that sustains the entire creation, establishing the connection between the uncreated spiritual “Heaven” – God – and the “Earth” – the creation, crowned by Man. Divine glory is the substance that fills the insurmountable gap between Creator and Creature, the axis that connects the uncreated nature to the created nature. Man must respond to the generosity of the Creator by giving Him glory through everything he is, everything he says, and everything he does.
From all that has been said, I hope it has become clear that giving Glory to God does not only mean praising Him with our lips. Let us imagine for a moment a miracle: our parish priest has told us that the Blessed Emperor Charles I of Austria will visit our church. Can you imagine how we would dress? How we would strive to sing? How we would behave? Any of us would try to give his best in order to show the appreciation and respect due to a good and holy king. And yet, he is just a man...
Could you imagine how we would behave if the King of Kings, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, would come physically to our church? Actually, this happens every time the unbloody sacrifice is offered during the Holy Mass. Imagine that you can see our Lord Jesus Christ on the altar. You will be breathless, won’t you? And now say from the depths of your heart, from the core of your being: “Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.”
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