The Little Doxology
Although short, the Glory Be is truly one of our most powerful prayers, reminding us that we serve an infinite God, worthy of all praise.
Short but mighty, the simplicity of the Glory Be prayer can often hide its value in our faith. This is another one of those prayers that we might find ourselves mindlessly repeating in a rosary, at mass, or at the end of our days. However, while it is only 1 line long, we can think of it as the one-liner of our faith. Each time we say the Glory Be we turn our attention from within ourselves and instead focus on God, giving Him the glory and praise He deserves.
The Little Doxology
The Glory Be was born from our human tendency to forget to regularly give God his just praise. As early as the 4th century the Church began the practice of singing and reciting the prayer together. It’s Latin name is Gloria Patri, while in older prayer books this prayer is referred to as the “Little Doxology” (the Great Doxology is the Gloria in Excelsis Deo - the Christmas song of the angels referenced in the book of Luke). Doxology is defined as an expression of praise to God, especially a short hymn that is either spoken or sung. The tradition for the doxology originates in the Jewish synagogues, they are usually recited at the end of all principal sections of the service. We even see similar doxologies to the Glory Be used by St. Paul in his letters. For example, he referred to, “the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be honor forever and ever. Amen.” (Rom 16:27) in the conclusion of his letter to the Romans. Centuries later, St. Francis de Sales ended his famous written works, Introduction to the Devout Life similarly, saying,
“Glory be to Jesus, to Whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be honour and glory, now and ever, and to all Eternity. Amen.”
Just like the saints who have gone before us, we can emulate this same praise to our God when we pray the Glory Be. And what a beautiful way to do so! We use the word ‘glory’ to describe things that we find to be perfect or beautiful: the sky, the stars, a rainbow, etc. To show our Father the same form of affection reminds us that we worship a perfect God, reflective of all things beautiful here on Earth.
Line by Line
Let’s take a look at this prayer by breaking it up into pieces, starting with,
“Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit”
This line first summarizes the mystery of our faith: God our Father, Jesus, the Song of God, who became human so that he could not only live among us but die for our sins, and the Holy Spirit who rests within all of us. Talk about a big opener. As Chrisitians, we believe that our God is 3 in 1 - Father, Son & Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most difficult ideas to understand in our faith, but it is fundamental. As story goes, St. Patrick used to use shamrocks to teach the Irish about the Trinity. He would explain that just as there are three leaves on the shamrock, so there are also three entities in God. This aids in the understanding that three can be united in one. We can spend years trying to understand this enigma of a relationship, but I won’t get into that today. What’s important to understand is that when we recite this line of the prayer we profess our belief that our one, eternal God exists in three persons, and that these three are one God, equal and eternal, having the same nature and attributes, and worthy of the same worship, confidence, and obedience.
“As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be”
A closer look at this phrase shows us that the antecedent of the word ‘it’ here is referring to God, His word, and His promises. At this point in the prayer we state our belief that all Jesus has shared with and promised to us is as true today as it was the day He uttered the words. Thus, we acknowledge that God’s word was true “in the beginning” (when the world was first created), “now” (at this very moment that we are reciting the prayer, and “ever shall be” (for all eternity). We also recognize the eternal existence of God as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at this point in our prayer. God was around at the beginning, now, and “ever shall be.” We may lead a finite life, but we believe in an infinite God, one whom we profess this belief to when we recite the Glory Be.
“World without end, Amen.”
This line can be confusing - afterall, we know our world is finite: it will come to an end some day. However, at the end of our prayer we are not talking about our time on Earth, rather, we are stressing our belief that God’s Kingdom in Heaven will never end. It is at this point in our prayer that we recognize that we are destined for eternal life with our God, that our life does not end when we die, rather, it begins.
Next time you sit down to prayer, I encourage you to incorporate the Glory Be into your conversation with God. Meditate on the gravity of your words as you recite them, reminding yourself that you serve an infinite God, worthy of all your praise.