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A History Of The Mass And Its Ceremonies In The Eastern And Western Church -Rev John O'Brien A.M.

After the recital of the “Kyrie” follows that of the “Gloria in excelsis,” or major doxology, during which the priest makes several reverences by bowing the head slightly at some of its principal clauses, and terminates it by making the sign of the cross upon his person.

Regarding the authorship of the opening words of this sublime anthem no doubts can be entertained, for the Evangelists record them as having been sung by the Heavenly Host over Bethlehem on Christmas morning. Much dispute, however, has arisen regarding the remainder; some attributing them to one author, others to another. A very widely circulated opinion accredits it to St. Hilary, Bishop of Poictiers, in France, A.D. 353. Whoever be its author, this much is certain: that it existed word for word as it stands now before the Council of Nicæa, held in A.D. 325 (Kozma, p. 170; Bona). Rather, then, than ascribe it to any one in particular, in the absence of substantial proof, it is better to say, with the Fathers of the fourth Council of Toledo, in Spain, held A.D. 633, that the remainder was composed by doctors of the Church, whoever these were (Merati, Thesaur. Sacr. Rit., p. 72).

So careful was the ancient Church of securing for this sacred anthem all the veneration that was due to it that she restricted its recital to very grand occasions, and even then confined it solely to bishops. But it was not at its introduction confined exclusively to the Mass, for we find it prescribed for the Morning Service, or Matins, of the Divine Office (Romsee, iv. 90). The precise date of its introduction into the Mass, or who introduced it, is not easy to settle. Those who ascribe its introduction to Pope Telesphorus are evidently incorrect in so doing, for it is now very well ascertained that he only caused to be said the initial sentence, or the part chanted by the angels, and had nothing to do with the rest of it (Bona, p. 317). Until the entire hymn was composed, the first part of it, or the angelic words, used to be sung—not, however, in every Mass, but only in the Midnight Mass of Christmas, as the above-named pontiff decreed (ibid.) According to Pope Innocent III. (De Sacr. Altaris Mysterio, cap. xx. p. 113), it was Pope Symmachus (498–514) who extended it in its present form to every Sunday in the year and to the feasts of all the holy martyrs. Some maintain that the decree regulating this discipline was to be viewed as a general one, and that hence it included priests as well as bishops; others hold that it affected the latter only. Whether it did or did not, this much is certain: that when Pope Gregory the Great attained to the pontificate (590–604) no priest was accustomed to say it in any Mass, unless in that of Easter Sunday; and bishops were not allowed to recite it except on Sundays and festivals. From a very ancient Roman directory yet preserved in the Vatican Library we derive the following information in point: “Dicitur ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo,’ si episcopus fuerit, tantummodo die Dominico, sive diebus festis. A presbyteris autem minime dicitur nisi in solo Pascha” (Bona, p. 317)—that is, “If the bishop celebrates, the ‘Gloria in excelsis’ is said only on Sundays and festivals. On no account must it be said by priests, unless on Easter Sunday alone.” This same restriction was approved of and enjoined by Pope Gregory, who also caused it to be inserted in a conspicuous place in the missal made out under his supervision; and in this way did it continue, according to Cardinal Bona, until about the middle of the eleventh century, when the restriction was taken away and the privilege of reciting it extended to priests and bishops alike in every Mass that admitted of it.

According to Martène and others, this hymn used to be chanted in early times at Rome on Christmas morning, in Greek first and then in Latin. The same custom prevailed also among the clergy of Tours, where it was said in Greek at the first Mass, and at the second in Latin (Enchiridion de Sacr. Missæ ex opere Ben. XIV., p. 31).

When the “Gloria in excelsis” may be said.—As the Angelic Hymn is one of joy and festivity, its recital is forbidden to all during seasons of penance and mourning. Hence it is not heard during Lent or in Masses for the dead. Durandus tells us, with no small amount of holy indignation, that in times gone by the bishop of Bethlehem arrogated to himself the right of reciting it on every occasion, no matter whether it was a joyful or a sorrowful one, and this for the reason that an exception should be made in case of the city where the sacred anthem had first been heard (Rationale Divinorum, p. 172). The present rule regarding its recital is that which was laid down by Pope Pius V.—viz., that whenever the “Te Deum” is recited in the Divine Office this hymn is said in the Mass. This, however, admits of a few exceptions; but as we are not writing a ceremonial, we do not think it our duty to name what they are, and we wish our readers to bear this in mind in similar cases.

How the Dominicans, Carthusians, and Others recite it.—The Carthusians and Dominicans, as their ceremonials direct, go to the middle of the altar, as we do, to recite this hymn, but after they have said its initial words they return and finish the remainder at the missal. This custom prevailed also in the Mass according to the Sarum Rite (Church of Our Fathers, iii. 148).

Practice of the Oriental Church.—Singularly enough, the Nestorians are the only Christians of the East who recite this hymn in the Mass (Neale, Holy Eastern Church, i. 471). The Greek Church recites it frequently in the Divine Office, but never in the Liturgy or Mass. It appears, to be sure, in the Liturgy of St. James, but not the entire hymn, only the angelic part, or that which used to be said at first in the Latin Church. And this cannot but be a strong argument against those who would have the authorship of it accredited to Pope Telesphorus, who died in A.D. 154: for undoubtedly, if it existed in its entirety then as now, it would be so inserted in that Liturgy, which, in the opinion of the ablest critics, was not edited earlier than the year 200.








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