by Frank Klose
Increasingly in the two parishes in which I minister, the Glory to God is being recited rather than sung. Two reasons seem to come up: The length of the Glory to God and the quality of the Glory to God. Both issues can be attributed to the new translation of the Roman Missal, which has in essence taken this hymn away from the people.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal is pretty clear: The Glory to God is the hymn of the liturgy. In fact, it is the only one really mentioned by name:
The Gloria is a very ancient and venerable hymn in which the Church, gathered together in the Holy Spirit, glorifies and entreats God the Father and the Lamb. The text of this hymn may not be replaced by any other text.
What can we do when the text we have been given is too difficult to use? Three years after the implementation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal, finding a singable Glory to God has been the music director’s greatest challenge.
We should have known that this was going to be a challenge. In 2011, composer Ricky Manalo, C.S.P., wrote in a piece entitled, “Making the Unsingable Singable” that the new text, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will”…”does not follow such a logical rhythmic structure, flow, and pace…for many composers, this phrase was the most difficult to set in the whole new translation. In fact, some of us thought that if we could just set this one phrase to music, everything else would be easier.”
The end result is that many composers have turned to repeating words and phrases in composition to give the text musical balance. In Dan Schutte’s setting of the Glory to God in “Mass of Christ the Savior”, the refrain repeats “Glory to God” two times after the first, as well as one repeated “on earth peace”. Schutte’s popular setting has been criticized for “altering the text” for his repetition of the above phrases. The repetition means that with a refrain the hymn is 3:43 long in Schutte’s recording. Schutte is not alone in utilizing a strategy of repetition and this setting has been arguably one of the most popular settings thus far.
If indeed the Glory to God is intended to be a hymn, the text should be treated as a hymn and composers be presented with a translation that allows the faithful to sing. There is precedent in the Church. Article 37 of Comme Le Prevoit: On The Translation Of Liturgical Texts For Celebrations With A Congregation, the 1969 product of the Concilium for Implementing the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, demonstrates the need for a more flexible translation of hymns:
Liturgical hymns lose their proper function unless they are rendered in an appropriate verse rhythm, suitable for singing by the people. A literal translation of such texts is therefore generally out of the question. It follows that hymns very often need a new rendering made according to the musical and choral laws of the popular poetry in each language.
Perhaps the Church could start by addressing the translation , “people of good will.” The 2011 translation utilizes a phrases that the Church foresaw as an inaccurate translation decades ago. Comme le Prevoit warned us:
It often happens that there is no word in common use that exactly corresponds to the biblical or liturgical sense of the term to be translated, as in the use of the biblical <iustitia>. The nearest suitable word must then be chosen which, through habitual use in various catechetical texts and in prayer, lends itself to take on the biblical and Christian sense intended by the liturgy. Such has been the evolution of the Greek word <doxa> and the Latin <gloria> when used to translate the Hebrew <kabod>. The expression <hominibus bonae voluntatis> literally translated as <to men of good will> (or <good will to men> in order to stress divine favor) will be misleading; no single English word or phrase will completely reflect the original Latin or the Greek which the Latin translates.
Is “formal correspondence” more important than accuracy?
I remember the day when I used to look forward to singing the Glory to God. At the celebrant’s proclamation of, “May Almighty God have mercy on us…” the excitement built as we prepared to proclaim God’s glory. The people all sang along with great vigor, and it set a tone for the liturgy. Today, the celebrants and the congregation race through the text as if sitting down has become a great priority. That is a great shame.
Dr. Francis X. Klose is a parish music director and college professor in Philadelphia, PA. Frank recently completed a doctoral degree from Drew University, where his dissertation focused on liturgical music in the United States since the Second Vatican Council.