What is the significance of the Gloria in Excelsis? Is it found in Scripture somewhere?
The Gloria in Excelsis (Glory on high to God) begins with the anthem of the angels as they declared to the shepherds that the Savior was born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:14). “Glory be to God on high! And on earth peace, good will toward men.” It is fitting that it follow the Kyrie, “Lord have mercy.” Indeed, through the Savior born in Bethlehem we find the answer to that cry. The Lord had mercy upon us and sent His only-begotten Son. The only true peace which comes to men is through the mercy of God. And so we glorify Him!
We continue in this canticle to sing praise to the Triune God. “We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we worship Thee, we glorify Thee, we give thanks to Thee, for Thy great glory.” These things we do only in response to what He has done for us. We do not even do these things as well as we would like. Our attempts to bless and give thanks to God fall short even at the best of times. Even as we try to respond to God’s glory and greatness and grace, we require His mercy.
We give glory to the Triune God, recognizing the three persons. We praise “God the Father Almighty”, “Jesus Christ . . . Lamb of God, Son of the Father”, and “the Holy Ghost”. Together, they show mercy and effect our salvation. There are some who deny the Trinity, but we confess here that we believe in the Triune God, reflecting the Invocation and looking also to the creed. The Gloria concludes the first part of the service as we turn away from looking at ourselves and our need for mercy and salvation. We instead look at God that we may receive all He has to give us. Here, we turn our eyes heavenward.
Even in the Gloria in Excelsis, as we give God glory, we recognize the main feature of that glory. We ask of the only one who is holy, the one who “takest away the sin of the world” and who “sittest at the right hand of God the Father” to “have mercy upon us” and to “receive our prayer.” Many people ask the Lord for many things. To have mercy on us is His primary work. It is fitting that we should continually ask for this blessed gift. We also ask Him to receive our prayer that He have mercy on us. There is no other place to find this mercy. Only one who is perfectly holy can give what we lack– holiness and righteousness.
The Gloria in Excelsis is omitted during the two penitential seasons of the church year: Advent and Lent. In these seasons, we focus on the repentance of the sinner and follow a more subdued tone in the service.