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November 23, 2011

The Disposable Gloria

evelyn @ 1:30 pm

There is no doubt that of all the music of the new liturgy, the Gloria gives the most problems. Longer than its already long predecessor, the unwieldy text may be closer to the Latin original, but it’s far more difficult to set to music. There is very little that can be grabbed hold of rhythmically, and that, with its length, makes it difficult for people to learn, as well.

And why, oh why, did our normally misogynistic Catholic Church have to go all inclusive and say ‘and on earth peace to people of good will’?

‘Peace to men of good will’ would have given the close translation they wanted – they have ‘men’ in the Creed (‘for us men and for our salvation’), so why be politically correct in the Gloria? ‘Men of good will’ is a Christmas phrase used in all the Churches, we all know it means ‘mankind’ rather than the male of the species, and it is a darned sight easier to put to music than the clunky phrase in the new liturgy.

What’s worse, a rumour is circulating that there is now a ban on refrain Glorias. For the uninitiated, a refrain Gloria is punctuated two or three times by a refrain in Latin or English taken from the Gloria words, perhaps the most popular being Gloria in excelsis Deo; the people sing the refrain, and a cantor the verses.

The rumour is not true. Both types of Gloria, refrain and through-composed, are perfectly acceptable, and a refrain Gloria is probably the best way in for a congregation who won’t hang around for practices (and most won’t). When they have listened to the cantor sing the verses often enough, they can be invited to join in with the whole thing.

At one point it struck me, and it has no doubt struck others, that a Gloria with a ‘disposable’ refrain might be an idea, a refrain that can be shed, like a spacecraft booster rocket, once the people are familiar with the verses. So I had a go and did one, the St Michael Gloria, which will no doubt be christened the ‘Disposable Gloria’ by my choir (we already have a ‘Forgettable Sanctus’).

It may be significant that of all the music put forward online by Forth in Praise, this single item has had most downloads world-wide. I have often wondered why, and maybe the refrain is the reason. Are there any more ‘disposables’ out there? I’d be very interested to know.

In the meantime, we can relax a bit. At least we have a break from the Gloria for a few weeks.


  1. Very pleased to have clarification regarding the Gloria and the use of the refrain option.

    Comment by Marian — November 24, 2011 @ 9:38 pm

  2. Thanks, Marian. People can really be confused by this. For those interested, here’s chapter and verse:

    • ‘The Gloria may be sung in directum (straight through) or with a refrain for the people. Though the refrain form is popular and allows easy participation it is recommended that communities have in their repertoire a mixture of both through settings and those with refrains and that this includes settings where the assembly sings the whole text.’

    The above quote is on page 19 of the Guide for Composers on the Roman Missal Scotland website. I take it to mean that the in directum form is preferred but not mandatory, and that refrain Glorias are just fine.

    Comment by evelyn — November 25, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

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