A translation of the fourth-century Latin text "Gloria in excelsis Deo," this song is a series of acclamations to God in a pattern that was common in doxologies used in the Greek liturgies of the early Christian church. Stanza I consists of an opening antiphon from Luke 2: 14 and an acclamation to God the Father. Stanzas 2 and 3 are both acclamations to God the Son. Stanza 2 contains echoes from both the Agnus Dei and the Kyrie (257 and 258). A modern ecumenical translation reads as follows:
Glory to God in the highest,
and peace to God's people on earth.
Lord God, heavenly King,
almighty God and Father,
we worship you, we give you thanks,
we praise you for your glory.
Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
you take away the sin of the world:
have mercy on us;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father:
receive our prayer.
For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
-English Language Consultation, from Praying Together, 1988
In the Greek-speaking church the text of "Gloria in excelsis Deo" (or Gloria, as the Song is commonly known) at first included only the words of Luke 2: 14. The fifth-century "Liturgy of St. James," still used in some parts of the Orthodox Church today, preserves the Gloria in its short form, but the song is also used in various longer forms. One of the earliest long forms is recorded in the Greek Codex Alexandrinus, which dates from the late fifth century. The Gloria presumably entered the Roman church in the fourth century under the influence of Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers, France, and it was translated into Latin. It became a standard part of the Roman Mass from the sixth century onward and became known as the "Greater Doxology" (as compared with the "Lesser Doxology," or Gloria Patri, 635 and 636).
Very early in the Reformation, Nikolaus Decius (b. Hof, Franconia, Bavaria, c. 1485;d. Germany, after 1546) prepared a rhymed version of the Gloria, published in Low German in Joachim Shiter's Rostock Gesangbuch (1525) and in High German in Valentin Schumann's Geistliche Lieder (1539). Often used in the Lutheran tradition, Decius's text added an acclamation to the Holy Spirit in a fourth stanza, which, though not unwelcome, is not part of the original text as shown above. (The 1959 Psalter Hymnal also includes Decius's four stanzas at 319.)
Bert Polman, Psalter Hymnal Handbook
The best-loved expressions of praise for God’s care-taking work of his children comes from the familiar words of Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1, Question and Answer 1: “My only comfort in life and death [is] that I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil...Because I belong to him, Christ by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes we wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”
This great truth is explained more completely by Belgic Confession, Article 20. God has given his Son to die for us “…by a most perfect love, and raising him to life for our justification, in order that by him, we might have immortality and eternal life.” And in Article 21, “…He endured all this for the forgiveness of our sins.” For this redemptive work we give praise and adoration.