Most of us who are Christian are well acquainted with the familiar prayer: “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now, and ever shall be world without end. Amen.” This prayer is known as a doxology (from the Greek word doxa, meaning "glory"). A doxology is a liturgical expression of glory or praise to God.
In this blog, we will reflect on the meaning of the Glory Be. The prayer can help us come into greater union with God. Biblical scholars tell us that the Hebrew word for "glory," kabod, literally means "weight," and it leads us to the idea of glory. How does this happen? Well, the weight of something suggests its importance or value—and ultimately its glory. However, one must always distinguish true glory from false glory.
Sometimes a person’s wealth or high social position can be mistaken for true glory. For example, in our own society we have heard of rich bankers and millionaires who have defrauded poor people out of their property or life savings. We don’t see true glory (or real importance) in them.
Even among the kings in the Old Testament, we have seen examples of glory that can be either true or false. Great kings like David and Solomon, for example, had their moments of both true glory (when they followed God’s will) and false glory (when they fell from grace). We get a hint of this in St. Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus says: “Consider the lilies of the fields…; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these” (6:28). True glory is a reflection of divine glory.
Examples of the Lord’s Glory and Christ’s Glory
Divine glory is revealed through the radiance or flashing light of the Lord’s glory, as when God saved the Israelites at the crossing of the Red Sea. “The Egyptians shall know that I am Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers” (Exodus 14:18).
Or God’s glory was manifested through the bright clouds and fire on top of Mt. Sinai, as when Moses went up the mountain. “The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of God was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel” (Exodus 24:16-17).
This divine glory is equally present in Christ. As we read in Hebrews,“[Christ] is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (1:3). We get a glimpse of Christ’s glory, moreover, in Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James and John “on a high mountain" (see illustration at the top of the article). Jesus “was transfigured before them and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Matthew 17:2).
Surely this is a vision of Christ in glory, who never lost, of course, the glory he shared with the Father in the beginning.
In the context of the Last Supper in John’s Gospel before his passion, Jesus said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, so that the Son may glorify you….I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence, with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed” (John 17: 1, 4-5).
After his resurrection, Christ shared his glory with his disciples. He breathed upon them and sent his Holy Spirit upon them for the forgiveness of sins. He does the same for us today, sharing his glory and inner life with us. Through Baptism and the Eucharist, for example, we become his adopted children and share his very life, so that we can say with St. Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Through his grace, even now we can share Christ’s inner life and glory.
Giving Glory to God
We return to our doxology—to our familiar “Glory Be” prayer. Now that we are more aware of the biblical meaning of the glory of God and have seen dramatic instances of it, we can recite the prayer with a growing awareness that the glory we give to God originally came from God and not the other way around. By opening ourselves to God’s overflowing love and devoutly repeating this prayer, we can share more deeply the glory that God first showers on us.
In glorifying God in this way, we can begin sensing the infinite glory, importance and weight of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Let yourself be swept up into the brightness and glory of the Holy Trinity. It is a gift that Father, Son and Holy Spirit have bestowed on you and me. We do well to give back the glory that has been graciously given to us!
We give you thanks, gracious God of heaven and earth, that we can be part of the great song of praise rising from all the creatures of the universe, as we glorify you forever and ever with the words: "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now, and ever shall be world without end. Amen."