There are many ways to dig into the Glory Be. It is an astonishingly rich little prayer. In the past I have written about it as a meditation on the Father-Son: to know God, in his glory, as the relationship of Father and Son – with the Holy Spirit as the reality of their sharing, shared with us, and the affirmation that Father and Son is the eternal reality, in the beginning, now, at all times, and in the “forever and ever” to which we look forward.
Another way to approach the Glory Be, as we approach Pentecost, is as a statement of faith: the simplest and most essential Creed, taking us to the very heart of Christianity so that we can see the realities around which everything else revolves.
We begin with “Glory to the Father.”
“Glory” translates a Hebrew word for majesty, even heaviness. God is the weighty one, the only immovable and truly substantial one. Everything else floats away, but God remains. Everything else is poor, but God is rich, infinite riches.
Of course the angels remind us that God’s glory is “in the highest” – but though that turns our ideas of weight literally upside down, the point remains that he is more substantial than the changing world under our feet. For the ancients, the heavens were a sign of what is always the same: life slips by, with all its challenges, but there the stars remain, forever and ever. And God is “heavier,” more substantial than that. More glorious, luxurious, more wealthy, than even the Sun.
The Greek and Latin traditions add to this idea of glory the idea of light: God is the radiant one, the dazzling one, the brilliant, fascinating, beautiful, resplendent one. Imagine coming into the presence of the Sun – and having the transfigured eyes to look directly into it – and you have only a faint glimmer of the glory of God.
“Glory to the Father” gets us started by thinking about how fabulous God is. Though we can say much about Father and Son, here, “Father” just stands for “not the Son.” Before we talk about the other members of the Trinity, we start with the one we know is above all. We ponder for a moment how glorious the First one is, the Eternal, the Source.
But we contemplate this glory of the Father so that we can immediately say, “so too the Son.” As if we say, not just, “Glory to the Father and to the Son,” but “the Glory which belongs to the Father, the very same Glory, belongs also to the Son.”
“Glory to the Father and to the Son” is an affirmation of the divinity of Jesus. It says, this man who came among us, whose words we hear, whose sacraments we touch, who unites himself to us – he is no less than the Father. All of that eternal splendor and majesty and awesomeness that we can ponder as belonging to the “Glory of the Father” – that’s who Jesus is! That’s what bursts out in the Transfiguration, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and his Final Coming. In heaven we will see all that more-than-the-Sun gloriousness of the Father shining out of the person of Jesus.
It is a way of saying how awesome our redemption is: that our Redeemer, who was one of us, is no less than the Father. And it points us to the most awesome part of that: that our Redeemer shares in the glory of the Father. How great, how glorious, is Jesus!
But then comes one more: the Holy Spirit shares in that same glory.
We can think of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in terms of their missions. The Father is simply the glorious source of all. The Son became incarnate as Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is what is given to the Church, what dwells in our hearts.
But the Glory Be says, this is so much more awesome than you can imagine. Just as that Jesus who comes to save you is not less than the Father, but shares in the very gloriousness of the Father – so too the Spirit he gives us. This is not just the Spirit of “inspired” ideas, or speaking in tongues, or whatever other humanized ideas we might have about the Holy Spirit. No, he is far more than that: the Holy Spirit is God – or, to make it more vivid, the Holy Spirit shares in the Glory of God, brings all the majesty and splendor of God himself into our souls.
The rest of the prayer, “as it was in the beginning,” only says, this isn’t a passing thing, not a “kind of” thing – the saving glory given to us is the eternal glory of God, the always-and-forever glory of the Father, shared equally and always by the redeeming Son and the Holy Spirit who is given to us.
That is the stunning, overwhelming truth of Pentecost. That is the gift of the Gospel: the Glory which is the Father’s is also Christ the Redeemer’s – and he gives that very glory to us, in the gift of the Holy Spirit.
What would it mean for your life – for your prayers and for your works – to believe that the glory of God was being poured into your soul?