Sometimes ritual can offer us so much familiarity that we can pass through it without thinking about what we are saying (praying) or why we are doing it at all. In the liturgy, especially in the Opening Rite, the temptation is to recite the prayers without really paying attention simply because we are so used to doing it. After the opening greeting, the first thing we do is pray for God’s mercy. We want to be worthy in His presence, not because we have to be perfect in order to stand before Him, but because in our love we want to present our hearts to Him as best we can. The point of it is not to berate ourselves because we are human; rather, it is that we are aware of Whose presence we are in and we are awed at the depth of His great mercy. God is one who loves us so greatly that we are humbled at the magnitude of a love we cannot match, but yet He accepts the love we offer with more joy than we could ever imagine. In short, God loves that we love Him back. In humbly asking for His mercy, we have also put our hearts in the proper disposition to receive it. After we pray for this mercy (the Penitential Rite) the Gloria is prayed as a response: knowing God is merciful is a cause for rejoicing. And so it is fitting that after we ask His mercy, we echo the words of the angels on the night of Jesus’ birth, adding our own deep gratitude by saying, “We give you thanks for your great glory.”
It is right that we should give thanks for God’s great glory, a reality which is imprinted throughout the entirety of the Scriptures. While God’s glory defies description, the holy ones who encountered Him did their best to describe what is truly indescribable. From the earliest passages God is characterized in terms of both great glory and loving intimacy: the two are inseparable. It is as if His love sets Him ablaze with divine fire. That glory and love are intertwined should not surprise us because everything God has done for His people throughout salvation history is about His love for us. God is love, as St. John declares in his first letter, and therefore everything He does is a manifestation of that love. (1 John 4:7-21)
The experience of Moses and of the people of ancient Israel is one of the best examples of the greatness of God’s glory. God revealed Himself to Moses first through a burning bush. The bush was literally ablaze with God’s presence, yet the plant was not consumed. It should have been annihilated, yet God’s presence spoke of great love and mercy for His suffering people. Moses should also have been annihilated at being face to face with the glory of God. Instead, filled with the fire of God’s love he went on to lead His people to God’s holy mountain, Mt. Horeb, where the people witnessed the glory of God who came in thunder, lightning, wind, flame, earthquake, and trumpet blasts. Moses not only immersed himself in the presence and glory of God, but he was allowed an intimacy which was so great that God’s glory was absorbed and reflected on his face: he became so radiant that his face had to be covered. God called Moses His intimate friend and even allowed Moses to hear His name spoken. No one else has ever had an experience of the glory of God such as Moses was allowed. And in his great gratitude he made a response of love, devoting his entire life to service of God’s people.
Elijah, greatest of the prophets in the Old Testament, was the figure most like Moses in terms of intimacy with God. While He did not see God in the same dramatic way as Moses, Elijah had such an intimacy of the heart that He was able to discern the voice and the presence of God when it was all but invisible. He did see God in fire from heaven (1 Kings 18), but most significantly, when he was in grave danger God brought him to Mt. Carmel and there revealed Himself in a “light, silent sound.” (1 Kings 19:12) This is an incredible statement, and not at all an oxymoron: one might wonder what a 'silent sound' is when it seems like one word should cancel out the other. A silent sound is the presence of God deep within one’s heart. In other words, it is not a sound one hears with the ears, but rather with the heart. God’s glory can come in a light, silent sound. This is something which becomes imprinted deeply within the heart and soul. Elijah knew how to recognize God’s glory in this very intimate, indescribable way. As a result, shortly thereafter Elijah was taken up into heaven in a fiery whirlwind as the glory of God’s love bore him into Heaven. There are other examples from the Old Testament, but the fact remains that God has always shared His great love in a variety of ways, and His love constitutes His glory: His love is the very essence of His glory and vice versa.
We know that the season of Christmas was all about God’s great glory coming wrapped in flesh, lying in a manger. His glory was declared by the angels and was witnessed by shepherds and kings. In a feast we celebrate this week, the Presentation of the Lord, we remember that God’s glory was hidden from almost everyone at that point, although known to the aforementioned few. In addition to shepherds, magi, and the Holy Parents, the glory of God contained within Jesus was recognized by two elderly prophets who had dedicated their lives to waiting for the messiah with such reverence and devotion that when He came, they declared His glory immediately. Upon seeing Jesus, a tiny baby held in His mother’s arms, Simeon declared: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32) Simeon saw and gave thanks for God’s great glory. And as he spoke an elderly woman named Anna also came and gave thanks, glorifying God. These two reveal to us that the glory of God was sent into the world as Jesus the Lord, so we could better know, love, and serve Him, and so ultimately we would enter fully and completely into the immensity of His love, that is, the fullness of His glorious presence.
All of this is to say that when we enter into the liturgy we have a great reason to rejoice and declare our blessing, praise, adoration, and thanks to God for His great glory which is expressed to us as mercy and love. We rejoice because we have received of His glory at Baptism, and with each reception of the Eucharist we eat and drink that great glory again and again. And in response, we are moved to share of our goods, our time and talents, (or our service), so that the glory of God may be revealed to those who may be in great need of the Good News. We reveal God’s glory every time we complete an act of mercy, forgive an offense, act in generosity, love another, or lead someone to God in prayer. We experience God’s glory when we are forgiven or when we are suffering and someone attends to us. Sharing love is sharing in God’s glory.
God’s glory can seem to be hidden as it was to those around Simeon and Anna in the Temple, but there are ways in which we learn to see, just as they did. Not only do we learn to see through reception of the sacraments, particularly Eucharist and Reconciliation, but we learn by opening our heart in prayer. Whenever we pray alone in our room or with the community in church, we are opening our heart to receiving God’s glory, and therefore we learn to recognize when we are in the presence of God even if it comes as to Elijah in a “silent sound.” We hear this silent sound with the ears of faith, which means that it may be imperceptible to our outward senses, but that our heart tells us that He is present. Likewise, when at the beginning of Mass we pray the Gloria together as with one voice, we can experience being in the presence of God’s glory in the midst of His gathered people. Let us then be filled with gratitude as we say: “We give you thanks for your great glory.”
May we rejoice in God’s great glory which is His mercy and love offered to us! May we be filled with gratitude for all the ways God reveals His glory through the many gifts and graces we have received! May we put our joy and gratitude into action, responding by sharing the gift we have received as a gift, opening our hearts and our arms to those seeking help, not discriminating between haves and have-nots or current community members and strangers, but rather offering what we can to anyone who is in need! And may we rejoice at knowing that the glory of God is intended for everyone, and therefore, may we pray that all people may someday meet around the table of the Lord where all are welcomed! Let us meet in the silent sound deep in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Next entry will be February 13.
Note: To be accurate, we do not pray the Gloria during Advent and Lent. We omit it during those seasons so as to heighten the longing and also to make the rejoicing more meaningful at Christmas and Easter respectively.
Images: The first photo is a star cluster which I found a long time ago, but do not know who to credit. I suspect it is a NASA photo. I chose it because it truly speaks to the glory of God reflected in all of His creation.
Second: This is an image painted by Fr. William Hart McNichols called The Hebrew Name of Yahweh-adam Kadmon. I chose it for many reasons. One reason is that I simply love that the letters of the Tetragrammaton, (I Am Who Am) are superimposed upon one another. These letters are aflame as the glory of God was the fiery presence in the bush which was burning, but not consumed. The other reason I chose this is because the name of the image is a reference to Moses hearing God say His name, not just as I AM, but also later when God spoke it when He passed by Moses in the great act of friendship and intimacy. (Exodus 33:18-23) You can obtain a copy of this image by going to Fr. Bill's page at Fine Art America, http://fineartamerica.com/featured/hebrew-name-of-yahweh-adam-kadmon-183-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
Third: This is another one of the works of Fr. William Hart McNichols. It is called Holy Prophet Elijah. I chose it because it depicts Elijah being fed by a raven. This took place at the beginning of the ministry of Elijah when God told him that in the midst of the drought and famine he would be fed by ravens. (1 Kings 17:1-6) And later when Elijah was fleeing for his life God sent a messenger (an angel) to feed him so that he would have the strength to get to Mt. Carmel where he experienced the glory of God in the light, silent sound. (1 Kings 19:12; read the entire story which is found in chapter 19. It is gorgeous.) God feeds us with whatever we need whether it is the physical food which strengthens our body, the food of grace which strengthens our spirit, or the food of love and mercy which strengthens our heart. You can also find this at Fr. Bill's site, along with so many other wonderful icons and images:
Fourth: This is a beautiful painting of The Presentation of the Lord: Scenes from the Life of Christ by Giotto di Bondone painted between 1304 and 1306. It is in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy. I chose this because Giotto captured the tenderness of the scene in which the prophet Simeon takes the child Jesus from His mother's arms and declares his praise, glorifying God. Anna, whose words were not recorded, speaks eloquently through her gesture of pointing to the Child. I marvel most at Mary in this fresco, however: as always she gives Jesus to others, sharing Him without clinging. It is prophetic of her role at the wedding in Cana (John 2) when she propels Jesus into His public ministry. You can find a bit about the painting at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Giotto_di_Bondone_-_No._19_Scenes_from_the_Life_of_Christ_-_3._Presentation_of_Christ_at_the_Temple_-_WGA09197.jpg
Fifth: This is one of my photos taken of the Alps near Davos, Switzerland. I chose this photo because the Alps are magnificent and speak to me of the glory of God. The clouds remind me of the experience of Moses who entered into the cloud of God's presence, the Shekinah.
Sixth: This is An Old Woman With a Rosary, by Paul Cezanne (1895-96). I chose this because I loved the humility with which the woman is praying. It seems like she is hearing the 'silent sound' of the glory of God. She is immersed in it in the midst of a sincere, simple moment of prayer. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_paintings_by_Paul_C%C3%A9zanne#/media/File:Paul_C%C3%A9zanne_067.jpg
Seventh: This is another of my photos. I took this in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I chose it because the riot of color and the beauty of the falls were an experience of the glory of God when I was there. The photo transports me back to that time though as I see it now, the falls are like that silent sound: I have to hear it interiorly.
Heart Speaks to Heart