The question that gives me the title for this piece is one I was recently asked, and was glad to answer, for it had occurred to me before, and provided me with some gratifying meditations both on gratitude (thanksgiving) and on God’s glory. Neither of these is a subject we ought to neglect, and together they give us much matter for mental prayer.
The question concerns the Gloria in Excelsis Deo from the Mass. We call this Gloria the “Major Doxology” to distinguish it from the “Minor Doxology,” i.e., the Gloria Patri that comes at the end of so many of our prayers (“doxology” is defined here). In the liturgical “Major Doxology,” we sing, gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam (“we give Thee thanks for Thy great glory”).
Why do we do that?
Let’s begin with defining “glory” in the words of Saint Augustine, which have been generally regarded as definitive: clara notitia cum laude (“brilliant celebrity with praise”). It is the public knowledge of a person or persons (“celebrity”) with the positive note of “praise” added to it. We distinguish between God’s “intrinsic” glory that He bears in Himself and had from all eternity, and his “extrinsic” glory, which is His due from creatures.
From all eternity, God is deserving of “brilliant celebrity with praise” on account of His infinite intrinsic goodness. The three Persons give each other that glory for all eternity. Thanks to Saint John’s recording Our Lord’s “High-Priestly Prayer” in Chapter 17 of his Gospel, we have the sublime privilege of listening in on a conversation between two divine Persons about this intrinsic glory: “And now glorify thou me, O Father, with thyself, with the glory which I had, before the world was, with thee” (John 17:5). Extrinsically, we creatures are bound to render Him glory by our faith, by our love, by our worship, by our very lives.
Here is what one of my favorite spiritual writers has to say on the subject:
INTRINSIC GLORY. God has in Himself, by Himself, and for Himself, an infinite glory, infinitely worthy of Him; a glory which is His own, which is as great as Himself, which is His life, which is Himself. In the unity of His substance, He has all perfections, and all these perfections in infinity, which is the plenitude of the divine Being. In the unity of His Being, God is infinitely glorious.
In the Trinity of the Persons, He is infinitely glorified. In the infinite act whereby the Father communicates to the Son all divine perfections by way of knowledge, and the Father and the Son, conjointly, communicate these same perfections to the Holy Ghost by way of love, there is a glorification in all respects equal to the glorified Being. And this is the intimate, infinite life of God in Himself. And in this life He is infinitely glorious and infinitely glorified. This is what is called the intrinsic glory of God.
EXTRINSIC GLORY. The glory rendered to their Creator by creatures is called extrinsic. In this, the object to be glorified still consists of all and each of the divine perfections. The glorifying act is the manifestation and the exaltation of these perfections accomplished by creatures. The object is infinite, the praise is finite. But although it is finite, the praise is nevertheless full, when the being who glorifies spends all the powers of its life in the act.
For me personally, it is possible to exalt my God’s perfections, by applying my whole life to know, love, and serve Him. And as knowing, loving, and seeking God constitute piety, my piety is that which finally glorifies God.
And since my piety is an essentially supernatural work, participating to some extent, by grace, in the nature and the life of God, I am made capable of and responsible for giving my Saviour and my God an entirely supernatural, and in a manner infinite, glory.
The glorious qualities of the infinite Being are all expressed in Holy Scripture by a single phrase — the name of God. The acts whereby I can glorify the divine perfections are all summed up in a single word — piety. Consequently, it is the meeting together of my piety with God’s name which constitutes God’s glory. And this is what is so magnificently expressed in the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Hallowed be Thy name.” [Dom François de Sales Pollien (1853-1936), The Interior Life Simplified and Reduced to Its Fundamental Principle, pgs. 40-41]
Now we may proceed to answer the question: Why do we thank God for His great glory? We can thank Him for it at multiple levels, for, as Dom François de Sales has just told us, God’s intrinsic glory is none other than Himself, and we can thank God for the gift of Himself. Let us recall the great truth of Theology that all of the attributes of God, including those that we see as immediately beneficial to us (His mercy, generosity, kindness, forgiveness, compassion, will to save us, etc.) are, like His intrinsic glory, identical with God Himself.
As for God’s extrinsic glory, this is something that greatly advantages us in so many and such profound ways. Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:6). This supernatural radiation of God’s glory, by Faith and divine Charity, from the Holy Face of Jesus Christ is not something the unbelievers have, as Saint Paul had earlier affirmed: “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of unbelievers, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:4).
The glory of God as it is expressed by creatures, whether it is achieved by preaching His truth, by living out the goodness of His moral law, or by singing His beauties, also benefits us. When God is glorified in any way, it is a grace for those of us who behold it. That leads to conversions, to edification, to spiritual growth in this life.
In the life of beatitude in Heaven, the blessed see God “face-to-face.” This language is analogous, for it is not with the bodily eyes of our face that we see God, and it is not a corporeal face we see in the Beatific Vision, but the Divine Essence Itself (Christ’s Holy Face, beautiful as it is, is not the subject of the Beatific Vision). In Heaven, we do not need Faith, because we have vision, but if, in order to believe supernatural truth in this life, we need that infused theological virtue, it stands to reason that, by an even stronger argument, we need another infused habit in our souls to “see” God as He is in His very Essence. This the theologians call the lumen gloriae (light of glory).
Two passages of the Bible come to mind as illustrative of this “light of glory”; from the Psalms: “in thy light we shall see light” (Ps. 35:10), and, from the Apocalypse: “And the city hath no need of the sun, nor of the moon, to shine in it. For the glory of God hath enlightened it, and the Lamb is the lamp thereof” (Apoc. 21:23).
The clara notitia cum laude (brilliant celebrity with praise) that we are blessed both to render and to behold in the life of grace here below is itself a subject of our gratitude; even to sing the Gloria itself is something for which we can be very thankful. To have the lumen gloriae in Heaven is even more worthy of thanks.
So, dear readers, let us thank God for His great glory!