Des Plaines, IL. April, 2011.
This issue is going to be a contemplation of a rather small prayer; one that we more or less take for granted, know by heart, and don't think of in too much depth. I'm speaking of the one that goes "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." Rather than going into the deep theological implications of how it relates to God, I hope to concentrate on our side of the "conversation".
First of all, is it a "prayer"? In our English-centric culture we tend to think of prayer as asking or petitioning for something, but we're not in that sense asking for anything here. The Latin word "Oremus" is normally translated into English as "Let us pray", but it could be more literally translated as "Let us speak". A lot of what we commonly call prayers are often put in a category of their own, such as Credes, Doxologies, responsorials, etc.. I once had a conversation with a gentleman who emphatically insisted that the Apostles' Creed was not a 'prayer', and he was right in the English sense of petition, but it is prayer in the Latin sense of speaking or conversing with God. The same holds true for the Glory Be, which is categorized as a Doxology (Greek for "Glory saying").
"Glory be"  Who are we to "give" glory to God? Does He not already have it? Yes, of course He is glorious, and we can never detract from that by inaction or add to it by anything we do. Yet "Ad majorium gloriam Dei" is the motto of the Jesuit order. Translated, it says "For/to the greater glory of God". So how can that be? How can God have greater Glory? I think the key here is the other side of the conversation. In giving God the Glory that is due, as we acknowledge our total dependence on his gift of life to us, it is we that grow in His glory. So the ultimate aim of the motto and of the Glory Be, is that all of creation be singing His praise. The Catholic Encyclopedia says: "Now this objective revelation of the Creator, in terms of the existences of things, is the glory of God."
"To the Father" This is God's revelation to us. It is how He wants us to think of Him; not as Master, not as a disinterested outsider, but as a father is to His children. Of course, in today's culture, fatherhood has fallen on hard times with all the "single-mom" households, support-skippers, etc. But rather than just give up on fathers, we should look to and try to imitate the ideal, rather than minimize God's place as Father. I've been at masses where the Trinity was addressed as "Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier". While these do describe things that God does, they do not reference Him as who He IS. He tells us "I Am who Am". Father is what God is.
"and to the Son" In the life of the Trinity, God reveals himself as family. The Son is at once easier, and harder, to understand as God: We seem to know more about Jesus because we have his words and actions as a man, recorded in the Gospel. The sense that He is one of us may creep into our prayer life as we think that the Son is easier to approach than the Father. But He is not one of us; we are creatures - created beings. The Son is "Eternally begotten of the Father", "begotten, not made". The Glory is that God did stoop, or whatever you want to call it, to become incarnate - in the flesh - God became man. As family, the Son is not a separate being, but "One in being with the Father".
"and to the Holy Spirit" It is true that there is a "Filioque" controversy between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. But is is splitting hairs I think. In the Eastern Church, it is said that the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, and not from the Father "and the Son" (Filioque in Latin). The Catholic Church teaches that the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and also by the Son in scripture, and can be seen as the 'personification' of the love between the Father and the Son. I don't know if I've expressed it correctly in theological terms, but I think of it in the same sense as the Word of God begetting the Son as the Word. But all this Begetting, this self-expression if you will, happens in the ever-present now. (See my last issue about time.)
The Trinitarian essence of God is His revelation, not our construction. You won't find the word Trinity in the Bible, but the revelation is there none-the-less. In the Great Commission, Jesus instructed his apostles to "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (Matt 28:19) In Genesis we read "Let us make man in our own image… God created man in his image… male and female he created them." "and the two shall become one body" (Gen 1:26-27,2:24) So perhaps we can see God as family in this respect. The family is one in God's plan because that is his image. And the love in the family is life-giving.
The second part seems to describe eternity from the point of view of one living in time: As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. As is was before creation? Eternity has no beginning. Again, it is our concept of time that doesn't fit with the reality of the eternal now, but it is as near as we mortals can describe it. There was no time that the Father existed by himself, and the Spirit didn't have to wait for the Father and Son to Love before becoming. So perhaps the second part helps to inform us about giving Glory to God.
"as it was in the beginning," While the "past" is not specifically mentioned, it is implied as a transition to the "is now", for His glory didn't stop and then start up again just now. Being in time gives us the ability to contemplate the fact of God's existence and that all of this stuff had a beginning, because time had a beginning, and in that wonder, His Glory begins to rise in us. This is the natural genesis for Faith; we can believe that somehow and for some reason all of creation started, time began, and God's revelation came to us - in the past. The Church teaches us that "public revelation" ended with the death of the last apostle, and so the faith that is handed down to us, comes to us from the past. And as Faith grows in us, so does God's Glory.
"is now," For us, there is a "now", but it seems to be constantly moving along a timeline. Wasn't it just a few moments ago that we were thinking about now? But that now is then, past tense. The "now" is important, because that is when we act. We can spend our nows on all sorts of distractions: TV, video games, music, web surfing ;^) and these are all fine, and they go well with "mindless" chores. They don't go well with prayer and with just being with God. Distractions do just that; they distract us from what God is imparting to us. To connect with God in silence, we need some distraction-free nows. Now is the time, so to speak, for Charity, because in it's essence, this virtue is about action. The time to love, give, console is now, to the greater Glory of God.
"and ever shall be," It's not too hard to imagine a future extending into infinity - that our nows can continue forever - especially when we're young. Yet, we know that our time is limited. But, again, God is outside of time. So what happens when we die, when our "time" is up? We believe that we pass into eternity, and how we spend that eternity is the realm of Hope. We trust in God's promise. If we remember that action happens in the "now", then we should realize that in eternity, we can no longer act, we can only be. Eternity is not, as we imagine, an endless stream of consecutive nows, but a single all encompassing now. I should say that this is how I see it, based on what time is in creation. I could be wrong, I'll know some day, when there are no more days, only "that day" So Hope is the virtue that contemplates our "ever shall be", we hope that God's Glory reigns in us. Caveat Emptor: Again, I could be wrong, after all, purgatory has a temporal quality to it…
"world without end." I mean, come on, how many ways can we say forever? Isn't this a bit extra? In an updated translation of the Glory-be, this last part was left off. But its been in the Latin for ages: Secula Seculorum. Actually, the above 3 phrases were added in the 4th century or so to reinforce the belief in the Divinity of Jesus Christ - that He was not created, and there was no time he was not. So what can we say that hasn't already been said about 'forever'? In the Creeds - Apostles' and Nicean - we state that we believe in the resurrection of the body. Many people assume that this is a reference to Christ's resurrection - to His body, but this is not the meaning. In the creed, we've already expressed our belief in his resurrection. No, the resurrection of the body refers to our bodies; that at the last judgement, our bodies will be raised from the dead. Why, who needs a body in heaven? This is one of the wonders of God's creation. He did not create us in two pieces - a body and a soul. We are one piece; body and soul. And God will not separate us into pieces in eternity. Remember that Jesus has a glorified body. How this is all worked out, I cannot comprehend, but I think that a "world without end" (or as Revelation 21 puts it: "new heavens and a new earth") may be a requirement for the life with God that our resurrected bodies will enjoy.
Until next time, God bless.