Immediately following the Kyrie is a canticle [song] that would be sung in the early church [the earliest record of anything like the Hymn of Praise dates to the mid-fourth century] as soon as everyone got into the church. These songs are “big,” in the sense that they speak to the idea of God filling the world with glory, majesty and power.
There are two particular hymns used in this place of our worship. The first is the Gloria in Excelsis. The Gloria in Excelsis [or, Gloria] is the oldest of the two. This hymn begins with the song of the angels in Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus [St Luke 2:14], “Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth.” The hymn remembers three principal themes:
1. The majesty of God who is in heaven
2. The coming of Jesus into the world for the salvation of the world
3. The unity of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
The second hymn is “Worthy is Christ.” Occurring in several different forms, this hymn reflects a number of themes from the book of Revelation, particularly power [Rev 5:12-13], the singing of the people of God [Rev 25:3-4], the Lamb who was slain [Rev 11:17] and Worthy is Christ [Rev 5:9]. The idea that the worship that is taking place is the “feast of victory for our God” is an allusion to banquets and feasts are a sign of God’s world or kingdom [Isaiah 25:6, Rev 19:9, St Matt 22:1, etc.]. When we sing this, we are making the claim that what happens in worship is a small sign of the great feast of all of God’s people that will take place at the end of all time. It is a short summary of what we believe about God, Jesus, people and heaven.
Both of these hymns have commonality in giving praise to the greatness of God as well as the presence and sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Given the celebratory nature of both of them, they tend to be omitted from worship during the Advent and Lenten seasons. As those seasons of the church year are more “penitential” or focused on preparation and repentance, these hymns can feel a bit out of place.