Why do we say or sing “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever”?
This little prayer, named the “Gloria Patri” after its first two words when said in Latin, is also known as the “lesser doxology.” A “doxology” is short hymn or expression of praise. A popular one you may be familiar with is “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.” You’ll notice that even that one ends “Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” The reason for this is that Christian praise MUST be Trinitarian. Christians worship a God who is three in one, and this mysterious truth is at the heart of everything we believe about God (theology), which in turn shapes the praise we give to him (doxology). How we pray to and praise God shapes what we believe about Him over time, yet what we believe about God also influences how we worship. It may seem like the chicken and the egg, but nonetheless it is important for Christians to worship God in spirit and in truth: To worship Him in truth must include worshiping Him as He has revealed Himself to be in Scripture. So we therefore use this brief little prayer to proclaim that our praises are for the Triune God of the Christian scriptures. This is why it is often used at the end of a Psalm: though the Psalms are all about Christ from beginning to end, He is not mentioned by name, so the use of a trinitarian doxology sets our use of the Psalms apart from their original Jewish context. Many hymns in the Lutheran Service Book also close with a Trinitarian doxology. This is indicated by a triangle symbol before the final stanza. The “Gloria Patri” is the oldest and most well known doxology, dating from the fourth century. So when we pray this little hymn of praise to God, we are singing a prayer that has united believers across the centuries, just like the Lord’s prayer, and that is continually being prayed around the world today. Because it is not metered (unlike “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow”), it is often added to the end of anything chanted, including the Psalms, Introit, Nunc Dimittis, and the song of Mary. In a world where many different gods compete for our attention and devotion, adding this little prayer to the end of our praises is a bold declaration that we worship the God of the Bible, who has come to us in the person of Jesus.