The Gloria Patri is an ancient hymn that has been sung in all parts of the church since its earliest days.
The hymn starts with the phrase, “Glory be to the Father” which in Latin is Gloria patri, the name of the hymn. The opening phrase echoes many similar praises in the Scriptures in different places, as in Galatians 1:4-5, for example: “…according to the will of our God and Father,
5 to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” or in Romans 16:27, “…to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” We start the service, after receiving the Divine invitation to worship (in the Salutation, “Grace be unto you, and peace…”), with this song, because all our worship must be grounded first and foremost in the eternal glory of God. One simply cannot understand the least aspect of our existence rightly without recognizing the primacy of God’s glory (meaning splendor, greatness, worthiness, honor). The whole cosmos was created as a demonstration of His glory, and it is the great joy of our existence that we are the pinnacle of that creation, specifically created to be after His likeness and in His image. So we begin worship by ascribing glory to God. Worship fundamentally is prostration, the recognition of a superior by an inferior. It reminds us at the very beginning of our service that we are here to honor and worship God, to acknowledge Him as great, good and powerful, and not to call attention to ourselves or pursue our own goals. The rest of the service should follow suit.
The hymn emphasizes the equality of the Persons of the Trinity (as in Matthew 28:19, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”) We do not worship God as a generic abstraction, but as a Trinity equal in essence but distinct as persons. Truly worshiping God means worshiping Him as He is, for falsehoods about God bring Him no glory. The hymn then teaches us that the glory of the Triune God has always been the reason for all things, from the very beginning (“as it was in the beginning”). He will be glorified by all that He has made, for this is why He made it, and He never fails at His purposes. That glory “is now” the driving purpose of the universe; even though it may be obscured in the minds of many, every single event that occurs accomplishes that glory. “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever, amen.” (Romans 11:36) “And ever shall be;” there will never come a time in all of the billions of years of future history when God’s glory will stop being the reason for all that exists. The last phrase, “world without end” is essentially a poetic way of saying “from age to age” or “forever and ever” as we frequently read in the New Testament, as in Revelation 5:13- “And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!” The cosmos will never end, and the cosmos’ entire existence will highlight the Triune God’s glory for all eternity.
At the beginning of our worship, we are called to see that our worship is not something separate from the rest of our lives. True worship gives us the right perspective to understand our lives, and indeed the existence of all creation. “Glory be to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever, amen.”