“Gloria in excelsis Deo” is Latin for “Glory to God in the highest.” It is a Christian hymn also called the Greater Doxology or sometimes the Angelic Hymn or the Hymn of Angels. “Gloria,” the abbreviated name, was derived from the Greek text seen in the title of this article. The hymn was translated into Latin around the second or third century AD, traditionally attributed to Saint Hilary of Poitiers (315–367). There is a body of early Latin translations of the Scripture known as the Vetus Latina, and the Latin translation of the Gloria is part of it, dating from a number of years before the Vulgate Latin translation of the Bible was commissioned, in 382. In the Latin version of the hymn, the word excelsis translates the Greek word ὑψίστοις (“highest”) found in Luke 2:14.
On Christmas Day, a culmination of several events intersected in the small village of Bethlehem Ephrathah which pointed to the greatest miracle ever known to mankind. First, kings or magi or wise men had traveled from the east for two years, and, after a long, arduous journey, they came to Bethlehem that night. Led only by a bright star, they arrived soon after Mary’s boy child was born and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, as the star shined directly on the newborn infant. Second, shepherds were watching their flock that same night when an angel suddenly appeared and told them to go to the city of David (Bethlehem) and find the newborn child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. As the light of the star shined on the newborn babe, on the assembled royal wayfarers, on the humble caretakers of sheep, on the ox and lamb in fixed gaze, and on Mary and Joseph, all the angelic heavenly host praised and worshipped the newborn King—on Christmas Day! God became man, and the greatest miracle of all time came to pass! “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14, KJV-BRG)!
Here is the Gloria or Greater Doxology from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer: “Glory be to God on high, and in earth peace, good-will towards men. We praise thee, we bless thee, we worship thee, we glorify thee, we give thanks to thee for thy great glory, O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty. O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ; O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. Thou that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. Thou that takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer. Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father, have mercy upon us. For thou only art holy; thou only art the Lord; thou only, O Christ, with the Holy Ghost, art most high in the glory of God the Father. Amen.”