Why Do We Sing the Doxology?
By Father Wade Miller
The word doxa in Greek means glory. The doxology is thus an anthem of giving glory to God. It is interesting to note that although the Book of Common Prayer does contain the doxology, it does envision a hymn or anthem to be sung. In the rubrics of the Prayer Book, we read on page 73 the following instruction: “And when the Alms and Oblations are being received and presented, there may be sung a Hymn, or an Offertory Anthem in the words of Holy Scripture or of the Book of Common Prayer, under the direction of the Priest.” The question is, why sing the doxology? The Prayer Book allows for a hymn, or one of its own canticles to be sung as the offering plates are presented at the altar. Why, then, do we sing the doxology?
The doxology as we know it was produced in 1674 by the faithful Anglican churchman and bishop, Thomas Ken. Bishop Ken was a devout defender of the catholic faith that centered on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity spoke of the unity of God as one being who is also three distinct persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This fundamental belief in Christianity was under attack in Bishop Thomas Ken’s day. Deism is the belief that God is unknowable and unfathomable. According to the deistic worldview, this impersonal deity has no connection to the world after the initial act of creation. This impersonal and disinterested being or force had become immensely popular during the Enlightenment of the 17th century. Bishop Ken was a poet and writer who tirelessly defended the precious doctrine of the Holy Trinity by putting it into song.
The reason we sing the doxology after taking up the offering is closely tied to the sacrificial nature of the Mass (see the earlier essay on why we say the Orate fratres “Pray Brethren” in the liturgy). The Mass is not merely our reception of the Lord’s gifts in the sacrament; it is our participation in His once and for all sacrifice that is perpetual and ongoing. The giving of our Alms and Tithes is our participation in Christ as “we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee…” (BCP, p. 81).
It was St. Paul in the book of Acts, quoting from an ancient Greek poet, Aratus, who said, “For in him we live and move and have our being…” (Acts 17:28). St. Paul is speaking of our Triune God, not some impersonal cosmic force or power. We are people who recognize God’s sovereignty and his authority over us. That is why we confess Jesus as Lord. God has come in human flesh and has made the most intimate connection to his creatures. The way we have fellowship with God the Father is through God the Holy Spirit who makes Jesus known in the sacraments of the Church.
Our response to such extraordinary grace and goodness is to give back to God a portion of what he has given to us. That is why we then break out in song that says:
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.