Propter Magnam Gloriam Tuam: A Brief Meditation on Why We Thank God in the Gloria
In the Gloria in Mass, we say:
We praise you,
we bless you,
we adore you,
we glorify you,
we give you thanks for your great glory,
Lord God, heavenly King,
O God, almighty Father.
The "we give you thanks for your great glory" in Latin is:
Gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam
We are saying "thank you" to God. And we're saying thank you to Him for a specific reason: "propter magnam gloriam tuam" — for (or because of or on account) of your great glory. (See Glossa for definitions of propter.)
We Usually Thank Someone When We Get Something
When I thank someone, I'm usually saying "thank you" for something that person has given me or done for me. I've gotten something I did not have before. My lack of something has been made up for by someone else's gift or service, and so I say, "Thank you!"
Given that usual experience of thankfulness, it's odd to me to thank someone for something that he has.
Thanking Someone for Something Just Because He Has It? Strange.
Thanking someone for something that he has: it's as though I were to say, "Thank you for the car (or the beer, or the book, or the money)," not when someone gives me a car (or a beer, or a book, or some money), but instead when someone possesses for himself a car (or a beer, or a book, or great gobs of money).
That would be a strange move, to thank someone on account of something that he has himself.
But it's the move we make in Mass, when we say to God: On account of your glory — propter magnam gloriam tuam — we thank you — gratias agimus tibi.
Why Do We Thank God On Account of His Great Glory?
So why do we thank god on account of His great glory?
The way I figure it is this:
Our Existence Ex Nihilo & God's Existence
We come from nothing. We are created ex nihilo. We are contingent beings.
Right now we exist, but earlier we did not exist, and at some point (relatively soon, in the grand scheme of things) we will not exist any longer.
So when we say that we exist, our existence is qualified, not absolute.
God isn't like that. God exists, always has existed, and always will exist. But it's not just a perpetual, never-ending, never-beginning, always-been-there-and-always-going-to-be-there kind of existence.
That kind of perpetual existence is imaginable for an eternal bowling ball.
The Eternal Bowling Ball: Essence and Existence are Distinct
Picture the eternal bowling ball in your mind. Posit that the bowling ball has always been there and could always be there.
You can still imagine your bowling ball encountering an eternal sledgehammer and getting split in half. So it's possible that this eternal bowling ball not be a bowling ball (becoming, instead, two unbowlable halves).
What it is (a bowling ball) and that it is (existing unsplit by the sledgehammer) are distinct: the eternal bowling ball's essence is not the same as its existence.
The Identity of the Divine Essence and Existence
It isn't like that with God. He isn't contingent. He doesn't just happen to exist. He exists necessarily. His essence is his existence. To be God is to be — simply, absolutely, and without qualification.
That cannot be said of anything else that exists. To be an apple (or an agate, or an aardvark, or an angel) is not the same as the fact that the apple (or the agate, or the aardvark, or the angel) exists.
God's existence is glorious — uniquely glorious. Being God is a great glory. It's His great glory.
When we think about the fact that we — along with all the apples, agates, aardvarks, and angels in the world — exist ex nihilo, thanks to God, because of His unique, glorious Being, then an act of gratitude — a thank you — seems to be a proper thing to do.
Gratias agimus tibi propter gloriam tuam.