Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Liturgy Series Part II: Kyrie

A. Hanson, Salzburg, Austria. 
Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison.

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

The Kyrie is a sung or spoken verse that is a part of the Gathering portion of the Liturgy.  Kyrie Eleison is derived from the Greek words for Lord, Κυριος,  and Mercy, Ελεος.

The Kyrie is derived from a story in Mark 10:46-52, in which Jesus and the disciples come upon a blind man named Bartimaeus sitting by the side of road near Jericho.  Bartimaeus, hearing that Jesus was nearby cries out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  The crowd tells the blind man to be quiet over and over again.  Jesus stopped and says, "bring him here."  Jesus heals him and says, "Go, your faith has made you well."

When we cry out, "Kyrie Eleison" we are acknowledging our utter dependence on Christ for healing.  In the last 20 or 30 years, as liturgy has been re-imagined in an attempt to be relevant, one of the trends has been to create an up-tempo, festive rendition of the Kyrie.  This sort of liturgy has made the unfortunate (and confusing) move of essentially turning the Kyrie into an opening hymn and/or canticle of praise.

One of my pastor friends remarked upon hearing a particularly festive arrangement of the Kyrie, "Are we or are we not begging for mercy from the God of heaven and earth?"

Now, worship is often joyful, but the Kyrie is a prayer for God's mercy to continue to be present in us and in the assembly.  We often say upon hearing particularly painful news, "Kyrie Eleison.  Lord have mercy."  This is what we say when we are so at a loss for words that we know not what else to say in the midst of our grief and pain.  And we come to worship each week weary and hungry and desiring to be filled up with God's mercy and grace.  This is what we ask for with the words "Kyrie Eleison."

So the Kyrie is a prayer sung or spoken as part of the liturgy to bear witness to our dependence upon God for healing and strength and to ask for God's mercy to fill the church and the world.

Up next...

Part III: Prayer of the Day

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