The Kyrie

This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). We’re in the section on the Introductory Rites.

What:

English

Priest: Lord Have Mercy.1

All: Lord Have Mercy.

Priest: Christ Have Mercy.

All: Christ Have Mercy.

Priest: Lord Have Mercy.

All: Lord Have Mercy.

Greek

Priest: Kyrie eleison.

All: Kyrie eleison.

Priest: Christe eleison.

All: Christe eleison.

Priest: Kyrie eleison.

All: Kyrie eleison.

Why:

Why the Kyrie?

In the Kyrie, we beg God for His mercy.

The general effect is meant to be just mercy, mercy, mercy–it’s not so much that we ought to feel beasts because we are sinners, as that we ought to feel worms because we are creatures; however holy and pious we were, we should still want to start by telling Almighty God that he is Almighty God and we are a set of perfectly ridiculous creatures; when we have got that into our heads, we have begun to get the situation clear.

Knox, Msgr. Ronald. The Mass in Slow Motion. Sheed & Ward. New York, NY. 1948 p. 19

Whereas the Penitential Act (especially as stated in the Confetior) is mostly an admission of guilt and asking for prayers, the Kyrie begs God for His forgiveness.

Why Greek?

In Jesus’ time, the most commonly spoken languages were Greek and Latin. Throughout time, the Church in the West retained Latin as its official language (all official Church documents are still written in Latin today). Praying in these languages gives us a linguistic connection to our roots.

The Western Church seems to have adopted this particular prayer from the Eastern Church, which would have prayed it in Greek, so it traditionally stayed in Greek despite most of the rest of the Mass being in Latin. Since the 1970s priests have had the option to pray the Mass in the vernacular (local language).

Going Deeper:

Deeper Participation in the Words

Since you are addressing God, concentrate on saying these words to God—specifically, you can call to mind:

  • God the Father during the first round of Kyries (Lords)
  • God the Son (Jesus Christ) during the Christes (Christs)2
  • God the Holy Spirit during the second round of Kyries.

Here, it might help to look at the Tabernacle (where God is most present) or art that represents God–especially if there is a depiction of the Holy Trinity, so you can focus on each person individually; or a depiction of the Divine Mercy image or Jesus’ Sacred Heart, so you can focus on God’s mercy.

Deeper Participation in Chanting

If the Kyrie is chanted, chant with a full voice (don’t just mutter along). The Kyrie is one of the songs called a “part” of the Mass (or “Mass parts”). We’re expected to participate in them more so than even the hymns. Men, particularly, need to find their voice. I generally try not to pay attention to others during Mass (so that I can better focus on God), but I admit that sometimes my attention wanders, and I am saddened to note how few men sing at Mass. Mass is not a ladies’ choir practice. If we are to lead our families,3 it should start with leading in prayer and our “parts” of the Mass are some of the easiest places to lead. Let’s remember St. Augustine’s adage: “He who sings well prays twice.”

Deeper Participation in the Sacrifice

Regardless of which option the priest chooses, recognize that the Penitential Act/Holy Water Sprinkling is setting the stage for later. Not only do we bring to mind our sins and ask for God’s mercy now, but later in the Mass, these admissions of guilt and requests for forgiveness will be united to the offering of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and offered to God the Father. Jesus’ sacrifice is offered for many things, but among them is saying “sorry” to God for our sins.

The sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is first of all adoration; it is latrial . . . [It] is propitiatory. It appeases God Who was angered because of sin . . . [It] is eucharistic. It is the greatest act of thanksgiving . . . [It] is impetratory. It is the greatest supplication, a supreme appeal . . . to divine goodness.

Charles Cardinal Journet, The Mass: The Presence of the Sacrifice of the Cross, (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2008), 21-22

What About You?

  • How has more deeply participating in the Kyrie prepared you to enter more deeply into re-offering Jesus’ sacrifice with the priest?
  • How has asking for God’s Mercy helped you open your heart to receive the graces He offers you?
  • What practices do you have that help you enter more deeply into the Kyrie?

Footnotes

  1. In the Gospels, there are many instances of people asking Jesus to “Have Mercy”: (Matthew 9:27, 15:22, 17:15, 20:30-31; Mark 10:47-48; Luke 17:13, 18:13, 18:38-39)
  2. “…our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18)
  3. See Ephesians 5:23-33

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