What’s in a Kyrie?

Kyrie eleison means “Lord have mercy.” Throughout lent the services at my church will begin with a call to confession and a corporate song that asks for God’s mercy. Though the music is a contemporary setting, the text has been used in church services since the 4th century if not earlier. In liturgical churches this is the only element of the liturgy that has retained the original Greek language (the language of the New Testament) – not adapting Latin or the vernacular.

This three-fold prayer finds its roots in the Psalms (Ps 4:1, 6:2, 51:1 to name a few) with the psalmist making confession to God. It also appears in the gospel narratives (Matt 15:22, Mark 10:47) with different people pleading to Jesus for healing.

It has been adapted and set to music by composers throughout the centuries. Even today contemporary christian musicians such as David Crowder, High Street Hymns, and Keith Getty have written settings of the Kyrie for local and global congregations.  But really…here’s my personal fav… you can’t beat Bach.  Sorry.

But why sing a kyrie as a congregation?  Why can’t we just confess our sins to God privately?

We should absolutely confess our sins to God individually and daily, but when we gather as a congregation on the Lord’s Day, we address God as his united body. By singing the Kyrie together, we admit that our personal sin is a corporate offense, and resist the popular notion that worship is solely between us and God. With one voice we declare as TCC, and as members of the Christian church worldwide, that our help is in the name of the Lord.

(Thanks to Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX for their thoughts on liturgy (pdf) )

Author: adamkurihara

Minister of Worship Arts at NSCBC in Beverly, MA

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