Kyrie, Eleison / Lord, Have Mercy

Kyrie eleison (KI-ree-ay ay-LAY-ee-zonn) or “Lord, have mercy” is a short prayer that is important in Christian worship. It is a prayer from the heart about human need. God owes us nothing. Everything he gives comes from his mercy. 

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

Original in Greek:

Κύριε, ἐλέησον.
Χριστέ, ἐλέησον.
Κύριε, ἐλέησον.

Greek transliterated:

Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

Some worship traditions translate Kyrie eleison as “Lord, have mercy.” Some leave it untranslated as is done for words like “Amen” and “Alleluia.”

Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison are the first words in the main part of the Divine Service, either as a cry of repentance or as a prayer for God’s mercy in all aspects of life.

Kyrie eleison Deutsches Messe
Kyrie eleison, found in Evangelisches Gesangbuch für Rheinland und Westfalen, 1902. It was taken from Luther’s Deutsches Messe.
The Threefold Kyrie, tune from Luther’s German Mass with English Text. Book of Hymns (WELS, 1920, 1931)

The second use, as a prayer for God’s mercy in all aspects of life, often includes Kyrie eleison or” Lord, have mercy” as a response in a litany that brings the requests for the Lord to have mercy.  The Kyrie as a deacon’s litany or troped Kyrie also has a long history, and is thought to be the original use of the Kyrie in the divine service.

See the Kyrie of Dunstan.

The following troped Kyrie litanies are from the Sarum Missal.

I. Pater Creator Omnium (God, creator of all things, our God)

II. Kyrie, Rex genitor ingenite (Lord, King, Father unbegotten, true Being)

III. Kyrie, Fons Bonitatis (Lord, fountain of all goodness)

IV. Kyrie omnipotens pater ingenite (Lord, almighty Father, unbegotten)

V. Kyrie Rex Splendens Celi Arce Salue (Lord, King of glory in the fortress of heaven)

VI. Lux et Origo (Light, source of the highest light)

VII. Cunctipotens Genitor Deus Omnicreator (Almighty King, God, Creator of all things)

VIII. Conditor omnium imas creaturarum (Lord, maker of all creatures)

IX. Kyrie, orbis factor (Lord, creator of the world) 

These short Kyrie litanies are in current use: 

Kyrie from the Church of Finland

Kyrie from the Church of Sweden

In Matins (Morning Prayer) and Vespers (Evening Prayer) Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison or their translation appear in some form at the end of the service before the Lord’s Prayer. A version of “Help, Save, Have Mercy on Us” is currently used by many churches as a responsive Kyrie in Evening Prayer.

As short as the Kyrie is, it has been set to music, both as the short Kyrie, and as a Kyrie with extended petitions.

Here it is from Bach’s Mass in B Minor:

Here it is in German, known to English-speaking Lutherans as “Kyrie, God, Father in heaven above”:

Here it is as a responsive litany, sung by pastor and people. Text uses some of the petitions from “Help, Save, Have Mercy on Us” (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom). (Video and audio quality aren’t the best, but the performance was led by Regina H. Fryxell, who was the composer / arranger.)  Here the Kyrie is followed by the Gloria.

See also:

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Lutheran pastor and musician serving St. Stephen's in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.

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