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:
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.
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.
These short Kyrie litanies are in current use:
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.
- Sarum Kyries: nine short litanies, showing the origin of the names of some of the Gregorian mass settings (Fons bonitatis, Orbis Factor, Lux et origo, Rex Genitor, etc.). These are likely the original Kyrie litanies.
- Kyries from the Divine Service of the Church of Finland: the second option is adapted from the Litany of Chrysostom, and is the same as in use in many Lutheran churches in America.
- Kyries from the Divine Service of the Church of Sweden: the third option combines the Kyrie with phrases from In the midst of life we are in death.