Kýrie is from the Greek word κύριε (kyrie), the vocative case of κύριος (kyrios), meaning O Lord. It is the common name of an important prayer of Christian liturgy, also called Kýrie, eléison which is Greek for Lord, have mercy.
In Eastern Christianity
In the Eastern Christianity (including be Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic), the phrase Kýrie, eléison (Greek: Κύριε ἐλέησον) or its equivalents in other languages is the most oft-repeated phrase.
The various litanies, popular in Orthodox Christianity, generally have Lord, have mercy as their response, either singly or triply. Some petitions in these litanies will have twelve or even forty repetitions of the phrase as a response.
The phrase is the origin of the Jesus Prayer, beloved of Eastern Christians belonging to the Byzantine rite, and increasingly popular amongst Western Christians today.
The biblical roots of this prayer first appear in 1 Chronicles 16:34
...give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever...
This is key to fully understanding the Greek Kýrie, eléison. In this respect, the prayer is simultaneously a petition and a prayer of thanksgiving; an acknowledgment of what God has done, what God is doing, and what God will continue to do. This prayer is refined by Christ Himself in Luke 18:9-14 (KJV) The Parable of The Publican, where we see more clearly the connection to the Jesus Prayer: "God, have mercy on me, a sinner!" (KJV)
The Mass/Divine Liturgy was first celebrated in Greek at Rome during the first two centuries of The Church. As Latin became the predominant language, The Mass was translated into Latin. However, the familiar and venerated prayer Kýrie, eléison was later inserted back into The Mass, replacing the Latin "Domine, Miserere!"
The Greek phrase Kýrie, eléison has also been regularly and extensively used in Coptic (Egyptian) Christian churches since the early centuries of Christianity, where in liturgy both Coptic and Greek languages are used. The Coptic and Greek languages share many letters, words, and phrases, particularly in ecclesiastical contexts.
In Western Christianity
The Kýrie prayer, offered during the Roman Catholic Mass and in some other denominations (such as Lutheran and many in the Anglican Communion), led by the priest or celebrant, and repeated by the congregation. It is conjectured by scholars, including Jungmann, that the Kýrie in the Roman Mass is a vestigial remnant of a litany at the beginning of the mass, much like that of the Eastern Churches. Though today usually recited in the vernacular, the traditional form of the Kýrie in Western Christianity is a transliteration of the Greek prayer into Latin, and is used in this form in Latin-language Masses.
- Κύριε ἐλέησον, Χριστὲ ἐλέησον, Κύριε ἐλέησον.
- Kýrie, eléison; Christé, eléison; Kýrie, eléison.
- "Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy."
Traditionally, each line was sung three times. The three lines being sung thrice is an allusion to the Trinity.
This prayer occurs early in the Ordinary of the Roman Catholic Mass, directly following the Penitential Rite. However, since an alternate form C of the Penitential Rite of the Mass of Paul VI incorporates the Kýrie text, no additional Kýrie is recited when this form is used. The Penitential Rite and Kýrie are omitted when the Rite of Sprinkling is celebrated, according to this modern use.
Although rare, the 2002 Missale Romanum also calls for "Kyrie Eleison" to be a response of the people to the Prayer of the Faithful during Advent.
The Kýrie is the first sung prayer in the Ordinary of the pre–1969 Tridentine Mass, and is usually (but not always) a part of any musical setting of the Mass. Kýrie movements often have an ternary (ABA) musical structure that reflects the symmetrical structure of the text. Even today the Kýrie is traditionally sung by the cantor, choir, and congregation when it occurs; musical settings of the prayer in styles ranging from Gregorian chant to Folk are popular.
Since 1549 Anglicans have normally sung or said the Kýrie in English. In the 1552 Book of Common Prayer the Kýrie was inserted into a recitation of the Ten Commandments. Modern revisions of the Prayer Book have restored the option of using the Kýrie without the Commandments.
The Kýrie was a very popular text for which to compose chants. Of 226 catalogued Gregorian chant melodies, 30 appear in the Liber Usualis. In what are presumed to be the oldest versions, the same melody is repeated for the first eight iterations, and a variation used on the final line (that is, formally, aaa aaa aaa'). These repeats are notated by the Roman numerals "iij" (for three times) or "ij" (for twice). The Kýrie for the Requiem Mass in the Liber Usualis has this form. Later Kýries have more elaborate patterns, such as aaa bbb aaa', aaa bbb ccc', or aba cdc efe'. Note that the final line is nearly always modified somewhat; in some cases this may be because it leads into the Gloria better. In forms both with and without literal repeats, most Kýries in the Liber Usualis have a closing phrase used in nearly all of the lines of the text. This in fact parallels the text, as each line ends with the same word "eléison".
Because of the brevity of the text, Kýries were often very melismatic. This encouraged later composers to make tropes out of them, either by adding words to the melisma (as how a sequence is often considered), or extending the melisma. In fact, because of the late date of most Kýries, it is not always clear whether a particular Kýrie melody or the apparently troped text came first; it could just as easily be the case that a syllabic song was converted into a melisma for a Kýrie verse. In some cases, verses interpolate Latin text between each "Kýrie" (or "Christé") and "eléison".
As the first item in settings of the mass ordinary and the second in the requiem mass (the only mass proper set regularly over the centuries), numerous composers have included Kýries in their masses, including Guillaume de Machaut, Guillaume Dufay, Johannes Ockeghem, Josquin des Pres, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Johann Sebastian Bach, Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Gabriel Fauré, Hector Berlioz, Charles Gounod, Giuseppe Verdi, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein, Benjamin Britten, Mark Alburger, Erling Wold, and Lisa Scola Prosek. In original settings, Michael Nyman included it in his score for The Libertine and Trevor Jones used it in his score for Hideaway.
The prayer is also referenced in Tom Lehrer's song, "The Vatican Rag" and throughout Virgin Black's Requiem trilogy.
The vocal group The Association produced a stirring protest song in 1967 to the war in Vietnam, "Requiem For The Masses", that includes a full-harmony bridge "Kýrie, eléison". Their inspiration is possibly from Mozart's Requiem as their song includes other phrases from Amadeus' masterpiece: Rex tremendae majestatis (King of tremendous majesty), and Requiem aeternam (Eternal Rest Grant unto Them).
The psychedelic rock band The Electric Prunes recorded a version of "Kyrie Eleison" as part of their album "Mass in F Minor" (1967). It was part of the soundtrack of the movie Easy Rider released in 1969.
In 1985, the progressive metal act, Fates Warning, released a track on their album, "The Spectre Within", entitled "Kyrie Eleison"
The band Mr. Mister came up with the single "Kyrie" in late 1985 invoking Kýrie, eléison. It was covered by Christian group AVB in 1994 and became a hit on the CCM chart. Christian singer/songwriter, Mark Schultz, remixed this single in his 2002 album Song Cinema.
In the 1996 album, Christmas Eve and Other Stories, the song "An Angel Returned" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra repeats the lyric "Kyrie among nations" throughout the song.
Progressive Rock group Avalon covered the song on their 2000 album Eurasia.
Finnish Heavy/Power metal guitarist Timo Tolkki has also composed a song called "Kyrie Eleison" for his band Revolution Renaissance, this can be found on the album Age of Aquarius (2008). On this track one can hear the Kyrie chant spoken behind the lead vocals.
In the wildly successful musical Notre Dame de Paris, the line "Kýrie, eléison" is sung by Quasimodo, played by Garou.
In the anime-series Elfen Lied Kyrie Eleison is sung in the intro-song Lilium.
Kyrie Eleison appears as the loading menu theme in Castlevania Dracula X: Rondo of Blood as well as its remake, and in Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, as well.
In Disney's 1996 movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame, "Kýrie, eléison" can be heard in some musical numbers and songs.
Historically, there have been various variant forms and pronunciations of the phrase Kýrie, eléison in use. While the proper Greek pronunciation has 'Ký-ri-e, e-lé-i-son', with seven syllables, it is common to hear 'Ký-ri-e, e-léi-son' with six syllables, as well as 'Ký-rie, e-léi-son' with five, when the phrase is sung in churches that do not normally use Greek. Text underlay in Mediaeval and Renaissance music attests that the existence of 'Ký-ri-e-léi-son' with five syllables was the most common pronunciation up till perhaps the mid 1500s. William Byrd's mass for 4 voices is a notable example of a musical setting originally written with five syllables in mind, later altered for six syllables.
Mediaeval poetry sometimes has 'Kýrieléis', an even more drastic four syllable form, used as a convenient rhyme with various words in macaronic poems and songs.
In various languages
- Jesus Prayer
- List of Greek phrases
- Hoppin, Richard. Medieval Music. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1978. ISBN 0-393-09090-6. Pages 133–134 (Gregorian chants), 150 (tropes).
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