AskDefine | Define Kyrie

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Kyrie (not declined)
  1. Oh Lord

Derived terms

Extensive Definition

Kyrie is the vocative case of the Greek word κύριος (kyrios - lord) and means O Lord; it is the common name of an important prayer of Christian liturgy, also called Kyrie eleison which is Greek for Lord, have mercy.

In Eastern Christianity

Anyone attending a church service in the Eastern churches (whether they be Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox or Eastern Catholic), will find the phrase Kyrie eleison (Greek: ) or its equivalents in other languages to be 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 Greek phrase "kyrie eleison" 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. Please note that Coptic and Greek languages share many alphabetic letters, words, and phrases.

In Western Christianity

The Kyrie 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 Kyrie 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 Kyrie in Western Christianity is a transliteration of the Greek prayer into Latin, and is used in this form in Latin-language Masses.
Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison; Kyrie eleison.
"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 Kyrie text, no additional Kyrie is recited when this form is used. The Penitential Rite and Kyrie are omitted when the Rite of Sprinkling is celebrated, according to this modern use.
The Kyrie is the first sung prayer in the Ordinary of the pre–1969 Tridentine Mass, and is a mandatory part of any musical setting of the Mass. Kyrie movements often have an ternary (ABA) musical structure that reflects the symmetrical structure of the text. Even today the Kyrie 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 Kyrie in English. In the 1552 Book of Common Prayer the Kyrie was inserted into a recitation of the Ten Commandments. Modern revisions of the Prayer Book have restored the option of using the Kyrie without the Commandments.

Musical settings

The Kyrie 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 Kyrie for the Requiem Mass in the Liber Usualis has this form. Later Kyries 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 Kyries 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 "eleison."
Because of the brevity of the text, Kyries 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 Kyries, it is not always clear whether a particular Kyrie 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 Kyrie verse. In some cases, verses interpolate Latin text between each "Kyrie" (or "Christe") and "eleison."
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 "Kyrie Eleison." Their inspiration is possibly from Mozart's Requiem as their song includes another phrase from Amadeus' masterpiece: 'Rex tremendae majestatis' (King of tremendous majesty), and 'Requiem aeternam' (Eternal Rest Grant unto Them).
The band Mr. Mister came up with the single "Kyrie" in late 1985 invoking kyrie eleison. A Christian singer/songwriter, Mark Schultz, remixed this single in his album, Song Cinema (2002).


Historically, there have been various variant forms and pronunciations of the phrase kyrie eleison in use. While the proper Greek pronunciation has 'ky-ri-e e-le-i-son', with seven syllables, it is common to hear 'ky-ri-e e-lei-son' with six syllables, as well as 'ky-rie e-lei-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 'ky-ri-e-lei-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 'kirieleis', an even more drastic four syllable form, used as a convenient rhyme with various words in macaronic poems and songs.

In various languages


Hoppin, Richard. Medieval Music. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1978. ISBN 0-393-09090-6. Pages 133–134 (Gregorian chants), 150 (tropes).
Kyrie in Czech: Kyrie
Kyrie in Danish: Kyrie eleison
Kyrie in German: Kyrie
Kyrie in Modern Greek (1453-): Κύριε Ελέησον
Kyrie in Spanish: Kyrie Eleison
Kyrie in Esperanto: Kyrie
Kyrie in French: Kyrie
Kyrie in Korean: 자비송
Kyrie in Indonesian: Tuhan Kasihanilah Kami
Kyrie in Italian: Kyrie Eleison
Kyrie in Latin: Kyrie
Kyrie in Lithuanian: Kyrie
Kyrie in Dutch: Kyrie
Kyrie in Japanese: キリエ
Kyrie in Norwegian: Kyrie
Kyrie in Polish: Kyrie
Kyrie in Slovenian: Kyrie
Kyrie in Finnish: Kyrie
Kyrie in Swedish: Kyrie eleison
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