Learn the English Translation of Liturgical Prayer, the "Kyrie"

Three Simple Lines of Liturgical Prayer

Catholicism
The Catholic Church has several liturgical prayers like the "Kyrie". Getty Images

One of the key liturgical prayers in the Mass of the Catholic Church, the Kyrie is a simple request for mercy. Written in Latin, you only need to learn two lines, making the English translation even easier to memorize.

The Translation of the "Kyrie"

The Kyrie is actually a transliteration, using the Latin alphabet to spell out a Greek word (Κύριε ἐλέησον). The lines are extremely simple and easy to interpret into English.

LatinEnglish
Kyrie eleisonLord have mercy
Christe eleisonChrist have mercy
Kyrie eleisonLord have mercy

The History of the Kyrie

The Kyrie is used in a number of churches, including Eastern Orthodox, the Eastern Catholic Church, and the Roman Catholic Church. The simple statement of "have mercy" can be found in many gospels of the Bible's New Testament.

The Kyrie dates all the way back to 4th century Jerusalem and pagan antiquity. In the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I substituted a litany for the Common Prayer of the Church with the Kyrie as the people's response.

Pope Gregory, I took the litany and struck out the unnecessary words. He said that only "Kyrie Eleison" and "Christe Eleison" shall be sung, "in order that we may concern ourselves with these supplications at greater length."

In the 8th century, The Ordo of St. Amand set the limit at nine repetitions (which is still commonly used today).

It is believed that any beyond that would be too redundant. Different forms of the Mass —from the Ordinary Mass to the Traditional Latin Mass—uses various repetitions. Some may use three while others will only sing it once. It may also be accompanied by music.

Over the centuries, the Kyrie has also been incorporated into a number of classical music pieces that were inspired by the Mass.

The most famous of these is the "Mass in B Minor," a 1724 composition written by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750).

The Kyrie appears in Bach's "Mass" in the first part, known as the "Missa." In it, the "Kyrie Eleison" and "Christe Eleison" are played back and forth by sopranos and strings, then build up to a four-part choir. It sets the stage perfectly for the voluminous Gloria, which follows it.