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Kyrie Eleison

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Kyrie Eleison

For other uses, see Kyrie (disambiguation).

Kyrie, a transliteration of Greek Κύριε (Kyrie), vocative case of Κύριος (Kyrios), on whose meaning see Kyrios (biblical term), is a common name of an important prayer of Christian liturgy, also called the Kyrie eleison (Greek: Κύριε, ἐλέησον "Lord, have mercy"). The phrase predates Christian usage.[1]

In Eastern Christianity

Τhe phrase Kýrie, eléison (Greek: Κύριε, ἐλέησον) or one of its equivalents in other languages is one of the most oft-repeated phrases in Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine-Rite Eastern Christianity.

The various litanies, frequent in that rite, generally have YAWa 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 by Christians of that rite and increasingly popular amongst Western Christians.

The biblical roots of this prayer first appear in Luke 18:9-14), "God, have mercy on me, a sinner", which shows more clearly its connection with the Jesus Prayer.

Since the early centuries of Christianity, the Greek phrase, Kýrie, eléison, is also extensively used in the Coptic (Egyptian) Christian liturgy, which uses both the Coptic and the Greek language.

In the cultures of East Slavs, its adaptation also gave rise to the word of gratitude (Russian: Спасибо, Spasibo) through a rough interpretation Save, God.

In Western Christianity

In Rome, the Divine Liturgy was first celebrated in Greek. As Christianity gained popularity, Mass was celebrated in Latin, but the familiar and venerated Greek prayer Kýrie, eléison was preserved, as were Hebrew phrases such as "Alleluia" and "Hosanna". Jungmann and other scholars conjecture that the Kyrie in the Roman Mass is a vestige of a litany at the beginning of the Mass, like that of some Eastern churches.

In the Roman Rite liturgy, a variant, Christe, eléison, a transliteration of Greek Χριστέ, ἐλέησον, is introduced. In the Tridentine Mass form of that rite, Kýrie, eléison is sung or said three times, followed by a threefold Christe, eléison and by another threefold Kýrie, eléison. In the Paul VI Mass form, each invocation is made only once by the celebrating priest or by a cantor, with a single repetition, each time, by the congregation. Even if Mass is celebrated in the vernacular, the Kyrie may be in Greek. This prayer occurs directly following the Penitential Rite or is incorporated in that rite as one of the three alternative forms provided in the Roman Missal. The Penitential Rite and Kyrie may be replaced by the Rite of Sprinkling.

"Kyrie, eleison" (or "Lord, have mercy") may also be used as a response of the people to intentions mentioned in the Prayer of the Faithful.

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. In modern Anglican churches, it is common to say (or sing) either the Kyrie or the Gloria in Excelsis Deo, but not both. In this case, the Kyrie may be said in penitential seasons like Lent and Advent, while the Gloria is said the rest of the year. Anglo-Catholics, however, usually follow Roman norms in this as in most other liturgical matters.

Other denominations also, such as Lutheranism, use "Kyrie, eleison" in their liturgies.

Musical settings

File:Schola Gregoriana-Kyrie eleison.ogg

In the Tridentine Mass, the Kyrie is the first sung prayer in the Order of Mass. It is usually (but not always) 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. Musical settings exist in styles ranging from Gregorian chant to Folk.

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".

File:Kyrie XI (Orbis Factor) sample.ogg As the Kyrie is 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), nearly all of the thousands of composers over the centuries who have set the ordinaries of the mass to music have included a Kyrie movement.


The original pronunciation in Medieval Greek must have been [ˈcyri.e eˈle.ison xrisˈte eˈle.ison], just when the Byzantine Rite was in force. The same sentence would be pronounced as [kýːri.e elé.ɛːson kʰristé elé.ɛːson] in Attic Greek circa 500–300 BC. Although at such a time this sentence was obviously not used, the individual words already existed. Most speakers of Ecclesiastical Latin would pronounced the prayer as ['kirie e'leison kris'te e'leison], which is how it is usually reproduced in musical settings for the Mass.

The transliteration of ἐλέησον as "eléison" shows that the non-classical itacist pronunciation of the Greek letter eta (η) is used. Although the Greek words have seven syllables (Ký-ri-e, e-lé-i-son), pronunciations as six syllables (Ký-ri-e, e-léi-son) or five (Ký-rie, e-léi-son) have been used. Text underlay in mediaeval and Renaissance music attests that "Ký-ri-e-léi-son" (five syllables) was the most common setting until perhaps the mid-16th century. William Byrd's mass for four 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.

Popular culture


  • The Kyrie text is comically referenced in Tom Lehrer's song "The Vatican Rag" (1965).
  • The vocal group The Association produced a Requiem for the Masses as a war protest in 1967. Ordinary ("Kyrie, eleison") and Proper texts of the traditional Requiem Mass were included.
  • 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.
  • Quebec rock band Offenbach sang "Kyrie" in their 1972 rock version of the Mass for the Dead at the Oratoire Saint-Joseph.
  • The progressive metal act Fates Warning released a track on their album The Spectre Within (1985) entitled "Kyrie eleison".
  • The band Mr. Mister released the single "Kyrie" in late 1985. The song was covered by East To West in 1993, and by AVB in 1994. Clay Aiken has also performed the song during tours. Mark Schultz remixed the single in his 2002 album Song Cinema. The British artist DJ Rap produced a UK 'Ardkore single in 1992 by the name of "Divine Rhythm" which heavily sampled the intro and vocal from Mr. Mister's single "Kyrie".
  • In the 1996 album Christmas Eve and Other Stories by Trans-Siberian Orchestra, the song "An Angel Returned" alludes repeatedly to the Kyrie. The progressive rock group Avalon covered the song on their 2000 album Eurasia.
  • Virgin Black's Requiem trilogy uses the text cyclically.
  • The David Crowder Band recorded an original song, "God Have Mercy (Kyrie Eleison)", that quotes the original Latin text in the background.
  • Laura Pausini's song "Per vivere" quotes the Kyrie text twice in its lyrics.
  • The Neue Deutsche Härte band OOMPH!'s song "Gekreuzigt (Crucified)" has "Kyrie, eleison" in its lyrics.
  • The song "The Donor" from Judee Sill's album Heart Food is built around choral arrangements of the Kyrie.
  • Inspired by the Rastafari spiritual movement, Sinéad O'Connor recorded "Kyrie Eleison" on the album Faith and Courage (2000).
  • The Japanese group Kalafina recorded a song called "Kyrie" by composer Yuki Kajiura which quotes the original Kyrie text.
  • The song "Mona Lisa Overdrive", from Juno Reactor's album Labyrinth, features a Kyrie section.
  • Finnish heavy metal guitarist Timo Tolkki composed a song entitled "Kyrie Eleison" for his band Revolution Renaissance for his album Age of Aquarius (2008). The original Kyrie text is chanted behind the lead vocals.
  • Ace of Base has a song called "Kyrie Eleison".
  • "Kyrie eleison" is included in the lyrics of the song "We Drink Your Blood" by the Romanian-German power metal group Powerwolf.
  • Mexican heavy metal band Luzbel has a song called "Kirieleison".
  • Scottish musician Gerry Rafferty recorded a version, titled "Kyrie Elieson", to open Life Goes On, the last CD that he released (2009).
  • The American indie band The Eastern Sea's song "Central Cemetery" on the album Plague (2012) has "Kyrie, eleison" in its lyrics.
  • On the 1990 album MCMXC a.D. by Enigma, the song "Mea Culpa" heavily uses "Kyrie, eleison" in its lyrics.
  • Michael Nyman and Trevor Jones have composed settings of the Kyrie for film music.
  • Japanese classical-crossover singer Kanon sang a song named "Kyrie" which included words from the original text in her 2007 album Precious.
  • Phoenix spelled "K-E-L-E-I E-L-E-I-S-O-N" once in the lyrics of a song called "Funky Squaredance" on their 2000 album United.
  • John Rutter, "Requiem" uses "Kyrie, eleison" in the first movement, "Requiem aeternam".
  • Canadian musician Devin Townsend features Kyrie, eleison in the song "Tiny Tears" from the Terria album.

Theatre, film, and television

  • In the 1963 film Lord of the Flies, based on the novel by William Golding and directed by Peter Brook, the choir boys sing "Kyrie eleison".
  • In the book The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux and the musical based on it by Andrew Lloyd Webber, "Kyrie eleison" is the name of a wedding song composed by the title character.
  • The Kyrie section of György Ligeti's Requiem is heard during appearances of the Monolith in the 1968 Stanley Kubrick science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • A version of the Kyrie by The Electric Prunes (1967) is heard in the soundtrack of the 1969 film Easy Rider.
  • In the film Excalibur, the musical score for Arthur's wedding to Guinevere is a Kyrie.
  • In Disney's 1996 film The Hunchback of Notre Dame, "Kyrie, eleison" can be heard in some musical numbers and songs. Most prominently, it is repeated in the background chorus of the "Hellfire" portion of "Heaven's Light/Hellfire", and in the background chorus of "The Bells of Notre Dame".
  • In the movie Matrix Reloaded, during the epic chase scene, the choir chants 'Kyrie Eleison' just before Morpheus blasts the Twins into oblivion.
  • In the musical Notre Dame de Paris the line "Kyrie, eleison" is sung by Quasimodo.
  • In the 1996 Broadway musical Rent and its 2004 film adaptation, at the beginning of the number "La vie Boheme", Collins and Roger quote the text of the Kyrie (along with the text of the Dies Irae and the Mourners' Kaddish) as part of a mock requiem for "the death of Bohemia".
  • In Ever After, "Kyrie eleison" is being sung by the choir during the wedding of Prince Henry to the Spanish princess.
  • The 2006 anime series Death Note showcased an atmospheric rendition of the Kyrie chant with orchestra and vocals.
  • In the anime series Elfen Lied, the text "Kyrie, ignis divine, eleison" appears in the title song "Lilium".
  • In the 1986 film The Name Of The Rose, monks can be heard chanting the song "Kyrie eleison".
  • In the third act of the musical Jerry Springer: The Opera, the tenth song is called Jerry Eleison, playing on the rhyme with Kyrie.
  • In the anime series Umineko no Naku Koro ni, Kyrie is the name of the protagonist's mother.



In various languages

See also



  • Hoppin, Richard. Medieval Music. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1978. ISBN 0-393-09090-6. Pages 133–134 (Gregorian chants), 150 (tropes).

External links

  • Catholic Encyclopedia entry
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