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Kyrie XI ("orbis factor")—a fairly ornamented setting of the Kyrie in Gregorian chant—from the Liber Usualis

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 /ˈkɪəri. ˈl.sɒn/ (Greek: Κύριε, ἐλέησον, Kýrie eléison).[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 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 by Christians of that rite and increasingly popular amongst Western Christians.

The biblical roots of this prayer first appear in 1 Chronicles 16:34

...give thanks to the LORD; for he is good; for his mercy endures for ever...

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. It is refined in the Parable of The Publican (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 sacred Liturgy was first celebrated in Greek. As Christianity gained popularity, the Roman Mass was translated into Latin, but the familiar and venerated Greek prayer Kýrie, eléison was preserved,[citation needed] as were Hebrew phrases such as "Alleluia" and "Hosanna". Jungmann[full citation needed] 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.

As early as the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great notes that there were differences in the way in which eastern and western churches sang Kyrie. In the eastern churches all sing it at the same time, whereas in the western church the clergy sing it and the people respond. Also the western church sang Christe eleison as many times as Kyrie eleison.[1][2]

In the Roman Rite liturgy, a variant, Christe, eléison, a transliteration of Greek Χριστέ, ἐλέησον, is introduced.

"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.

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

Kyrie as section of the Mass ordinary

In the Tridentine Mass form of the Roman 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.

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.


Kyrie eleison (Κύριε ἐλέησον)
Lord, have mercy
Christe eleison (Χριστέ ἐλέησον)
Christ, have mercy
Kyrie eleison (Κύριε ἐλέησον)
Lord, have mercy

Musical settings

In the Tridentine Mass, the Kyrie is the first sung prayer of the Mass ordinary. 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.


The original pronunciation in Medieval Greek was [ˈcyri.e eˈle.ison xrisˈte eˈle.ison], just when the Byzantine Rite was in force. 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.

In Ecclesiastical Latin a variety of pronunciations are used, the italianate [ˈkirie eˈleison krisˈte eˈleison] having been proposed as a standard.[dubious ] 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.[citation needed]

The Mediaeval poetic form Kyrielle sometimes uses Kýrieléis, an even more drastic four-syllable form, which is reduced to three syllables or even to kyrleis in the German Leise. [laɪzə]

Popular culture


Kyrie is almost invariably a part of musical settings of the mass, including Requiems or Masses for the Dead. Certain kinds of German carol are called Leisen after the use of Kyrieleis, Kyrio-leis, Kirleis or Krles as a refrain.

  • The choral composition The Spheres by composer Ola Gjeilo is dedicated to the words "Kyrie Eleison."
  • Tom Lehrer's satirical song "The Vatican Rag" (1965) includes "Kyrie eleison" in its lyrics. [3]
  • 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".
  • The David Crowder Band recorded an original song, "God Have Mercy (Kyrie Eleison)", that quotes the original Latin text in the background.
  • The song "The Donor" from Judee Sill's album Heart Food is built around choral arrangements of the Kyrie.
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • The song "An Angel Returned" from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra album Christmas Eve and Other Stories includes the words "Kyrie Among Nations" repeated throughout the final chorus.
  • The second track entitled "Kyrie" is found on Matt Maher's debut album "The Ending and the Beginning" (2001). The tracks "Litany" and "Lamb of God" on the same album feature similar instrumental and chanting.

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".
  • 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 chorus near the end of the "Hellfire" portion of "Heaven's Light/Hellfire", and in the background chorus of "The Bells of Notre Dame". It also appears in the score tracks "Paris Burning", "Sanctuary!", and "And He Shall Smite the Wicked".
  • In the musical Notre Dame de Paris the line "Kyrie, eleison" is sung by Quasimodo.
  • 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 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 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 1986 film The Name Of The Rose, monks can be heard chanting the song "Kyrie eleison".
  • In the anime Elfen Lied, the words "Kyrie, ignis divine, eleison" [Lord, divine fire, have mercy] can be heard during the opening theme.
  • The anime series "Haruhi Suzumiya" has a tracked named "Shinjin" which features a choir chanting "Kyrie eleison."
  • In Act I of the 1983 Hungarian rock opera István, a király, "Kyrie eleison" is featured at the funeral of Géza.



In various languages

See also



  1. 1.0 1.1 "Definitions for Medieval Christian Liturgy: Kyrie eleison". Yale.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Gregory the Great, Epistles 9: 26, trans. Baldovin, Urban Worship, 244-245
  3. "Tom Lehrer - The Vatican Rag - fabulous version - LIVE FILM From Copenhagen in 1967". YouTube. Retrieved 24 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • 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