During Lent, my church (and many others) sing the Kyrie after the Confession and Forgiveness in our Holy Communion service.   In the Kyrie, we ask for God’s grace again, recognizing that it is only by God’s mercy that any of our requests can be granted.  

The phrase “Kyrie eleison” is Greek for “Lord, have mercy”.  This basic prayer comes from the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14:

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  (NIV translation)

The Pharisee thanks God that he has been created better than others, even the tax collector in the parable.  In contrast, the tax collector cries “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  The tax collector’s prayer resulted in his justification, unlike the Pharisee’s prayer.  When we Christians pray, we know that we, like the tax collector in the parable, have no righteousness to offer God.  We are beggars in need of God’s mercy. 

As part of my personal daily prayer, I remind myself that, as a sinner, I am always in need of God’s mercy.  I often recall Martin Luther’s dying words, “We are beggars.  This is true.”  And God is so gracious, and loving, He extends a never-ending supply of mercy to His children. 

In its earliest forms, the Kyrie includes a variety of petitions with “Lord, have mercy” as a response.  Since the Reformation, it has been common to use a shorter form of the Kyrie, which is a threefold “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy”.  Many churches, including mine, have restored the earlier version:

Assisting Minister (AM):  In peace, let us pray to the Lord.

Congregation (C):  Lord, have mercy.

AM:  For the peace from above, and for our salvation, let us pray to the Lord.

C:  Lord, have mercy.

AM:  For the peace of the whole world, for the well-being of the church of God, and for the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord.

C:  Lord, have mercy.

AM:  For this holy house, and for all who offer here their worship and praise, let us pray to the Lord.

C:  Lord, have mercy.

AM:  Help, save, comfort, and defend us, gracious Lord.

C:  Amen, amen.

The Kyrie reflects this contemplative time of Lent, and is a beautiful addition to our Sunday worship.  May grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love!  Amen.


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