Lenten Hymns: Kyrie Eleison

Posted by Brent.Barry on March 21, 2017

Kyrie Eleison

The simple singing of Kyrie Eleison  has become the most powerful piece of music for me during the Lenten Season. We sing the English version, “Lord Have Mercy,” every Sunday in worship after our Prayer of Confession.

I considered the Kyrie  nothing more than muzak for the church until someone suggested that I use “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner” as a repeating chant during my individual prayer and meditation. Throughout the years I have uttered it as a thanksgiving for God’s mercy, and at other times as a deep confession for my sins. It always serves to remind me of two persistent spiritual lessons that fly in the face of everything our culture teaches us.

First, it teaches me that I am in need.

Second, it teaches me that I am not in control.

Kyrie Eleison  had such an effect on me that I did some research on it during Seminary. I found out that it’s an ancient phrase used throughout the Bible which took a liturgical/musical form as early as the 2nd Century. It took on special emphasis during Lent because of its confessional nature. Furthermore, it is used by both Western and Eastern Christian churches.  Now when we sing the Kyrie  in worship, I imagine that we sing it with those voices that stretch way back to the 2nd Century and those that stretch across the whole church. Together we all sing, “Lord have mercy.”

This communal nature of the Kyrie  has become especially meaningful to me while at NorthPark. When 12 people were killed and 70 injured at the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012 we held a special worship service to read scripture, sing, and light candles – all while praying for peace. Carol Blackwood and I were aware of a very moving musical arrangement of the Kyrie,  so we decided that Carol would sing it with her daughter Maddie. It spoke so deeply of the pain of God’s people, and our hope in God, that it moved us all to tears.

Carol also sang this arrangement with Kara Janasak when we held similar services following the abductions of 270 girls in Nigeria and then after the Ebola outbreak in our backyard. Just this past summer Carol sang it with Hannah Barry in another special service after the killing of five police officers and injuries to nine others in our city.

Here is a recording of the arrangement when Carol and Hannah sang it this summer.  I hope you will make the time to listen. May Kyrie Eleison  take us all through the Lenten season and beyond.

Rev. Brent Barry is the lead pastor of NorthPark Presbyterian. Brent and NorthPark have a deep commitment to working with the poor and hungry in Dallas, helping those with Alzheimer’s disease and reaching across religious and cultural lines to do their part to bring Dallas together as one.


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