My Dear Parisihioners,
Last week, in our continuing tour of the Mass, we discussed the Greeting, the Penitential Act, the Confiteor and began with an explanation of the Kyrie. I will complete that, as well as the second and third options for the Penitential Act. I will also begin, but not finish, comments on the Gloria.
“Kyrie eleison” is Greek for “Lord, have mercy,” and is the only place in the Mass where we pray in Ancient Greek, rather than in Latin or English. The Kyrie is found in many places in the earliest translations of the Old Testament (written in Hebrew) and the New Testament (written in Greek, except for Matthew, which was written in Aramaic (a Semitic language related to Hebrew.) The Kyrie is likely one of the earliest surviving artifact of the Church’s earliest Eucharistic liturgies, which were in Greek; historical evidence is sparse. In the Tridentine Mass of 1570 until the Mass of Paul VI in 1970, three parts of the Kyrie was invoked three times each, as in Kyrie eleison (3x), Christe eleison (3x), Kyrie eleison (3 times). Three is the number of the persons of God, nine corresponds to the nine choirs of angels in heaven. The nine invocations of Kyrie were reduced to three for the sake of brevity and simplicity.
The Second Option for the Penitential Act is based on verses of scripture (e.g., Baruch 3:2, Psalm 84:8.) Though it is not often used, it has a noble simplicity. It omits the Confiteor, as it already contains a confession of sin. It also relies heavily on the “Lord have mercy formulation,” as follows:
Priest: Have mercy on us, O Lord. R: For we have sinned against you.
Priest: Show us, O Lord, your mercy. R: And grant us your salvation.
The Third Option for the Penitential Act preserves the venerable “Kyrie eleison”/”Lord have mercy,” but in the setting of more detailed invocations. These are always addressed to Jesus, whether He is referred to as “Lord” or “Christ”:
— You were sent to heal the contrite of heart: Lord have mercy. R: Lord have mercy.
— You came to call sinners: Christ have mercy. R: Christ have mercy.
— You are seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us: Lord have mercy. R: Lord, have mercy.
Gloria: The Gloria is a “doxology”, i.e., a “short hymn of praise to God” used in Christian worship. The Gloria we pray at Mass is formally known as the “Greater Doxology,” to distinguish it from the “Minor Doxology”, the brief Trinitarian prayer familiar to us all– “Glory to the Father, and to the Son…”
This hymn begins with a quotation from Luke 2:14, i.e., the hymn the angels sang to the shepherds on the birth of Christ. The text of the Gospel of Luke can, in turn, be linked with ancient Jewish liturgy. Subsequent verses were added very early, to form a Trinitarian doxology, glorifying the Father and the Holy Spirit as well. Like the Creed, the Gloria is roughly divided in thirds: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Next week we’ll continue with the Gloria and the Opening Prayer.
Fr. Bill Donahue