Kyrie is from the Greek word κύριε (kyrie), the vocative case of κύριος (kyrios), meaning Lord. It is the common name of an important prayer of Christian liturgy, also called Kýrie, eléison which is Greek for Lord, have mercy.
The various litanies, popular in Orthodox Christianity, 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 of Eastern Christians belonging to the Byzantine rite, and increasingly popular amongst Western Christians today.
...give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever...
This is key to fully understanding the Greek Kýrie, eléison. In this respect, 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. This prayer is refined by Jesus in Luke 18:9-14 (KJV) The Parable of The Publican, where we see more clearly the connection to the Jesus Prayer: "God, have mercy on me, a sinner!" (KJV)
The Mass/Divine Liturgy was first celebrated in Greek at Rome during the first two centuries of The Church. As Latin became the predominant language, The Mass was translated into Latin. However, the familiar and venerated prayer Kýrie, eléison was later inserted back into The Mass, replacing the Latin "Domine, Miserere!"
The Greek phrase Kýrie, eléison has also been regularly and extensively used in Coptic (Egyptian) Christian churches since the early centuries of Christianity, where in liturgy both Coptic and Greek languages are used. The Coptic and Greek languages share many letters, words, and phrases, particularly in ecclesiastical contexts.
In Western Christianity
The Kyrie prayer, offered during the Roman CatholicMass and in some other denominations (such as Lutheran and many in the Anglican Communion), led by the priest or celebrant, and repeated by the congregation. It is conjectured by scholars, including Jungmann, that the Kyrie in the Roman Mass is a vestigial remnant of a litany at the beginning of the mass, much like that of the Eastern Churches. Though today usually recited in the vernacular, the traditional form of the Kyrie in Western Christianity is a transliteration of the Greek prayer into Latin, and is used in this form in Latin-language Masses.
Κύριε ἐλέησον, Χριστὲ ἐλέησον, Κύριε ἐλέησον.
Kýrie, eléison; Christé, eléison; Kýrie, eléison.
"Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy."
Traditionally, each line was sung three times. The three lines being sung thrice is an allusion to the Trinity.
This prayer occurs early in the Ordinary of the Roman Catholic Mass, directly following the Penitential Rite. However, since an alternate form C of the Penitential Rite of the Mass of Paul VI incorporates the Kyrie text, no additional Kyrie is recited when this form is used. The Penitential Rite and Kyrie are omitted when the Rite of Sprinkling is celebrated, according to this modern use.
Although rare, the 2002 Missale Romanum also calls for "Kyrie Eleison" to be a response of the people to the Prayer of the Faithful during Advent.
The Kyrie is the first sung prayer in the Ordinary of the pre–1969 Tridentine Mass, and is usually (but not always) a 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. Even today the Kyrie is traditionally sung by the cantor, choir, and congregation when it occurs; musical settings of the prayer in styles ranging from Gregorian chant to Folk are popular.
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.
A Gregorian chant Kyrie eleison
The Kyrie was a very popular text for which to compose chants. 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".
The prayer is also referenced in Tom Lehrer's song, "The Vatican Rag" and throughout Virgin Black's Requiem trilogy.
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 vocal group The Association produced a stirring protest song in 1967 to the war in Vietnam, "Requiem For The Masses", that includes a full-harmony bridge "Kyrie, eleison". Their inspiration is possibly from Mozart's Requiem as their song includes other phrases from Amadeus' masterpiece: Rex tremendae majestatis (King of tremendous majesty), and Requiem aeternam (Eternal Rest Grant unto Them).
In the book and play of "The Phantom of the Opera," "Kyrie Eleison" was the name of the wedding song the Phantom wrote for Christine.
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.
The band Mr. Mister came up with the single "Kyrie" in late 1985 invoking Kyrie, eleison. It was covered by Christian group AVB in 1994 and became a hit on the CCM chart. Christian singer/songwriter, Mark Schultz, remixed this 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".
Progressive Rock group Avalon covered the song on their 2000 album Eurasia.
Finnish Heavy/Power metal guitarist Timo Tolkki has also composed a song called "Kyrie Eleison" for his band Revolution Renaissance, this can be found on the album Age of Aquarius (2008). On this track one can hear the Kyrie chant spoken behind the lead vocals.
In the 1996 Broadway musical Rent and its 2004 film adaptation, at the beginning of the number "La Vie Boheme", Collins and Roger quote Kyrie Eleison (along with the Dies Irae and the Mourners' Kaddish) as part of a mock requiem in honor of "the death of Bohemia".
The popular anime series from 2006, Death Note also showcased a unique and atmospheric rendition of the Kyrie chant, utilizing full orchestral vocals.
Historically, there have been various variant forms and pronunciations of the phrase Kýrie, eléison in use. While the proper Greek pronunciation has 'Ký-ri-e, e-lé-i-son', with seven syllables, it is common to hear 'Ký-ri-e, e-léi-son' with six syllables, as well as 'Ký-rie, e-léi-son' with five, when the phrase is sung in churches that do not normally use Greek. Text underlay in Mediaeval and Renaissance music attests that the existence of 'Ký-ri-e-léi-son' with five syllables was the most common pronunciation up till perhaps the mid 16th century. William Byrd's mass for 4 voices is a notable example of a musical setting originally written with five syllables in mind, later altered for six syllables.