The Mass in Slow Motion – The Kyrie (Lord Have Mercy)

Now if I were to ask you if the Kyrie Eleison (Translated “Lord Have Mercy”) were part of the Penitential Rite most likely you’d say “Of course it is.” After all we are asking God’s mercy. But interestingly enough it serves more as an acclamation of praise both historically and liturgically as we shall see.

The History of the Kyrie – the Kyrie is often thought of as a part of the penitential rite but this is not necessarily the case. The General instruction describes it this way: “After the penitential act the Kyrie Eleison is begun unless it has already been used in the penitential act. It is a song in which the faithful acclaim the Lord and ask for his mercy therefore it is usually to be sung by all, that is by the congregation as well as the schola or cantor.” Hence the Kyrie may or may not be a part of the penitential rite. As we shall see in its origins, the Kyrie is historically more a hymn of praise than a penitential act.

The early history may be seen in pagan antiquity. There was the  custom of imploring the help of the gods with the phrase “eleison.” Likewise, the phrase was used in reference to the emperor. A singer would announce some praise of the emperor and the people would respond with this or another cry of homage. However, there are also scriptural roots in the Old Testament. For example, in the Greek translation of the O.T. (the Septuagint)  there are many phrases particularly in the psalms such as, “eleison me Kyrie.” (Have mercy on me Lord) (Psalm 6:2 inter al.) Also in the New Testament there are many places where the phrase is used: Son of David have mercy on us. This phrase is indeed quite common in the N.T. Nevertheless Kyrie litanies where not common in the Church until after the Age of Constantine (4th century) likely due to their connections with paganism. After the persecutions ended and paganism move to the background it was deemed appropriate to use these forms of courtly honor to honor the Lord.

The entrance of the Kyrie into widespread use in the Church may be described as follows. The practice was first reported in use in  Jerusalem wherein the phrase “Kyrie Eleison” was sung in response to a series of petitions sung by a deacon. This practice was noted both within Mass (where it took place after the Gospel) and outside of Mass (for example at Vespers). The practice was brought back to the West probably by returning pilgrims and it was considered widely appealing. Eventually its  use came to be quite universal in the Church. In some areas it was located at the beginning of Mass while in other areas it had its place after the Gospel. Eventually it came to be generally located at the beginning of mass. It was specifically introduced into the Mass by Pope Gelasius in the later half of the 5th century.  The form of the Kyrie was retained as a litany of praise and supplication before God and these prayers grew in elaborateness. You can see the Kyrie Litany of Gelasius HERE .

In a desire to simplify and shorten the liturgy, Pope Gregory the Great in the early 7th century removed the prayers and kept only responses Kyrie eleison and Christe eleison. First this was done only on ordinary days, leaving the prayers on more solemn feast. Later their use faded completely leaving only the responses. The Kyrie responses were said at first only by the people. But gradually the priest and the people began to alternate, responding back and forth with a nine-fold response (KKK,CCC,KKK). Gradually the singing of these became more elaborate and tended to be done by a choir of trained singers. In the Tridentine mass the Kyrie was recited by the priest alternating with the servers in the ninefold Kyrie. In solemn Mass it was also sung by the Choir or schola. But it was NOT considered part of the penitential rite which had take place at the foot of the Altar and was separated from the penitential rite by several things: the ascent of the altar steps, kissing the altar, possibly incensing it, making the sing of cross to begin Mass, reading the Introit (entrance song) and only then reciting the Kyrie.

Today it is returned to having the priest and people alternate in what is usually a sixfold Kyrie. There is also the option of introducing the Kyrie into the penitential rite in which case it is returned to its older litany-like form with certain petitions and/or praises attached to each Kyrie and Christe.

Complicated enough?? The Kyrie has somewhat of a dual personality. It may serve either as a penitential rite or a hymn of praise. However, even when it is used as a penitential act, we still give glory to God on account of his great mercy. The history of the Kyrie Litany gives rise to an appreciation of  the source of our practice today of the intercessory prayers after the Creed (sometimes called the “prayer of the faithful”). In fact, it should be remembered that the response “Kyrie Eleison” may in fact be made instead of “Lord hear our prayer.” More will be said of this later on.

Here is a polyphonic Kyrie, a Kyrie in Gregorian Chant, and a Modern Kyrie litany:

What is Beauty?

We live today with very high expectations of many things. Culturally we have very demanding standards for beauty, especially in regard to women. We expect them to have appealing “curves” but be slender etc. Even ordinary weight is considered by many as unattractive. All this obsession with perfection leads to low self esteem among women and men too. Further, these high expectations of zero body fat and perfect shape, hair color, skin tone etc. leads to hypercritical and hurtful remarks. There is an old saying that “expectations are premeditated resentments.” Hence this attitude also may have to do with marriage difficulties as the near perfect bodies of youth give way to the more “settled”  bodies of middle age and beyond (gravity and age do have their effects and even if you weighed what you did in High School it doesn’t look the same!) Plastic surgery is a miracle for those with truly catastrophic injury or deformities but today it is too often the refuge of those who have become obsessed with how they look and how they think others regard them. Oh to be free of such obsessions! The picture to the right depicts a woman but men have the problem too.

Help me Lord to be little more comfortable in my own skin. Help me to accept that you like both tall and short people because you made them both. Both the blond and the brunette are from your hand, wavy hair, straight hair wirey hair are all from you and apparently to your liking. Thin and hefty, black, white and all between are from your artistic hand. Help me to love me as you made me. If I should lose weight for health’s sake help me, but if its only about what others might think of me, free me.

Watch this video and see how a very lovely young woman is not lovely enough. She has to be altered, “perfected.”  And when simple natural enhancements are not enough her image must be furthered altered on a computer. Message: the perfect beauty does not exist in the world of media. She must be invented. Then everyone can pine after and spend large amounts of money and time trying look like someone who doesn’t even exist.

Gloria TV News

Today’s news.

The USA is not the only nation to struggle over illegal immigrants. England too wrestles with the question of amnesty.

A Bishop needs to clamp down on Women’s Religious Community over flawed notions of ministry to Homosexual Persons

The Latin American Information Agency demonstrates continued hostility to Church Teaching

Italian Bishops scold the Prime Minister

Diversity on Display – Priests Learn to Sing the Latin Mass

The Traditional Latin Mass can seem challenging to many priests today for several reasons. First many have not studied or mastered the Latin Language. The Latin of the Mass and Breviary is not difficult Latin but it can take a few years for most to feel comfortable celebrating Mass in that language. Second, the ceremonies of the Traditional Latin Mass are much more detailed than the more simplified rituals of the modern Mass. There are more genuflections and signs of the cross, there are details about where to stand at the altar even how to extend one’s hands. These too are not impossible to learn but it takes a little training and a while before a priest might feel comfortable. Third, even if a priests gets comfortable with the low (recited) form of the Mass, the music of the sung form can also provide challenges. Here too the chants are not hard but they are slightly different than the tones used in the modern liturgy.

All these challenges can be met with a little training and time. The following video shows a workshop designed to teach priests how to sing the Traditional Latin Mass

The Mass in Slow Motion – The Penitential Rite

The Penitential Rite in general – Let us recall that we have just acknowledged and celebrated the presence of Christ among us. First we welcomed him as he walked the aisle of our Church, represented by the Priest Celebrant. The altar, another sign and symbol of Christ was then reverenced. Coming to the chair, a symbol of a share in the teaching and governing authority of Christ, the priest  then announced the presence of Christ among us in the liturgical greeting.  Now, in the Bible whenever there was a direct experience of God, there was almost always an experience of unworthiness and even a falling to the ground! Isaiah lamented his sinfulness and needed to be reassured by the angel (Is 6:5). Ezekiel fell to his face before God (Ez. 2:1). Daniel experienced anguish and terror (Dan 7:15). Job was silenced before God and repented (42:6); John the Apostle fell to his face before the glorified and ascended Jesus (Rev 1:17). Further the Book of Hebrews says that we must strive for the holiness without which none shall see the Lord (Heb 12:14). Thus is makes sense that, acknowledging the presence of the Lord and longing to see him more clearly,  we ought to repent of our sins and seek the Lord’s mercy. How can we, who enter the presence of the Holy not see more clearly our sins and desire to be free of them?

Thus, The priest invites them (the congregation) to take part in the penitential rite which the entire community carries out through a communal confession and which the priest’s absolution brings to an end. He uses these or similar words, Let us acknowledge our sins that we may worthily celebrate these sacred mysteries. The priest and people recall their sins and repent of them in silence. The penitential rite may take a number of different forms.

  • A confiteor (I confess) recited by the priest and people together followed by the absolution
  • A rarely used Miserere consisting of the following formula:
    • Lord We have sinned against you. Lord Have Mercy.
    • Lord Have Mercy
    • Lord show us your mercy and love.
    • And grant us your salvation.
  • A Kyrie Litany. There are numerous forms for this given in the sacramentary which are not themselves seen as an exhaustive list since, once again, the directive indicates that “the priest (or some other suitable minister) makes the following or other invocations. Here is one sample:
    • You raise the dead to life in the Spirit. Lord have mercy.
    • You bring pardon and peace to the sinner. Christ have mercy.
    • You bring light to those in darkness. Lord have mercy.

History of the Penitential Rite. It is a rather surprising fact to many that, strictly speaking, there is no history to the penitential rite in the Mass prior to Vatican II. The inclusion of the penitential rite as a communal gesture is an innovation in the new order of the mass. “But Father, but Father!” you might say, “I remember the old Mass and hearing the priest and servers recite the confiteor and strike their chest three times!” True there was a confiteor in the Tridentine Liturgy but this was a private devotional gesture between the priest and the servers done at the foot of the altar which was actually prior to the actual beginning of Mass. Thus the introduction of this element into the Mass itself and as a communal gesture is new. Some have suggested a historical precedent may be found in Protestantism. Communal confession of sins was first introduced into protestant communion services of the 16th century. Others However, see its roots in the Eastern liturgies wherein a penitential act at the beginning of Mass is almost universal and very ancient in origin. The form of this practice varied however and was sometimes linked to the incensing at the beginning of mass. Even as early as the Didache (written ca 90-100 AD) a confession of sins is prescribed before the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist: “On the Lord’s day gather together, break bread and give thanks after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure. Let no one who has a quarrel with his neighbor join you until he is reconciled, lest your sacrifice defiled. For this is that which was proclaimed by the Lord, “In every place and time let there be offered to Me a clean Sacrifice’” Elements of the Penitential rite (the confiteor and the kyrie) do have a history and their histories will be dealt with separately below.

The History of the Confiteor (I Confess). The history of this part of the Mass is somewhat convoluted. The remote history may be found in the Western Liturgy  in the silent worship which the Pope made when he first came to the altar. Later (by the 7thcentury) this silent prayer became more elaborate with the directive being that the celebrant lie prostrate before the altar. Likewise, the nature of the prayer came to be more specified. The celebrant was directed to pour forth prayers for himself of for the sins of the people. The general term for this was the apologiae and may be called the forerunner of the confiteor. Thus a penitential theme is introduced. By the 11th century the Confiteor had developed as a specific dialogue between the Celebrant and those immediately around him. Thus he not only acknowledges his sinfulness before God but also before those who serve him and asks their mediation on his behalf. The actual text of the confiteor, was taken from those used in sacramental confession. The oldest confiteor formulas were simple and brief. For example here is an 11th Century version from Cluny, “I confess to God and before all His saints and you, Father, that I have sinned in thought word and deed through my fault. I ask you to pray for me. They confessed before God and the heavenly Church (i.e. the saints) as well as asking intercession from the Church on earth. In the Gothic period there grew a practice of listing some of the Saints by name. This is evident in the confiteor used in the Tridentine Mass. The shorter, simpler version of the confiteor now prescribed is closer to the oldest formulas although the angels and the Mother of God are still specifically mentioned in addition to the general phrase “all the saints.” Both versions can be compared HERE. One other difference today from the Tridentine Mass is that there is no longer a separate recitation of the confiteor for priest and the servers. Now the communal aspect of the act is stressed even while the personal aspect is retained: I confess.

The History of the Kyrie is much more complicated and will be covered in a  separate post.

Sometimes in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass there is a second recitation of the  Confiteor just prior to communion that may even be sung.

Same-Sex Marriage? How Have We Gotten Here?

As you can see just below there has been a vote of DC City Council to recognize same-sex “marriages” that have been contracted in other states where such unions are legal. There is also the statement of the Archdiocese in response to that vote.

How have we gotten to the place where marriage has been so radically redefined by a growing number in our society? I wonder if it doesn’t come down to a shift in thinking about marriage that took place beginning in the late 1960s? It was during that time that a fundamental understanding about marriage slipped away. What was that understanding?? Simply this: that marriage is about children. Almost everyone today thinks that marriage is about adults and only includes children if it suits the adults. And even if it suits the adults they decide how many children and when. The bottom line is that most people think about marriage today as for and about adults. To be sure, the spouses are surely an important object of consideration in marriage but children provide the essential reference as to why marriage should be structured as it is. It should be stable (no easy divorce) for the sake of the children. It should be heterosexual because that is an obvious prerequisite for child bearing. Parents should seek to establish a strong bond and strive for unity for the sake of the children. Emphasis  should be given to “staying together for the sake of the children” even if there are difficulties in a marriage. But slowly this thinking has slipped away.

The first big chips in the foundations began in the 1950s when the first “Hollywood” divorces began to publicly take place. People, (who love their movie stars!) began to state that if someone is “unhappy” in a marriage that they shouldn’t have to stay. “After all, is happiness not one of the chief ends of marriage?” Or so the thinking began to go. Some even brought God into all of this, “God doesn’t want me to be unhappy does he?”

The second wave of chips in the foundation took place in the sexual revolution of the late 1960s. Now it seemed that if marriage wasn’t about children, neither was sex. Sex came to been seen primarily for pleasure and for the enjoyment of the partners. The link to child bearing was also severed by the large scale availability and use of contraceptives. To be sure there was pleasure to be had in sex but it is also clear from the nature of the act that it is intrinsically linked to child bearing and its very nature was to bring sperm and ova into regular proximity (pardon the biology lesson). Nevertheless all this was set aside by the sexual revolution. Now couples gave sex what ever meaning they chose. If they wanted to link it to having  a child so be it. If they preferred to keep the whole thing sterile through contraception fine too. So here too, as with marriage, the link to children was diminished or entirely dismissed.

So here we are today. If sex and marriage are no longer necessarily linked to children, but only to the adults and what ever meaning they choose to give these then we have an “anything goes” mentality that starts to develop among many. If marriage takes its primary meaning from what adults want rather than the needs of children then why not easy divorce? If marriage is primarily about the happiness of the adults then surely we should not require or even encourage them to stick it out for the sake of the children. If marriage isn’t about children then why can’t same-sex couples marry? Or so the thinking goes. After all if marriage is about happiness, don’t same-sex people deserve to be happy? And if sex is just about pleasure and not really about child bearing who is to say that people can’t engage in it any number of formats: gay, straight but sterile, pre-marital, etc. It’s not about kids so why bother with all the restrictions? Or so the tinking goes.

Well, this is a lot to consider. But here is the bottom line. If marriage is primarily about adults and only incidentally about children then should it surprise us that some have taken this thinking (very common even among Christians today) to the next level?  If marriage and sex aren’t about children but about adults and the meaning they choose to give it then limits to the definition of marriage are decried by increasing numbers as intolerant attacks on the happiness of another (adult).

But Marriage is about children. Yes, adults are involved and they are important, but in the end marriage takes its limits and structure from the fact that it’s primary fruit is children. Proponents of Gay marriage would surely reject this. But sadly, so do many Christians who have long dabbled in a culture of easy divorce, tolerated promiscuity and notions that my primary right is always to be happy and seldom inconvenienced.

Archdiocese of Washington Issues Statement on City Council Recognition of Same-Sex Marriage

Archdiocese of Washington on D.C. City Council Vote to Recognize Same-Sex Relationships from Other States:

The Archdiocese of Washington is gravely concerned that the District of Columbia City Council has voted to recognize same-sex “marriages” from other states. This vote shows a lack of understanding of the true meaning of marriage.   

Furthermore, considering the importance of this issue for families throughout the city, the archdiocese is dismayed that the Council chose to push this measure through as an amendment without hearings or giving their constituents the opportunity to voice their concerns to their elected officials. 

Marriage is a natural institution established by God and written in the very nature of man and woman and is therefore endowed with its own proper laws. The equality of men and women and the dignity of their coming together as husband and wife is not merely a fact of religious faith or a institution established by civil authorities, but a fundamental reality rooted in human nature and experience. Civil marriage is not simply a union of two people who love each other and are committed to each other, but it is reserved to the union of one man and one woman because of their unique ability to bring children into the world, which forms a stable and secure foundation for our society. 

By bestowing unmarried couples the same status as those who are married, this measure dismisses the true meaning of marriage. We urge our elected officials to respect the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman as understood throughout all time.

Jewish and Catholic Discussions

The latest edition of the news contains a report about a rather startling but growing phenomnenon, that of Jewish leaders insisting that the Pope should acknowledge that Jews do not need to accept Christ in order to be saved.  The Jerusalem Post reports  that Deborah Weissman, co-chairwoman of the Interreligious Coordination Council in Jerusalem (a commission that, among other things is preparing for the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land), said she hoped an alleged “ambivalence” of the Pope on theological issues affecting Jews would be clarified. She said the Pope still had not made it absolutely clear that Jews did not need to embrace the belief that Jesus was the Messiah to be redeemed.

Why is this notion being insisted upon by her and an increasing number of Jewish leaders?  That Jesus alone can save us is a clear and essential dogma of Christian Faith. There is no exemption of any group, nation, or people in the mandate Jesus gave us to make disciples of all nations and baptize them (Matt 28:19 inter al.) For someone to insist that we set aside one of our most fundamentalal teachings and abandon the mandate of Christ to go unto all the world is astonishing in its boldness and displays remarkable insensitivity. I want to stipulate that not all or even many Jewish leaders are insisting on this but those that are simply ask too much.

It is also necessary to state that the Catholic position on salvation is not mechanistic. We do not teach that only  “card-carrying”  Christians go to heaven.  But neither do we teach that accepting or not accepting Christ is just some incidental formality. We are under a mandate of Jesus Christ to go unto all the nations, to summon everyone to explicit faith in Jesus Christ. We do this respectfully, but we must do it. We do it because we love and seek union with all in Christ Jesus. We do not presume that non-Christians have nothing to offer or are in a hopeless situation. Rather respecting the dignity and gift of every human person we seek union with them in Christ and acknowledge that everyone, every nation, every people bring great richness to the Church. But the truth is that everyone needs Jesus Christ. To ask us to deny this is to ask us to deny our faith and our Lord. 

Again let me emphasize that the Catholic position on the salvation of anyone who is unbaptized is nuanced.  We hold that Baptism is necessary for salvation and that outside the Church there is no salvation. But these truths are not understood in a simplistic or merely mechanistic way. There are some who have not fully come to understand their need to accept Christ and enter the Church. Perhaps it is because they were not effectively evangelized. Perhaps it is due to cultural factors that prevent them from accepting the claims of Christ and the Church. Perhaps they were exposed to poor examples of Christianity or Christians. But if they have sincerely sought the truth, God will surely acknowledge their sincerity. However. this acknowledgement of the patience and mercy of God cannot allow us to become weakened in our resolve to obey Jesus’ mandate that we bring every nation and individualal to explicit discipleship.

It is probably best to let the Catechism of the Catholic Church speak for itself:

Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men. (CCC # 848)

And now to the video that sparked these reflections! Gloria TV news provides a wonderful service in bringing worldwide Catholic news to our attention in a short and accessible way. Almost everyday they provide these wonderful updates on the Church throughout the world