As we enter each different season of the Church year it is important that our liturgy resembles the “mood”, so-to-speak, of what that particular season is all about. In our parish we have traditionally introduced the Greek form of the “Lord, have mercy”, which follows the Penitential Rite in singing the three-fold Kyrie both in Advent and during Lent, although these two preparatory seasons have a very different focus and intent one from another. In Advent, for example, we omit the singing of the Gloria at the beginning of Mass, not in a penitential way but in saving our energy to truly sing Glory to God, as the angels did at the birth of the Messiah. Part of the introductory rites of the Roman Catholic Mass, the Kyrie Eleison (Greek for “Lord, have mercy”) is a song by which the faithful praise the Lord and implore his mercy.
The beginnings of the Kyrie Eleison can be found in Holy Scripture, mostly in the book that served as the Church’s first prayer book, the Book of Psalms (“Have pity on me, O Lord …” Psalm 6:3).
Written origins of the Kyrie can be traced to the fourth century. In 390 A.D. the Gallic pilgrim Lady Aetheria tells how in Jerusalem at the end of Vespers one of the deacons read a list of petitions and “as he spoke each of the names, a crowd of boys stood there and answered him each time, ‘Kyrie Eleison’ … their cry is without end.” The Kyrie was finally incorporated into the Latin sacramentary in the sixth century.
Since Vatican II, the Kyrie has been translated into English and is ordinarily prayed/sung by the assembly (which means everyone, ministers included) after the Penitential Rite, in keeping with the rubrics (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 30-31). As a rule, each of the acclamations is said twice (e.g. Presider: “Lord, have mercy.” Assembly: “Lord, have mercy.” P: “Christ, have mercy.” A: “Christ, have mercy.” P: “Lord, have mercy.” A: “Lord have mercy.”)
Why is the Kyrie in Greek? It harkens back to the earliest years of the Church, when the members of the Church in Rome themselves used Greek, and Greek was the language of worship until about the middle of the third century. During the days of the Latin Mass, it was the only remaining Greek prayer.
In our parish we have sung the Kyrie Eleison on our knees as part of the penitential rite as it is primarily a penitential season. Advent will find us waiting for the Lord mindful of our need for the mercy of God which does not seek to simply give us what we deserve but what He wills. We receive mercy in that we should seek to bestow it on others. “Mercy imitates God and disappoints Satan”, said St. John Chrysostom.
HURRY UP…. and Wait!
The header to this bulletin article could in some ways sum up the difficulty for us modern day disciples in following the Lord and adhering to the message of Advent. I don’t know about you or others, but I am not all that good at waiting sometimes, especially if I am in a hurry. There just never seems to be enough time, enough hours in the day to do everything that needs to be done. I walk around with a cloud of things that remain to be done, some things that need to be done in the next day or so – like the people that I need to call back, book an appointment with, or the bulletin article that needs to be submitted before the weekly Wednesday noon deadline. And there are those other things that we intend to look into doing – like getting back into shape (that is if I was ever in shape), but are easily put off until another day because there are so many other present demands. Someone once coined the phrase about the insistence of pressing present needs as the “tyranny of the urgent”, and boy does that phrase ever say it for me. The needs of the moment can serve as task masters to our days and even over the things we would rather be doing, no matter how important and essential those things may be.
And then Advent comes along again and tells us, urges us, demands of us, that we stop what we are doing, whatever we are doing, and wait. Well, wait for what? Wait for Jesus. But Jesus already came over 2,000 years ago and we mark that coming as His birth, the Incarnation, with the celebration and feast we call Christmas. And we do, but in the wisdom of the Church and in the wisdom of the ages we are told to wait. In fact, most of our childhood remembrances of Christmas will remind us that this has always been a difficult time of the year to wait particularly when we just couldn’t wait to see what Santa was going to bring us or what would be waiting for us under the tree on Christmas morning. Just saying this reminds me of my youth and the Christmas morning anticipation.
As one of seven children I remember sitting on my brother or sisters bed late at night talking about Christmas, sharing with one another what excited us most about it. We would talk about what we had hoped to receive as a present on Christmas morn and would describe to one another what we most admired about that requested gift. Even just talking about it made us all the more anxious about getting it.
There is an anxiety that comes with getting older, I think. When you are young the whole world and the future it holds for you seems just beyond your grasp – and the horizon of its unfolding in reality always still so very far away. We can become anxious at times in starting to live out the dreams that come with growing up. Yet once the years start to tick by then there is a creeping desire to apply the brakes a bit and slow things down, especially as we discover that the older we get and busier we get, the more time seems to accelerate. We start to wonder where the time has gone as we leave our youth in the distance of the past that, like a farm we just passed on a country road, seems to get smaller and smaller the more distance we travel from it.
All around us people are busy getting Christmas started while at the same time the Church is calling us to wait until Christmas to celebrate Christmas. A worthy entering into the “waiting” of this Advent will find us not passively anticipating Christmas but waiting for the present-tense searching for the Lord’s return with joy. Jesus came in history (the past reality); Jesus comes to us now in the today moment (mystery), and His future coming should be awaited with preparation and joyful hope. Advent will train us to be active disciples who await the coming of the Lord always. Happy Advent! (Fr. Charles)