For the next two months we will be using Divine Service Setting One as the liturgy for our Sunday worship. Instead of returning at the end of the summer to Divine Service Setting Three (the “old” service), this year we will be using the service that we usually use during the seasons of Advent and Easter. While the congregation has grown to appreciate this new liturgy, especially the canticle, “This is the Feast,” there are parts of the service that remain hesitant. The repetition of Divine Service Setting One during the remainder of the summer and early fall will allow us to become more confident in its use. Psalm 108:1 says, “I will sing and give praise with the best member that I have.” We practice this service so that we may offer to the Lord, “true and laudable service.”
The part in this liturgy that challenges us most is the Kyrie. This month my aim is to help the congregation understand, appreciate, and learn to sing this version of the Kyrie.
The Kyrie in the old service was very short. That Kyrie was sung three times in succession and then the next part of the liturgy was immediately sung. In that service we went right from, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy,” to “Glory be to God on High.” In the new service, however, the words, “Lord, have mercy” are sung four times, yet not in succession, but each time only after the pastor has sung a prayer for the needs of the church and world.
When we experience differences in the services, it is first important to recognize that each service highlights and emphasizes things that other services do not. This service emphasizes the Kyrie, the request for mercy from God. Rather than making it a short part in the liturgy it is extended for emphasis. As we begin our worship, this portion of the liturgy functions to bring our need for peace and protection to the Lord. We begin the service recognizing not merely our general need for mercy from Him (as in the other services), but the specific areas of our life that are in need of His help. As creatures who live in this world, we are vulnerable. In what is the first prayer of the service, we voice our confession that without Him we would have no one to protect us.
In my research of this version of the Kyrie, I was surprised to learn that the extended form of the Kyrie has actually been around longer in the church than the shorter one! While to us it is “new,” the Kyrie was shortened around 600 A.D., about 200 years after the longer version appeared. Even then the church retained the extended Kyrie for festivals and solemn feast days. In this way the church of old followed a pattern very much similar to our own of using both types of Kyries.
While this Kyrie is longer, its difficulty lies not in this, but primarily that the melody line of each response changes with each successive response. While there are five responses in this version of the Kyrie (including the final Amen), the tune is changed nearly every time! But rather than purposefully making it difficult for us, the composer varied the musical response to give voice to our prayers. Hear me out. The first response is very simple, the second and third response get more complex, the fourth response returns to a simpler form, and the final response ends with a sturdy “Amen.” In a similar way our prayers to the Lord often start quietly and simply, grow in their fervency and intensity as our need increases, and conclude with our belief that God will answer. While it might seem strange to put it this way, the different musical responses are “saying” in so many words, “Lord, I need your mercy,” “Lord, I really need your mercy.” “Lord, how truly I stand in desperate need of your mercy.” “Lord, I need it.” “Amen, Lord, even as I have called on you, so you have surely answered before I even called.” The Kyrie has sometimes been called, “the cry for mercy.” The music of this part of the service truly expresses the cries and utterings of our heart.
There is a rhythm to the services that are used throughout the year. Each service says the same things about Christ, but in a different way. Just as not all sunrises look the same, neither do all liturgies. The different liturgies have a wonderful method of expressing, in new and fresh manners, God’s mercies which are always new. Maybe in heaven all our liturgies will be the same for we will not be subject to the dull and senseless minds that we now have, yet for now, on this side of heaven, these services are learned and prayed so that they might lead and instruct us in the way of Christ.
There is a prayer that is prayed before the Sunday service that goes something like this. “Preserve us, O Lord, from thoughtless worship.” Our prayer is that the Lord’s Word would not just be on our lips, but would also be in our minds and hearts as well. In this life the differences in the various liturgies assist with these things, yet even when we find parts of the liturgy that may not be known to us, we sing them to God “with the best member that we have.” (Psalm 108:1) As David said in Psalm 19, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.”
May the Lord bless our worship.