Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Extraordinary Form: The Kyrie and Gloria

What we cover today is one of the oldest aspects of any liturgy. After reciting the Introit, the priest returns to the center of the altar, and says the Kyrie: a triple repetition of the phrase Kyrie Eleison, followed by triple repetitions of Christe Eleison, then another Kyrie. Translated, it is the statements Lord Have Mercy, Christ Have Mercy, Lord have Mercy. In a symbolism of the Holy Trinity, all three persons are addressed three times.

Many will say that this is an imploring of the Trinity for the forgiveness of sins. While true in a certain sense, a deeper meaning is missed. In the Confiteor, we asked for the forgiving of our sins and everlasting life. To limit this simply to asking for forgiveness would be a pointless repetition. To better understand the real importance of the plea, a little bit of background is needed.

In the early days of Christianity and the liturgy, the dominating cultural influence was the Roman Empire. The Empire was led by Caesar. As the Empire grew and strengthened, Caesar started taking on quasi-divine (in the case of Julius Caesar) to divine attributes even during their life. The very honorific of Augustus implied divinity. As the cult surrounding the Emperor grew (especially in the Eastern parts of the Empire), people began to declare “Caesar Kyros!”, or Caesar is Lord. The Kyrie became an imploring for Caesar’s favor towards the person making it.

As we have seen in earlier parts of our discussion, the beginning of the Mass has a very strong structure between it: unlike the nations, we have chosen God to rule over our lives and hearts. I submit it is this context in which the Kyrie is best understood. Like the world, we implore whom we believe to be our Deity for favor. Yet we explicitly invoke Christ as the Lord and King of creation. In addition to being forgiven of our sins, we ask that Christ’s favor fall upon us. To have the favor of the God and King of creation is a great blessing indeed.

As a confidence of the reception of that favor, the priest then intones the Gloria. During a High Mass, he chants”Gloria in Excelsis Deo.” After receiving God’s favor, it is only fitting that we acknowledge this fact by giving him that glory. His favor does not rest on us through our own merits. If we could accomplish this by our own merits, there would be no reason to implore his favor. There would be no need of even coming to Mass if we could do everything on our own merits.

Once the Gloria is intoned, the statement et in terra pax homnibus, bonae voluntatis is used. Modern translations have rendered this “and peace to his people on earth”, which can barely even be called a transliteration. It is more a simple imagination. The actual text implies far more.

The Latin could be roughly translated as “and on earth peace be to men of good will.” Note well what is said there. In order to receive God’s favor, one must be of good will. A baptized Christian, by virtue of his baptism, is one of “God’s people.” Yet we know that God does not just grant his favor to anybody. You must be properly disposed to receive that favor. You cannot claim God’s favor and live a life of sin. Keeping with the overall flow of the Mass, we can only be of “good will” if we recognize our dependence on God, and choose to serve Him. To all who proclaim Christe Eleison with a sincere heart and a desire to serve God, He will grant them His favor. We say it aloud as proof of that claim. Anyone can claim to wish to serve God privately. The liturgy demands that such a declaration occur in public.

Filled with this knowledge, let us always be of that good will.

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