The Kýrie in the Roman Mass is thought by many scholars to be a vestigial remnant of a litany at the beginning of mass, much like that of the Eastern Churches. The traditional form of the Kýrie in Western Christianity is a transliteration of the Greek prayer into Latin, and is often used in this form both in vernacular and in Latin-language Masses.
Kýrie, eléison; Christé, eléison; Kýrie, eléison.
“Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.”
The text occurs early in the Ordinary of the Mass, directly following the Penitential Rite. However, since an alternative form C of the Penitential Rite of the Mass of Paul VI incorporates the Kýrie text, no additional Kýrie is recited when this form is used.
The Penitential Rite and Kýrie are omitted when the Rite of Sprinkling is celebrated, according to this modern use.
The Kýrie is the first sung text in the Ordinary of the pre-1969 Tridentine Mass, and is usually a part of any musical setting of the Mass. Kýrie movements often have an ternary (ABA) musical structure that reflects the symmetrical structure of the text. Today it is usually sung either by the cantor, choir, and congregation, or by choir and congregation. Musical settings vary in style from Gregorian chant to Folk to choral.
The Dunkeld Kyrie is an example of a setting designed with a simple but accessible tune for the congregation and led and supported harmonically by the choir. The shape of the melody may remind people of some familiar but unspecific Scottish songs.
The Byrd Kyrie is a most evocative example of how it used to be done in the age of choirs – while it is beautiful one still would have to be mindful of the obligation to respect the rights of congregations to participate actively in these core texts of the Mass.