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How Lutherans Worship – 7

October 20th, 2006 by ScotK

Previous post: Service of the Word and The Introit


As we draw toward the reading of God’s Word we join with all the faithful through the ages and ask the Lord for mercy. The Kyrie is a litany, or a prayer recited in parts.

Latin Kyrie, eleison, Lord, have mercy.

The Kyrie is the first prayer of the gathered congregation.

Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord have mercy upon us.

The Kyrie, then, is not a confession of our sins but an expression of our emptiness without God and our need for him to be present and fill us with his grace. The Kyrie is the heartfelt cry for mercy that our Lord and King hear us and help us in our necessities and troubles. This most basic prayer is encountered frequently in Scripture, for example, the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15: 22) and the Ten Lepers (Luke 17: 13).

Mark 10:47
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

The ancient three-fold Kyrie is often omitted and in its place one finds the litany form of the Kyrie.

In peace let us pray to the Lord.
Lord have mercy.

For the peace from above and for our salvation let us pray to the Lord.
Lord have mercy.

For the peace of the whole world, for the well-being of the church of God, and for the unity of all let us pray to the Lord.
Lord have mercy.

For this holy house and for all who offer here their worship and praise let us pray to the Lord.
Lord have mercy.

Help, save, comfort and defend us gracious Lord.

This form of the Kyrie, found in many of the more contemporary orders of Divine Service, acknowledges the gift that will be received as Christ comes to us in his Word—the gift of peace—peace from above, peace for the whole world, peace that brings wholeness and well-being, peace that bring unity. We have this peace on account of the all-sufficient atoning death of Jesus.


John 1:29
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

The cry for mercy and acknowledgment of God’s gracious peace is answered in the traditional Hymn of Praise, the Gloria in Excelsis. The Lord has had mercy upon us—he has sent his Son to meet our need. Confident that the Lord is merciful, we join the whole Church and all the angels in singing Glory to God.

gloria in excelsis
Latin Glory to God in the highest

The Pastor begins the Gloria with the angelic hymn in Luke 2: 14: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth.” The congregation follows with the earthly confirmation of the praise. In this way the Divine Service commemorates the inaugural event in the life of Christ.—his birth. This ancient and incomparable hymn of praise spells out the whole plan of salvation to us, and we, along with the shepherds, are invited to go and see Jesus in the Scripture Readings that follow.

Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth.
Lord God, heavenly king, almighty God and Father: We worship You, we give You thanks, we praise You for Your glory. Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God: You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us. You are seated at the right hand of the Father; receive our prayer. For You alone are the Holy One, You alone are the Lord, You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Attached to the angel’s song is a Trinitarian hymn that proclaims that the peace prayed for in the Kyrie is answered in the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Gloria announces what will be experienced by the people of God gathered in worship, that is the presence of the Lamb who died and rose again and is now seated at the right hand of the Father, the Lamb who is the host of the ongoing Feast in heaven, of which our Supper is a foretaste. We join Gabriel in rightly calling the Lamb of God holy, and by so doing we declare that the very space in which we have gathered for the Divine Service is holy because of presence of the Holy One of God.

While it is difficult to be exact about the origins of the Gloria in Excelsis, we can assume that it was established throughout Christendom as part of the Divine Service since before the fourth century. There is some who would claim its origins go back to about A.D. 136 as a Christmas hymn.

Next: Excursus: The Trinitarian Nature of the Lord’s Supper


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