Liturgy: Introit, Kyrie, and Gloria
After confessing our sins and receiving assurance of our forgiveness, the liturgy continues with the Introit (on page 62 in our Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary). ‘Introit’ is a Latin word meaning ‘entrance’ or ‘coming in.’ Because we have been cleansed from sin, it is at this point that we can actually ‘come in’ to the presence of the Lord for worship. In old traditions, the pastor does not ‘enter in’ to the altar space behind the Communion rail until this point of the service.
The Introit is a portion of a psalm which gives the theme for the particular Sunday and points the way for everything that will follow in the rest of the worship service. Whenever we use the Psalms in church, we always conclude them with the Gloria Patri (the “Glory be to the Father . . . “) to emphasize that the Psalms are the hymns of the Christian Church, not just of the Old Testament Israelites. This little doxology demonstrates that our God is Triune: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Originally, the phrase ‘Kyrie eleison’ (Greek words meaning ‘Lord, have mercy’) was a praise-shout similar to the Hebrew shout ‘Hosanna’ or the modern ‘Amen, brother!’ But by the 400s A.D. the phrase was adapted into the Christian church’s liturgy.
When used in the worship service, the Kyrie is sung in a somber tone, crying to our Lord for his help and mercy in all the needs of this earthly body and life. The petition “Lord, have mercy” is found in many psalms as well as in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It is always a cry for help in distress—blindness, leprosy, sickness, etc.
(There are, however, two psalms in which the Kyrie is used as a plea for forgiveness. Rite I in our Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary uses the Kyrie with that meaning instead on page 42.)
Gloria in Excelsis
The Gloria in Excelsis is the song sung by the angels in the shepherds’ field on Christmas Eve. Martin Luther said the Gloria “did not grow, nor was it made on earth, but it came down from heaven.” The earliest known date for the Gloria in a worship service is A.D. 126.
The Gloria follows the Kyrie immediately in a swift change of mood. It is an outburst of joy and praise to the Holy Trinity that lifts the worshiper from thoughts of human need to glorification of God’s majesty, power, and holiness. (We skip the Gloria during the penitential church seasons of Advent and Lent so we remain in the somber mood.)
In the “Glory Be to God on High” we rejoice in our Lord who came to earth to bring us his peace. We can sing the song just like the angels on Christmas Eve, because Jesus was born for us!