This past Sunday, and all during the season of Lent, we at Bethany Lutheran – Naperville, Illinois, sing the Kyrie according to Lutheran Service Book (LSB) 944, “Kyrie – II.” It is the standard Kyrie but in Greek. It is beautiful, meaningful and authentic. The congregation has learned it well enough that we were even able to sing part of it a cappella.
We English-speakers regularly use foreign phrases in our conversation like “gesundheit” and “bon appetit.” Therefore it should not be surprising when we use a little Greek and Latin in the Divine Service.
It is off-puting then that practitioners of Contemporary Worship (CoWo) often complain about the use of ancient languages in the Divine Service in keeping with their complaints that the historic liturgy is generally old-fashioned and incapable of relating to those in our current pop culture.
Singing the Kyrie in Greek seems to be working just fine in the heart of pop culture in the thriving, yuppie, baby-boom, post-modern Chicago suburb of Naperville. As a matter of fact, if I were to judge the liturgy last Sunday on an emotional scale, I would say that the Kyrie was one of the more emotionally meaningful parts of the Divine Service. It helped that at the late service our high school youth choir sang a beautiful descant. (Yes Virginia, we do have a high school youth choir that assists the congregational singing of the liturgy and they do learn Greek and sing it.)
Singing parts of the liturgy in ancient languages, in doses that allow the average person to realize in English what they are singing, is a helpful, godly and pious practice. It keeps us tethered to the 2,000 year old liturgy. It helps us realize that we are not worshipping God according to some recently devised form but according to forms that have survived for generations. It also helps us to realize that the we worship with angels, archangels and all the company of heaven. It even brings an ethereal element into worship which helps us to transcend daily life and realize that this hour or so on Sunday morning is the most unique and important hour of the week. It is the hour when the Lord comes to us in His Word and in the Supper and bathes us in his eternal mercy – Kyrie Eleison!