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Andrew Motyka is the Archdiocesan Director of Liturgical Music and Cathedral Music for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
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“Indeed, we may not hope for real Latin poetry any more, because Latin is now a dead language to all of us. However well a man may read, write, or even speak Latin now, it is always a foreign language to him, acquired artificially. It is no one's mother tongue. Does a man ever write real poetry in an acquired language?”
— Rev’d Adrian Fortescue (d. 1923)

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Lord, Have Mercy?
published 13 February 2013 by Andrew R. Motyka

ITURGISTS SOMETIMES have to be pedantic. Now, I can hear some people objecting, “Pedantic? All liturgists I have met are reasonable, good-looking, and exercise an amazing sense of proportion.” All these things are true, but sometimes we liturgists get caught up in the nitty-gritty of liturgical norms, and we focus on things that may seem trivial to the average person.

In one such rare moment, when combing through the rubrics for Ash Wednesday, I found some directions that were about as clear as mud. The Roman Missal actually does a very good job at keeping its directives clear, but here is a strange one that has come up on several message boards in which I have taken part: is there a Kyrie on Ash Wednesday?

My gut reaction is no. After all, according to the Missal, the Penitential Act is omitted on Ash Wednesday. “But wait a minute,” says that one-in-a-million annoying liturgist, “the Kyrie is not, in fact, part of the Penitential Act, except when it is.”

That annoying guy is right. According to the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM) #46, “ The rites that precede the Liturgy of the Word, namely, the Entrance, the Greeting, the Penitential Act, the Kyrie, the Gloria in excelsis (Glory to God in the highest) and Collect…” The Kyrie is distinguished from the Penitential Act. It happens again in GIRM #52: “After the Penitential Act, the Kyrie, eleison (Lord, have mercy), is always begun, unless it has already been part of the Penitential Act.” Again, the Kyrie is after, not part of, the Penitential Act.

Side note: the reference to “unless it has already been part of the Penitential Act” refers to the third option, formerly called Form C. The Penitential Act Formerly Known as Form C has the “troped” Kyrie: Lord, you were sent to heal the contrite, Lord have mercy, etc.” When this form is used, the Kyrie is omitted.

Since the Penitential Act is omitted on Ash Wednesday, but the Kyrie is not part of the Penitential Act, should it be used? It gets even better. According to the Ceremonial of Bishops #255, The introductory rites of the Mass and, as circumstances suggest, also the Kyrie are omitted, and the bishop immediately says the opening prayer.

“As circumstances suggest.” That is the prevailing directive. I hesitate to say this, but it seems that on Ash Wednesday the Kyrie is…optional. I shudder at the very thought. For what it is worth, we will use it at our Cathedral. The Archbishop will process to his chair and we will immediately begin the Kyrie.

Should you use the Kyrie? Ultimately, that decision rests with the individual that signs your paycheck.