Non Solum: Kyrie Tropes

A reader recently wrote Pray Tell asking about Kyrie tropes. The tropes of the Kyrie provide a unique opportunity for tailoring the liturgy to the concerns of the faithful.

The GIRM says this about the Kyrie: “[I]t is a chant by which the faithful acclaim the Lord and implore his mercy, it is usually executed by everyone…When the Kyrie is sung as a part of the Penitential Act, a ‘trope’ precedes each acclamation.” Since the Kyrie is expected to be sung or said by everyone, and since it is meant to be an invocation, it makes sense that this would be a place where the liturgy could be tailored to the needs of the community.

The rubrics even allow for the tropes of the Kyrie to be changed: “The Priest, or a Deacon or another minister, then says the following or other invocations with the Kyrie, eleison.” There is a footnote in the text that directs the reader to sample invocations found in Appendix VI of the Roman Missal.

While liturgists often take a lot of time to prepare the prayers of the faithful, they seem to ignore the fact that Kyrie tropes can be composed.

Does your community create their own Kyrie tropes? What resources do they use? What are their guiding principles when composing new tropes?

Please comment below.


  1. One small point of contention: just because the GIRM says that the Kyrie is “usually” sung by everyone does not mean that it is “expected” to be sung by everyone. It may, in fact, be licitly sung by a choir. However, it would be highly unusual to have a choral setting of Form C, which is the one that is troped – that form makes much more sense sung with the congregation.

    Also, I really wish the Missal would be consistent about whether the Kyrie is part of the Penitential Act or not. It’s really confusing.

  2. To Doug’s point about participation of the choir in Penitential Act C (sorry to ignore the focus of the post on the text of “tropes”):

    A visit to Catholic TV online and Sunday Masses in Lent from the University of Notre Dame will demonstrate the possibility of choral invocations with the congregation responding with Kyrie. The Notre Dame setting was composed by Prof. Calvin Bower some 35 years ago, with invocations beautifully tailored to the Lectionary pericopes for each Sunday in Lent. I used to do this sort of thing in a “poly-choral” way: SATB choir on the invocation, Treble Chorus (children) on the Kyrie intonation, Congregation on the Kyrie response. The Assembly is fully engaged when several constituent parts are audible in the Introductory Rites. Rich opportunities for musical elaboration while maintain frequenty and vigiorous vocalization of the liturgical assembly as a whole. Win-win.

    1. @Kevin Vogt – comment #2:
      Touche, Kevin – that’s a creative idea ( always did like you ideas :)) I suppose I was thinking of the Kyrie proper, which in your example is still sung by the congregation. That also helps to clarify the difference between “tropes” and “invocations.”

  3. Another divertimento for others with undiagnosed ADD: Are the “invocations” of Penitential Act C really “tropes?”

  4. Our pastor always writes invocations (which I think is a better word for these than “tropes”) that fit with his homily. When I am preaching (i.e. when the pastor doesn’t provide invocations for me to use) I just use one of those in the book, usually choosing one that fits the season or the readings (in case you’ve never noticed, of the samples in the appendix, I fits Advent, II fits Christmas, III fits Lent, IV fits Easter, and V-VII lend themselves to a variety of uses).

    I’d like to think that it’s not just laziness on my part that makes me limit my repertoire. If you think about it, apart from what we used to call the “ordinary” of the Mass, a lot changes from week to week. Every Sunday people sing different songs, pray along with different orations, and hear different readings. All that new info is a lot to absorb in an hour on Sunday mornings. Variety is the spice of life, but repetition is its meat and potatoes. So I am deliberate in my decision that the penitential rite is a place where less variety is more. (Of course since three Sundays out of four the pastor writes his own, I suspect my point is lost on the congregation).

  5. How can we be certain that if layfolk wrote the kyrie tropes (of which i am one) we would not create the same situation that happened with the Agnus tropes? It was so abused, that the Vat had to step in. What would be different?

  6. They’re not tropes–Trent did away with those, as they were being abused. Everything was being “troped,” not just the Kyrie. If we’re returning to “apostolic purity,” the Kyrie is the remainder of a litany (just like the prayer of the faithful/general intercessions is a remainder of a litany also), which are both still in place in the Divine Liturgy of Orthodox and some Eastern Catholic Churches. Then again, if you’re inserting invocations with a “Kyrie/Christe” response at the beginning of Mass and doing it again after the Credo, you’re repeating or multiplying prayers of a similar nature, which is something Vatican II revisions did away with.

  7. The “New Advent Encyclopedia” does define ‘trope” as a juxtaposition of a text around or within a liturgical text, possibly as an introduction as well as an interpolation or addition. That the Roman Missal uses this terminology for the invocations of Penitential Act C suggests its use in a broad sense. Does anyone know of an historical type of trope that “introduces” the liturgical text (rather than, say accompanying melismas within or at the end of a chant)?

  8. Thanks Kevin–my music history courses in college used much the same definition: interpolations or additions into a text. We even had listening examples from a Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei.
    Regardless of what they’re called, another litany-type prayer of petitions and responses is being created, duplicating the general intercessions. If the made up petitions are not penitential in nature, it’s even more troubling.

  9. Forgive me for citing specialist literature, but the volume edited by Alejandro Enrique Planchart entitled _Embellishing the Liturgy: Tropes and Polyphony_ (Farnham, Surrey-Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2009): “The basic typology of these additions is, at first glance, relatively simple. 1. The addition of a melisma without additional text. These were usually labeled _sequentia_ or _tropus_ (a Latinized Greek term subjected to various spellings) depending on the context. 2. The addition of words to a pre-existing melody (usually a melisma). These were labeled _prosula_, _prosa_, _versus_, _verba_, or even _tropus_ in different sources and contexts. 3. The addition of new text _and_ music to an existing chant, either as an introduction or as an interpolation. These were labelled _tropus_, _versus_, or _laudes_, depending most of the time on the context. Clearly there was no systematic terminology for the genres in the Middle Ages, and not only are the labels applied inconsistently from source to source or even within one source, but there are numerous instances where examples of one or another of these genres occur with no label whatsoever.” [xi]

  10. Looking at ##2 and 3 from the above typology, Planchart calls our attention to: [2] The Addition of Words to a Melody: Prosulas and Verses, citing [a] prosulas to the Gradual and Tract; [b] prosulas to the Alleluia; [c] prosulas to the Offertory and its verses; [d] prosulas to the Responsories; [e] prosulas to the Sanctus and the Osanna; [f] prosulas to the _Regnum tuum solidum_. He then notes that the embellishments of the Kyrie eleison “presents a number of unique problems,” since there are at least three traditions: West Frankish, East Frankish, and south Italian. When he turns to [3] Textual and Musical Additions, he cites [a] tropes to the Introit; [b] tropes to the Gradual and the Alleluia; [c] tropes to the _Sequentia_; [d] tropes to the Offertory; [e] tropes to the Communion; [f] tropes to the Fraction Antiphon; [g] Kyrie tropes; [h] tropes to the Gloria; [i] tropes to the Sanctus; [j] tropes to the Agnus Dei; [k] tropes to the Ite missa best; [l] tropes to the Benedicamus Domino; [m] tropes to the lessons, the prayers and the Credo; [n] tropes to the Marian antiphons. Clearly significant liturgical creativity was devoted, especially in monastic settings, in producing these repertoires.

  11. Re: Kevin Vogt at #9: David Hiley’s _Western Plainchant_ (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993) 221 provides a perfect example of a trope “introducing” an Introit text: “Deus pater filium suum hodie misit in mundum, de quo gratulanter dicamus cum propheta: PUER NATUS EST NOBIS ET FILIUS DATUS EST NOBIS….” [Today God the Father sent his son into the world, concerning which we sing rejoicing with the prophet: A BOY IS BORN FOR US AND A SON IS GIVEN TO US….]

  12. Re: John Kohanski at #10. Since the GIRM indicates that the “Kyrie eleison” BOTH “acclaims the Lord and implores his mercy” it may be helpful to consider medieval Kyrie chants that address 3 invocations to God the Father, 3 to Christ, and 3 to the Holy Spirit by means of tropes. Notice the mixture of languages, how the trope appears between the two words of the Greek phrase, how the trope is set syllable-by-syllable to the melisma of the chanted Greek phrases, and how the invocations mix acclamatory statements about the Divine Persons with requests for their mercy.
    1. Kyrie fons bonitatis pater ingenite a quo bona cuncta procedunt eleyson. 2. Kyrie qui pati natum mundi pro crimine ipsum ut salvaret misisti eleison. 3. Kyrie qui septiformi das dona pneumate a quo celum terra repletur eleison.
    4. Christe unice Dei patris genite quem de virgine nasciturum mundo mirifice sancti praedixerunt prophete eleyson. 5. Christe agye celi compos regie melos gloriae cui semper adstans pro numine angelorum decantat apex eleyson. 6. Christe celitus adsis nostris precibus pronis mentibus quem in terris devote colimus ad te pie Ihesu calamantes eleison.
    7. Kyrie spiritus alme coherens patri natoque unius usie consistendo flans ab utroque eleison. 8. Kirie qui baptizato in Iordanis unda Christo effulgens specie columbina apparuisti eleison. 9. Kyrie ignis divine pectora nostra succende ut digni pariter proclamare possimus sempter eleison. (Hiley, _Western Plainchant_, 212).

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