If it’s not Greek, it’s Welsh

When I was a child there was a part of the Roman Catholic mass that I loved. It was the Kyrie Eleison. Those words were the only Greek used in the Latin Mass. Don’t ask me why, cos I don’t know.

Today in the Coronation of Charles III, those words were sung in Welsh by the glorious fabulous Bryn Terfel, and it was still called The Kyrie Eleison ( Lord have Mercy). The version I loved as a youngster was Bach’s composition in his Mass in B Minor, and I just accepted that it was a Greek prayer in a Latin mass, composed by a German and loved by an Irish girl living in England. Confusing, innit? But it’s a reminder that for thousands of years we have worshipped in hundreds of languages and cultures, different words, different music, different rituals, but the same love of God. Here is Bryn’s Kyrie.

The translation to English reveals its simplicity, the profound prayer ‘Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us.’ (sorry about the commentator chipping in briefly)

Right at the very end of the ceremony today, when the King was leaving, the hymn everyone belted out was ‘Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven’ and as the words came up on the TV screen I saw something in them that I had never seen before;

Sun and moon, bow down before him,
Dwellers all in time and space.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise with us the God of grace!

And wham! It hit me. God is out of time and out of space. He is beyond language, beyond the now and the past and the future, he is entirely – but entirely – other. That’s why Bryn sings his heart out to overflowing, that’s why we call out for mercy when we already have it, that’s why we reach for the sublime even knowing that it is beyond us, that’s why historically worshippers have tried to honour God with all the things this world calls precious – gold, jewels, robes….. symbols…. the rituals I scorned as a teenager … a desperate attempt to show the love and adoration we feel, because God is other and all we can offer is our brokenness and humanity. Not good enough but all we have. And that is all he wants of us.

Our God, out of time and space.

Whether we worship in English, Latin, Greek or Ukrainian, God is other than all these. More than all these. Beyond us and our understanding. Still, we reach for him because he is our home, and he is where we are are going, and who we long for, and only He is worthy of all that yearning love. Like wise men who foolishly bring gold and frankincense and myrrh to a new born child, we offer our love and homage knowing that it can never be enough but that in our desperate desire to give him all we have, to somehow give a demonstration of our love, we please him.

I don’t know why I wanted to tell you all that, blurting it out like that, but I did.

2 thoughts on “If it’s not Greek, it’s Welsh

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