Mass (music)

The Mass (Latin: Missa), a form of sacred musical composition, is a choral composition that sets the invariable portions of the Eucharistic liturgy (principally that of the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, and Lutheranism) to music. Most Masses are settings of the liturgy in Latin, the liturgical sacred language of the Catholic Church's Roman liturgy, but there are a significant number written in the languages of non-Catholic countries where vernacular worship has long been the norm. For example, there are many Masses (often called "Communion Services") written in English for the Church of England. Musical Masses take their name from the Catholic liturgy called "the Mass" as well.

Masses can be a cappella, that is, without an independent accompaniment, or they can be accompanied by instrumental obbligatos up to and including a full orchestra. Many Masses, especially later ones, were never intended to be performed during the celebration of an actual mass.

Form of the Mass

See also: Order of Mass

A distinction is made between texts that recur for every mass celebration (ordinarium, ordinary), and texts that are sung depending on the occasion (proprium, proper). For example, for the Tridentine Mass:

Ordinarium Proprium
Gradual with Hallelujah or Tract (Sequence)
Sanctus, including Benedictus and Hosanna
Agnus Dei
Ite, missa est or Benedicamus


See also: Mass ordinary

A Missa tota ("full Mass") consists of a musical setting of the five sections of the ordinarium as listed below.

I. Kyrie

A Gregorian chant Kyrie eleison

In the Tridentine Mass, the Kyrie is the first sung prayer of the Mass ordinary. It is usually (but not always) part of any musical setting of the Mass. Kyrie movements often have an ternary (ABA) musical structure that reflects the symmetrical structure of the text. Musical settings exist in styles ranging from Gregorian chant to Folk.

Of 226 catalogued Gregorian chant melodies, 30 appear in the Liber Usualis. In what are presumed to be the oldest versions, the same melody is repeated for the first eight iterations, and a variation used on the final line (that is, formally, aaa aaa aaa'). These repeats are notated by the Roman numerals "iij" (for three times) or "ij" (for twice). The Kyrie for the Requiem Mass in the Liber Usualis has this form. Later Kyries have more elaborate patterns, such as aaa bbb aaa', aaa bbb ccc', or aba cdc efe'. Note that the final line is nearly always modified somewhat; in some cases this may be because it leads into the Gloria better. In forms both with and without literal repeats, most Kyries in the Liber Usualis have a closing phrase used in nearly all of the lines of the text. This in fact parallels the text, as each line ends with the same word "eleison".

Because of the brevity of the text, Kyries were often very melismatic. This encouraged later composers to make tropes out of them, either by adding words to the melisma (as how a sequence is often considered), or extending the melisma. In fact, because of the late date of most Kyries, it is not always clear whether a particular Kyrie melody or the apparently troped text came first; it could just as easily be the case that a syllabic song was converted into a melisma for a Kyrie verse. In some cases, verses interpolate Latin text between each "Kyrie" (or "Christe") and "eleison".

The introductory words “Kýrie Eléison” from the Kyriale Mass XI, Orbis Factor

As the Kyrie is the first item in settings of the mass ordinary and the second in the requiem mass (the only mass proper set regularly over the centuries), nearly all of the thousands of composers over the centuries who have set the ordinaries of the mass to music have included a Kyrie movement.

Kyrie movements often have a structure that reflects the concision and symmetry of the text. Many have a ternary (ABA) form known as a three-fold kyrie, where the two appearances of the phrase "Kyrie eleison" consist of identical or closely related material and frame a contrasting "Christe eleison" section. Or AAABBBCCC' form is also commonly used which is known as a nine-fold kyrie. Famously, Mozart sets the "Kyrie" and "Christe" texts in his Requiem Mass as the two subjects of a double fugue.

II. Gloria

The Gloria is a celebratory passage praising God the Father and Christ.

In Mass settings (normally in English) composed for the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer liturgy, the Gloria is commonly the last movement, because it occurs in this position in the text of the service. In Order One of the newer Common Worship liturgy, however, it is restored to its earlier season.

III. Credo

The Credo, a setting of the Nicene Creed, is the longest text of a sung Mass.

Organizers of international celebrations, such as World Youth Day, have been encouraged by Rome to familiarize congregants in the Latin chants for the Our Father and the Credo, specifically Credo III (17th century, Fifth Mode) from the Missa de Angelis. The purpose of singing these two texts in Latin is to engender a sense of unity in the faithful, all of whom thus sing the prayer of Jesus and the shared belief of the universal Church in the same language.

IV. Sanctus and Benedictus

The Sanctus is a doxology praising the Trinity. A variant exists in Lutheran settings of the Sanctus. While most hymnal settings keep the second person pronoun, other settings change the second person pronoun to the third person. This is most notable in J.S. Bach's Mass in B minor, where the text reads gloria ejus ("His glory"). Martin Luther's chorale Isaiah, Mighty in Days of Old, and Felix Mendelssohn's setting of the Heilig! (German Sanctus) from his Deutsche Liturgie also use the third person.

The Benedictus is a continuation of the Sanctus. Hosanna in excelsis is repeated after the Benedictus section, often with musical material identical to that used after the Sanctus, or very closely related.

In Gregorian chant the Sanctus (with Benedictus) was sung whole at its place in the mass. However, as composers produced more embellished settings of the Sanctus text, the music often would go on so long that it would run into the consecration of the bread and wine. This was considered the most important part of the Mass, so composers began to stop the Sanctus halfway through to allow this to happen, and then continue it after the consecration is finished. This practice was forbidden for a period in the 20th century.

V. Agnus Dei

For more details on this topic, see Agnus Dei (music).

The Agnus Dei is a setting of the "Lamb of God" litany, containing the responses miserere nobis (have mercy upon us), repeated twice, and dona nobis pacem (grant us peace) once at the end.

In a Requiem Mass, the words "miserere nobis" are replaced by "dona eis requiem" (grant them rest), while "dona nobis pacem" is replaced by "dona eis requiem sempiternam" (grant them eternal rest).

Short and solemn masses

There is some additional terminology regarding Mass settings indicating whether or not they include all five usual sections of the ordinarium, and whether or not the mass is intended for exceptionally festive occasions.

Missa brevis

Main article: Missa brevis

Missa brevis (literally: short mass) may, depending on time and conventions, indicate the setting of a subset of the five ordinary mass parts (e.g. Masses containing only a setting of the Kyrie and the Gloria), or a mass containing all these parts, but relatively short in duration, or a mass in a setting that is less extended in vocal and orchestral forces than that of a Neapolitan mass.

Missa longa ("long Mass") can indicate the counterpart of Missa brevis when the aspect of duration is considered.

Missa solemnis

Main article: Missa solemnis

Missa solemnis indicates a solemn mass, usually for special festive occasions and with an extended vocal and orchestral setting. In that sense Missa brevis is sometimes used to indicate the counterpart of a Missa solemnis.

Missa brevis et solemnis

The Missa brevis et solemnis (short and solemn) is an exceptional format, for its best known instances tied to the Salzburg of archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo, although earlier examples are extant. Mozart described it thus in a letter he wrote in 1776 ("the Archbishop" in this quotation refers to Colloredo):[1][2]

Our church music is very different from that of Italy, since a Mass with the whole Kyrie, the Gloria, the Credo, the Epistle sonata, the Offertory or motet, the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei must not last longer than three quarters of an hour. This applies even to the most Solemn Mass spoken by the Archbishop himself. Special study is required for this kind of composition, particularly as the Mass must have a full contingent of instruments—trumpets, drums and so forth.

The "brevis et solemnis" description applies to several of the Masses Mozart composed in Salzburg between 1775 and 1780, the Sparrow Mass being considered as its first instance for this composer.[1][2]

Tongue-in-cheek, and not indebted to Viennese traditions, Gioachino Rossini qualified one of his last compositions, a mass, as both "petite" ("small") and "solennelle" ("solemn"). In this case "small" rather refers to the modest forces needed for its performance, and "solemn" to its duration, although later commentators would describe the composition as "neither small nor solemn".[3]

Other types of Masses with less than five of the usual parts of the ordinarium

During Lent (in Latin: Quadragesima) and Advent (in Latin: Adventus) the Gloria is not sung. Thus Missa (in) tempore (Adventus et) Quadragesimae, "Mass for the period of (Advent and) Lent" indicates a Mass composition without music for the Gloria. Michael Haydn composed a mass suitable for Lent and Advent, the Missa tempore Quadragesimae, in D minor for the modest forces of for just choir and organ.

Missa senza credo ("Mass without a Credo") indicates a musical setting of the usual parts of the Mass ordinary with exception of the Credo.

A Missa ferialis (weekday Mass) leaves out both the Gloria and the Credo.

Other sections

The sixth and last part of the Ordinarium (either Ite, missa est, or, in masses without Gloria, Benedicamus Domino) is usually not set as part of a Mass composition. In a Tridentine Mass that part of the Ordinarium is usually spoken, or sung to the Gregorian melody provided in the Roman Missal, although early polyphonic settings for the "Deo gratias" response (e.g. in Guillaume de Machaut's Messe de Nostre Dame) and for the Benedicamus Domino (e.g. in Magnus Liber Organi) are extant.

The Proper of the Mass is usually not set to music in a Mass itself, except in the case of a Requiem Mass, but may be the subject of motets or other musical compositions. Some Mass compositions, like for instance Rossini's Petite messe solennelle, do however contain parts outside the Ordinarium. Some Mass compositions even consist entirely of such additions: Schubert's Deutsche Messe, a set of eight hymns with epilogue,[4] is an example of such a mass.

Also purely instrumental compositions can be part of a mass celebration, e.g. a Sonata da chiesa, sometimes with a liturgical function, like Mozart's Epistle Sonatas.

Proprium (Tridentine Mass)

In a liturgical Mass, there are other sections that may be sung, often in Gregorian chant. These sections, the "Proper" of the Mass, change with the day and season according to the Church calendar, or according to the special circumstances of the Mass. The sections of the Proper of the Mass include the Introit, Gradual, Alleluia or Tract (depending on the time of year), Offertory and Communion.

Ordinarium and proprium sections of a specific liturgical mass are not typically set to music together in the same composition. The one major exception to this rule is the mass for the dead, or requiem.

Other denominations

Following the distribution of the Sacrament, it is customary in most Lutheran churches to sing the Nunc Dimittis.

Musical settings

Middle Ages

The earliest musical settings of the Mass are Gregorian chant. The different portions of the Ordinary came into the liturgy at different times, with the Kyrie probably being first (perhaps as early as the 7th century) and the Credo being last (it did not become part of the Roman mass until 1014).[5]

In the early 14th century, composers began writing polyphonic versions of the sections of the Ordinary. The reason for this surge in interest is not known, but it has been suggested that there was a shortage of new music since composers were increasingly attracted to secular music, and overall interest in writing sacred music had entered a period of decline.[6] The non-changing part of the mass, the Ordinary, then would have music which was available for performance all the time.

Two manuscripts from the 14th century, the Ivrea Codex and the Apt Codex, are the primary sources for polyphonic settings of the Ordinary. Stylistically these settings are similar to both motets and secular music of the time, with a three-voice texture dominated by the highest part. Most of this music was written or assembled at the papal court at Avignon.

Several anonymous complete masses from the 14th century survive, including the Tournai Mass; however, discrepancies in style indicate that the movements of these masses were written by several composers and later compiled by scribes into a single set. The first complete Mass we know of whose composer can be identified was the Messe de Nostre Dame (Mass of Our Lady) by Guillaume de Machaut in the 14th century.


Main articles: Cyclic Mass or Cantus firmus Mass, Paraphrase Mass, Parody Mass

The musical setting of the Ordinary of the Mass was the principal large-scale form of the Renaissance. The earliest complete settings date from the 14th century, with the most famous example being the Messe de Nostre Dame of Guillaume de Machaut. Individual movements of the Mass, and especially pairs of movements (such as Gloria-Credo pairs, or Sanctus-Agnus pairs), were commonly composed during the 14th and early 15th centuries. Complete Masses by a single composer were the norm by the middle of the 15th century, and the form of the Mass, with the possibilities for large-scale structure inherent in its multiple movement format, was the main focus of composers within the area of sacred music; it was not to be eclipsed until the motet and related forms became more popular in the first decades of the 16th century.

Most 15th-century Masses were based on a cantus firmus, usually from a Gregorian chant, and most commonly put in the tenor voice. The cantus firmus sometimes appeared simultaneously in other voices, using a variety of contrapuntal techniques. Later in the century, composers such as Guillaume Dufay, Johannes Ockeghem, and Jacob Obrecht, used secular tunes for cantus firmi. This practice was accepted with little controversy until prohibited by the Council of Trent in 1562. In particular, the song L'homme armé has a long history with composers; more than 40 separate Mass settings exist.

Other techniques for organizing the cyclic Mass evolved by the beginning of the 16th century, including the paraphrase technique, in which the cantus firmus was elaborated and ornamented, and the parody technique, in which several voices of a polyphonic source, not just one, were incorporated into the texture of the Mass. Paraphrase and parody supplanted cantus-firmus as the techniques of choice in the 16th century: Palestrina alone wrote 51 parody masses.

Yet another technique used to organize the multiple movements of a Mass was canon. The earliest Masses based entirely on canon are Johannes Ockeghem's Missa prolationum, in which each movement is a prolation canon on a freely-composed tune, and the Missa L'homme armé of Guillaume Faugues, which is also entirely canonic but also uses the famous tune L'homme armé throughout. Pierre de La Rue wrote four separate canonic masses based on plainchant, and one of Josquin des Prez's mature Masses, the Missa Ad fugam, is entirely canonic and free of borrowed material.[7]

The Missa Sine nomine, literally "Mass without a name", refers to a Mass written on freely composed material. Sometimes these Masses were named for other things, such as Palestrina's famous Missa Papae Marcelli, the Mass of Pope Marcellus, and many times they were canonic Masses, as in Josquin's Missa Sine nomine.

Many famous and influential masses were composed by Josquin des Prez, the single most influential composer of the middle Renaissance. At the end of the 16th century, prominent representatives of a cappella choral counterpoint included the Englishman William Byrd, the Castilian Tomás Luis de Victoria and the Roman Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, whose Mass for Pope Marcellus is sometimes credited with saving polyphony from the censure of the Council of Trent. By the time of Palestrina, however, most composers outside of Rome were using other forms for their primary creative outlet for expression in the realm of sacred music, principally the motet and the madrigale spirituale; composers such as the members of the Venetian School preferred the possibilities inherent in the new forms. Other composers, such as Orlande de Lassus, working in Munich and comfortably distant from the conservative influence of the Council of Trent, continued to write Parody Masses on secular songs. Monteverdi composed Masses in stile antico, the Missa in illo tempore was published in 1610, one Messa a 4 da cappella in 1641 as part of Selva morale e spirituale along with single movements of the Mass in stile concertato, another Messa a 4 da cappella was published after his death, in 1650.

Baroque through Romantic (Catholic and Lutheran traditions)

The early Baroque era initiated stylistic changes which led to increasing disparity between masses written entirely in the traditional polyphonic manner (stile antico), whose principal advancements were the use of the basso continuo and the gradual adoption of a wider harmonic vocabulary, and the mass in modern style with solo voices and instrumental obbligatos. Composers such as Henri Dumont (1610–1684) continued to compose plainsong settings, distinct from and more elaborate than the earlier Gregorian chants.[8]

A further disparity arose between the festive missa solemnis and the missa brevis, a more compact setting. Composers like Fux in the 18th century continued to cultivate the stile antico mass, which was suitable for use on weekdays and at times when orchestral masses were not practical or appropriate, and in 19th-century Germany the Cecilian movement kept the tradition alive. The Italian style cultivated orchestral masses including soloists, chorus and obbligato instruments, spread to the German-speaking Catholic countries north of the Alps, and used instruments for color and created dialogues between solo voices and chorus that was to become characteristic of the 18th-century Viennese style. The so-called "Neapolitan" or "cantata" mass style also had much influence on 18th-century mass composition with its short sections set as self-contained solo arias and choruses in a variety of styles.[9]

The 18th-century Viennese mass combines operatic elements from the cantata mass with a trend in the symphony and concerto to organize choral movements. The large scale masses of the first half of the century still have Glorias and Credos divided into many movements, unlike smaller masses for ordinary churches. Many of Mozart's masses are in missa brevis form, as are some of Haydn's early ones. Later masses, especially of Haydn, are of symphonic structure, with long sections divided into fewer movements, organized like a symphony, with soloists used as an ensemble rather than as individuals. The distinction between concert masses and those intended for liturgical use also came into play as the 19th century progressed.[9]

Major works

After the Renaissance, the mass tended not to be the central genre for any one composer, yet some of the most famous of all musical works of the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic periods are masses. Many of the most famous of the great masses of the Romantic era were Requiem masses.

Among the Masses written for the Ordinary of the Mass are:

20th and 21st century

By the end of the 19th century, composers were combining modern elements with the characteristics of Renaissance polyphony and plainchant, which continued to influence 20th-century composers, possibly fueled by the Motu proprio Ta le sollecitudini (1903) of Pope Pius X. The revival of choral celebration of Holy Communion in the Anglican Church in the late 19th century marked the beginning several liturgical settings of Mass texts in English, particularly for choir and organ.[10] The movement for liturgical reform has resulted in revised forms of the Mass, making it more functional by using a variety of accessible styles, popular or ethnic, and using new methods such as refrain and response to encourage congregational involvement.[10] Nevertheless, the mass in its musical incarnation continues to thrive beyond the walls of the church, as is evident in many of the 21st-century masses listed here which were composed for concert performance rather than in service of the Roman Rite.

Musical reforms of Pius X

Pope St. Pius X initiated many regulations reforming the liturgical music of the Mass in the early 20th century. He felt that some of the Masses composed by the famous post-Renaissance composers were too long and often more appropriate for a theatrical rather than a church setting. He advocated primarily Gregorian plainchant and polyphony. He was primarily influenced by the work of the Abbey of Solesmes. Some of the rules he put forth include the following:

These regulations carry little if any weight today, especially after the changes of the Second Vatican Council. Quite recently, Pope Benedict XVI has encouraged a return to chant as the primary music of the liturgy, as this is explicitly mentioned in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, specifically Sacrosanctum Concilium 116.[11]

Major works

20th century

In the 20th century, composers continued to write masses, in an even wider diversity of style, form and function than before.

21st century

Masses written for the Anglican liturgy

These are more often known as 'Communion Services', and differ not only in that they are settings of English words, but also, as mentioned above, in that the Gloria usually forms the last movement. Sometimes the Kyrie movement takes the form of sung responses to the Ten Commandments, 1 to 9 being followed by the words 'Lord have mercy upon us and incline our hearts to keep this law', and the tenth by 'Lord have mercy upon us and write all these thy laws in our hearts, we beseech thee'. Since the texts of the 'Benedictus qui venit' and the 'Agnus Dei' do not actually feature in the liturgy of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, these movements are often missing from some of the earlier Anglican settings. Charles Villiers Stanford composed a Benedictus and Agnus in the key of F major which was published separately to complete his service in C.

With reforms in the Anglican liturgy, the movements are now usually sung in the same order that they are in the Roman Catholic rite, leading, according to some, to the musical integrity of the settings being somewhat compromised. Choral settings of the Creed, the most substantial movement, are rarely performed in Anglican cathedrals now.

Well known Anglican settings of the Mass, which may be found in the repertoire of many English cathedrals are:

See also



  1. 1 2 Eisen, Cliff; Keefe, Simon, eds. (2006). The Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia. pp. 271–274.
  2. 1 2 Walter Senn, NMA Series I: Geistliche Gesangwerke, Group I (Masses and Requiem), Division I: Masses, Volume 2, Preface, pp. VIII-IX 1975.
  3. La Petite Messe Solennelle de Rossini… in Le petit journal, 10 April 2014
  4. Brian Newbould. Schubert: The Music and the Man, pp. 284-285. University of California Press, 1999. ISBN 0520219570 ISBN 9780520219571
  5. Harvard Dictionary of Music, p. 472.
  6. Lockwood, "Mass", Grove (1980)
  7. Bloxham, p. 196
  8. Benjamin van Wye, Review of Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Messe pour le Port-Royal, in Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music 1999
  9. 1 2 Roche, Elizabeth and Alex Lingas. "Mass" The Oxford Companion to Music. Ed. Alison Latham. Oxford Music Online.
  10. 1 2 McKinnon, James W. et al. “Mass.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online.
  11. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium

External links

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