Singing the Mass
As Catholics, we do not simply sing at Mass, we sing the Mass.
The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy. (Sacrosanctum Concilium 112)
Music is indeed integral to the solemn Liturgy. How then do we sing the Mass and why?
‘Liturgical worship is given a more noble form when it is celebrated in song, with the ministers of each degree fulfilling their ministry and the people participating in it.” (Musicam Sacram 5).
To assist in learning to sing the Mass, we may divide the parts into three categories. (linked by category)
Roman Missal Chants
About the Collects
The Collects of the Mass are among the most important sung prayers. The following examples are taken from the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul, June 29. This project is in collaboration with the Francesco Chair of Sacred Music, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia. They are sung by Peter Stauffer and Dr. Knutson as part of coursework for Singing the Mass Practicum.
Opening Collect – Prayer over the Offerings – Postcommunion Prayer
Collect - Simple Tone
Collect - Solemn Tone
Collect - Tonus Festivus
Collect - Tonus Solemnis
Offertory - Simple Tone
Offertory - Solemn Tone
The book containing the Gregorian Mass Ordinaries and Proper Chants for the Mass is a hidden gem. Many musicians, choirs, and clergy are unaware of this important resource. In the same way that we would not replace the readings and prayers found in the Lectionary and Missal, the music of the Church lives on.
The Gregorian Missal (USA) contains music for Sundays and Solemnities, as well as English translations below each chant, allowing a quick reflection into the timeless prayers of the Church.
Purchase from a variety of online stores, such as Paraclete Press.
What is Sung and When?
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) describes the importance of singing the liturgy and offers practical considerations on what should be the focus. In Article 40 the GIRM states “in the choosing of the parts [of the Mass] actually to be sung, preference is to be given to those that are of greater importance and especially to those which are to be sung by the Priest or the Deacon or a reader, with the people replying, or by the Priest and people together.”
Musicam Sacram, cited in the GIRM, provides useful instruction on dividing the parts to be sung into three degrees of priority to help “the faithful toward an ever greater participation in the singing” (cf. MS 28-31).
1. The first degree consists of the Order of Mass (the chants sung in a dialogue between the priest or the deacon and the people, as well as the Sanctus).
2. The second degree consists essentially of the Ordinary of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, and Agnus Dei).
3. The third degree consists primarily of the Proper of the Mass (the chants sung at the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion processions, and the Responsorial Psalm and Alleluia with its verse before the Gospel).
Sign of the Cross
Prayer over the Offerings
Mystery of Faith
Prayer after Communion
Sign of Peace
Choir or Cantor
Sequence (if applicable)
The Roman Tradition is a Sung Tradition.
Low Mass: Fully spoken, with optional devotional hymns
High Mass: Sung Dialogues and Orations, Sung Mass Ordinary and Propers
On Sundays and Solemnities, the norm is at least one beautifully sung Liturgy. The Church affirms the sung Mass as normative, for it is the “fuller form of the liturgical celebration” Musicam Sacram, 7.
About the Propers
The Propers of the Mass are those prayers which change, and are “proper” to each Liturgy. The texts are primarily Psalms and settings of Gospel texts. The music stems from the elaboration of the 8 Psalm Tones within their modes. Masses are often named by the first word of the Introit (e.g. Requiem, Laetare, Gaudete)
Introit – Gradual – Tract – Sequence – Alleluia – Offertory – Communion
- American Gradual (Bruce Ford)
- By Flowing Waters (Paul F. Ford)
- Chabanel Psalms
- Chants for the Church Year (Cunningham)
- Communio with English Verses (Richard Rice)
- English Chant Propers (Fr. Columba Kelly)
- English Propers (Arbogast, 1964)
- Graduale Parvum (2012 ed.)
- Graduale Parvum: Introits (2018 ed.)
- Illuminare Publications
- Laudate Dominum Communion Antiphons (Andrew Motyka)
- Lenten Tracts (psalm-tone) (Esguerra)
- Parish Book of Psalms
- Salisbury Antiphoner (Palmer)
- Simple Choral Gradual by Richard Rice (description)
- Simple Choral Gradual by Richard Rice (PDF)
- Simple English Propers by Adam Bartlett
- Simple English Propers by Adam Bartlett (PDF)
- St Louis Gradual (for Lent and Easter) (Fr. Samuel Weber)
- The Proper of the Mass for Sundays and Solemnities (Fr. Samuel Weber, OSB)
Anglican Heritage Propers
- American Gradual (Bruce Ford) 2008
- American Gradual (Bruce Ford) 2020
- Anglican Use Gradual
- Introits of the Sarum Rite (Palmer)
- Plainchant Gradual (description)
- Plainchant Gradual Vol 1&2 (Burgess/Palmer)
- Plainchant Gradual Vol 3&4 (Burgess/Palmer)
- Salisbury Antiphoner (Palmer)
- St. Dunstan Kyrial (Douglas, 1933)
About the Ordinary
The Ordinary of the Mass are those prayers which do not change. Composers throughout the centuries have gifted us with at least 18 Gregorian settings and thousands of polyphonic settings. Listed below are just a few suggested settings.
Kyrie – Gloria – Credo – Sanctus – Agnus Dei – Ite Missa est
Lotti, Missa Brevis
Schubert, Mass in G
Tye, Missa Euge Bone
Viadana, Missa L’Hora Passa
Masses for Equal Voices/Children
Allen, Missa Rex Genitor (TTB/SSA)
Casciolini, Missa Sine Nomine (SSA)
Faure, Messe Basse (SSA)
*Hosanna missing from Faure’s Benedictus
Lemme, Mass for 3 Voices (TTB)
Lotti, Mass in a (TTB)
Pękiel, Missa Brevis No. 4 (TTBB)
Viadana, Missa Sine Nomine (TTB)
Tones for the Sung Readings
About the Sung Readings
At a Sung Mass, especially on Sundays, the readings are best presented in cantillation, a sung recitation dating to ancient Jewish worship. There are at least three reasons for this listed below. For more information, see Dr. Willam Mahrt’s The Musical Shape of the Liturgy
1) Intelligibility and volume, a natural amplification
2) Embellishment and adornment of the Scripture
3) Dilineation of the readings, each beautifully reverenced by its own tone
Old Testament & Acts of the Apostles (1)
Tone from the Roman Missal
Old Testament & Acts of the Apostles (2)
(English) Ancient Tone from the Liber Usualis