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).

Liturgy Essentials

To assist in learning to sing the Mass, we may divide the parts into three categories. (linked by category)

Roman Missal

The book containing the prescribed prayers, chants, and instructions for Mass.


Roman Gradual

The Graduale Romanum, or Roman Gradual, is an official chant book for Mass.


Roman Lectionary

 The readings assigned for each Mass  (Solemnities, Feasts, Memorials and Ferias).


Roman Missal Chants

Presidential Prayers

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 provided as part of seminary coursework: Singing the Mass Practicum.

Opening Collect – Prayer over the Offerings – Postcommunion Prayer

Collect – Super Oblata – Postcommunio

Collect - Simple Tone

Collect - Solemn Tone

Collect - Tonus Festivus

Collect - Tonus Solemnis

Offertory - Simple Tone

Offertory - Solemn Tone

Graduale Romanum


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.

1974 Graduale Romanum1961 Graduale Romanum

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

Solemn Blessing

(if present)

Penitential Act

Gospel Dialogue

Sign of Peace

“Bow Down…”


Choir or Cantor

Entrance Antiphon


Sequence (if applicable)

Gospel Acclamation

Offertory Antiphon

Communion Antiphon






Doxology Amen

Agnus Dei

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.

Mass Propers

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, LaetareGaudete)

Introit – Gradual – Tract – Sequence – Alleluia – Offertory – Communion

Mass Ordinary

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

Unison Masses

Parish Book of Chant, Kyriale – all 18 Gregorian settings

Langlais, Missa in Simplicitate

Rheinberger, Missa Puerorum

Viadana, Missa Prima Dominicalis (arr.)

Willan, Missa Maria Magdalena
Willan, Mass of St. Hugh
Willan, Mass of St. Teresa (forthcoming)
Willan, Mass of St. Peter (forthcoming)
(USA©Healy Willan Society)

Yon, Messe Pastorale


Polyphonic Masses

Byrd, Mass a 3, a 4, a 5

Casciolini, Mass in a, Missa Brevis

Croce, Missa Sexti, Tertii, Octavi

Andrea Gabrieli, Missa Brevis a4, Quando leita sperari

Hassler, Missa SecundaTertia, Dixit Maria

Lotti, Missa Brevis

Mozart, Missa Brevis in C (Orgelsolo), Brevis in D

Palestrina, Missa Aeterna Christi Munera, Missa Brevis

Rheinberger, Missa S. Crucis, Brevis Trinitas

Schubert, Mass in G

Tye, Missa Euge Bone

Viadana, Missa L’Hora Passa

Victoria, Missa Brevis, Dominicalis, Salve,
O Quam Gloriosum, Quarti Toni, O Magnum Mysterium


Requiem Masses




(typeset by David Hughes for 2021 Colloquium)

Clemens non Papa


La Rue

Lassus a4, a5

Michael Haydn in c, Sigismundo

Morales a4, a5



Palestrina a5

Victoria a4, a6

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)

Rheinberger, Mass in A, Op.126, (SSA), Op.187, (SSA) Op. 172, (TTBB), Op.190 (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


Epistle and Book of Revelation

Holy Gospel - Simple Tone

Holy Gospel - Solemn Tone