The Mass

Neumz offers all the parts,
sung, chanted, or recited
in Latin of the Mass and the Office.

Thus, for the Mass, the songs of the Ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei) and of each day’s Propers (Introitus, Graduale, Tractus, Alleluja, Offertorium and Communio) can be heard according to the liturgical cycle.

Structure of the Mass

The Mass is the main form of worship in the Roman Catholic Church, and is divided into two main parts: the liturgy of the Word, which includes Biblical readings and often a sermon, and the liturgy of the Eucharist, culminating in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

The word ‘mass’ comes from the Latin ‘missa’ used at the end of the service to dismiss the congregation: Ite, missa est. The word ‘Catholic’ means ‘universal’, and the idea behind the Latin Mass was to worship in one universal language that could be understood by anyone in any part of the world. Following the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, it became more common for the Mass to be said in the vernacular.

In the tradition of Gregorian plainchant, all sections of the Mass may be sung, including the Proper of the Mass. Many of the most intricate and complex Gregorian chants are found in parts of the Mass with shorter, repeating texts such as the Kyrie and the Agnus Dei; in expansive texts such as the Gloria and the Credo; and in Offertories, some of the oldest examples of which are particularly ornate.

Ordinary Form

Also referred to as the “Novus Ordo”, or the “Mass of Paul VI”.

Extraordinary Form

Also referred to as the “Vetus Ordo”, “Traditional Rite”, “Tridentine Mass”, “Traditional Latin Mass”, or “Mass of Saint Pius V”.

The Ordinary

The Ordinary of the Mass varies very little regardless of the liturgical context or season, and consists of five main sections, often used in musical Mass settings: the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei.

Sunday Mass usually begins with the anointing of the congregation with holy water, an act known as the Asperges. One of two antiphons may be sung by the celebrant at this point: Asperges me, or Vidi aquam, which is sung between Easter and Pentecost. Both antiphons are structured like the Introit of the Mass: first verse 1 (which includes Alleluias during Eastertide), then verse 2 (taken from the Psalms), then in the Mass of Pius V (the “extraordinary” form) followed by the Gloria Patri doxology (which though is omitted in Passiontide and never used in the “ordinary” form of the Mass of Paul VI), and finally a reprise of verse 1. The Vidi aquam antiphon chant is usually more florid and expansive than Asperges me.

Asperges me

Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo et mundabor,
Lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.
Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.

Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

(Extraordinary Form Only)

Thou wilt sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop and I shall be cleansed
Thou wilt wash me, and I shall be washed whiter than snow.
Pity me, O God, according to Thy great mercy.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Vidi aquam

Vidi aquam egredientem de templo, a latere dextro, alleluia:
Et omnes ad quos pervenit aqua ista, salvi facti sunt,
Et dicent: alleluia, alleluia.

I saw water flowing out of the Temple, from its right side, Alleluia:
And all who came to this water were saved,
And they shall say: Alleluia, Alleluia.

Unusually, the Kyrie is in Greek rather than Latin. In the Extraordinary Rite, it consists of three articulations of Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy), three utterances of Christe eleison (Christ, have mercy) and a final threefold Kyrie eleison. In the Ordinary Rite, with the exception of some Kyrie versions where the melody cannot allow for it, there are often only two articulations. Chant melodies often reflect the clear structure of this part of the Mass. For example, some melodies may set the final three pronouncements of Kyrie eleison at a higher pitch than during the first segment of the Kyrie, to create a sense that we are building to a climax or conclusion.
A doxology is an expression of praise; we have already encountered the Gloria Patri doxology. For the Gloria in the Ordinary of the Mass we hear the Greater Doxology, a longer text beginning with the words Gloria in excelsis deo, as sung by the angels in Luke’s account of the birth of Christ. Owing to the length of this text, chant settings are often broken into musical sentences that correspond with the flow of the words.

Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis. Laudamus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te, gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam, Domine Deus, Rex caelestis, Deus Pater omnipotens.

Domine Fili unigenite, Jesu Christe, Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis; qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram. Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis.

Quoniam tu solus Sanctus, tu solus Dominus, tu solus Altissimus, Jesu Christe, cum Sancto Spiritu: in gloria Dei Patris. Amen.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will. We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory, Lord God, heavenly King, O God almighty Father.

Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son, Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us; you take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer; you are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.

For You alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

The Credo is a recitation of the Nicene Creed, a list of key beliefs originally compiled at the First Council of Nicaea (now in Turkey) in the 4th century AD. As with the Gloria, the length of the text lends itself to natural breaks in the chant. The Credo was the last Ordinary chant to be added to the Mass, so there are relatively few different Credo melodies in the Gregorian tradition.

Credo in unum Deum,
Patrem omnipotentem,
factorem cæli et terræ,
visibilium omnium et invisibilium.

Et in unum Dominum, Jesum Christum,
Filium Dei unigenitum,
et ex Patre natum ante omnia sæcula.
Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero,
genitum, non factum, consubstantialem Patri:
per quem omnia facta sunt.

Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem
descendit de cælis.
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto
ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est.

Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato;
passus et sepultus est,
et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas,
et ascendit in cælum, sedet ad dexteram Patris.
Et iterum ventirus est cum gloria,
judicare vivos et mortuos,
cujus regni non erit finis.

Et in Spíritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificantem:
qui ex Patre Filióque procedit.
Qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur:
qui locutus est per prophetas.

Et unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam.
Confíteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum.
Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum,
et vitam venturi sæculi. Amen.

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.

For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins,
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
‘Sanctus’ means ‘Holy’ and this chant starts with three declarations of the word (deriving from the threefold “kadosh” of the Jewish prayer known as the Kedushah):

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt cæli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis.

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

The second part of this prayer is the Benedictus. The Sanctus and Benedictus are heard at the end of the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer. The clear structure of the Sanctus and Benedictus, especially the repetition of key phrases, is often reflected in the musical structures of the chants.
This poignant prayer emphasises the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ for all people: He is the Lamb of God. As with other prayers that feature repeated phrases, the chant often echoes the clear pattern of the words.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.
These words technically belong to the Ordinary of the Mass, although they are so brief that they are often omitted from musical Mass settings, and have not been subject to the array of varied chants composed for other sections of the Mass. The Ite, missa est is the usual dismissal at the end of the Mass, replaced by the Benedicamus Domino in penitential masses that omit the Gloria, sung during periods such as Eastertide and Advent.

Ite, missa est defies straightforward translation, essentially meaning: “Go, it (the congregation) is dismissed”. The deeper implications of mission and evangelisation have sometimes been brought into vernacular dismissals. The chant for Benedicamus Domino (“Let us bless the Lord”) is often identical to that of Ite, missa est. The Benedicamus Domino is also sung as a versicle at the end of all Offices of the canonical hours. The response is Deo gratias: “Thanks be to God”.

The Propers

The Proper of the Mass encompasses other sections that may vary according to the liturgical context or time of year, including the Introit, Graduale, Alleluia (except Lent), Tract (Lent), Offertory and Communion.

The Introit or Entrance Antiphon is sung as the officiants enter. It usually consists of a refrain known as an antiphon, followed by a Psalm verse (time permitting), a repeat of the antiphon, an intonation of the Gloria Patri doxology, and a final reprise of the antiphon. The Introit’s melodies are often characterised by reciting tones, when one note is repeated many times as the words are articulated.
Graduals are sung after a reading from the New Testament. A Gradual is a responsorial chant, often alternated with an ornate verse which is usually sung by a solo cantor, and is sometimes followed by a reprise of the opening section to create a symmetrical three-part structure. Gradual melodies are often created through a process called centonization, in which stock motifs are spliced together, creating a family of distinct but related melodies.

The Alleluia is sung before a reading from the Gospel, except during penitential seasons such as Lent, when a Tract is sung. Alleluias are in two sections: the Alleluia itself followed by the ‘Psalm verse’. These are linked using a jubilus. This is a long, joyful melisma (many notes to one syllable) on the last vowel of the ‘Alleluia’; we hear the same jubilus at the end of the verse. The Tract chant, like the Gradual, is often formed using centonization and is usually based on a Psalm text.

The practice of adding words to the expansive melismata of the Alleluia jubilus is thought to have evolved into another chant form known as Sequences. These sung poems, structured using couplets, are not part of the official liturgy but represent an important part of the Gregorian repertory.
Offertories are sung during the preparation of the Eucharistic offerings of bread and wine. Before the 12th century, Gregorian chants for the Offertory often included highly elaborate verses, but this practice later died out, and the Offertory came to be structured in a similar way to the Gradual or other responsorial chants, with a contrasting verse followed by a repetition of the opening section, known as a repetenda.
Communion chants are sung during the distribution of the Eucharist, and resemble the structure of the Introit: an antiphon (refrain) with, optionally, a series of Psalm verses. Some Communion chants are tonally ambiguous and can be difficult to categorise in relation to the standard Gregorian chant modes.

More Information on

Gregorian Chant:

History of Gregorian Chant

A short introduction
How to read Square Note Notation

Other Chants – Western and Eastern Traditions

Catholic Rites and Variations
The Neumatic Notation Systems
     of the 9th and 10th Centuries

By Dominique Gatté