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The Medieval Mass and Its Music

Last updated by Joseph Dyer on November 19, 2000

Contents of this article:

| Introduction | The Early Development of the Christian Liturgy | Structure of the Mass | Sources |
| The Ordinary and the Proper of the Mass - An Overview | Table 1: Medieval Solemn Mass |
| The Liturgical Year | The Medieval Experience of the Mass | Methods of Singing of the Psalms | Excursus: The Troping of Chants of the Mass | Ceremonial and Vestments of the Mass | Medieval Interpretations of the Mass |
| Selective Bibliography |


The present essay describes the Mass as celebrated in Latin Christianity during the Middle Ages. It assumes the full complement of clergy (priests, clerics in what are known as "minor orders," and non-clerical assistants) needed to carry out the complex ceremonies of the Mass at a cathedral or large monastic church. A choir of monks or canons under the direction of the cantor provided all of the music, solo and choral. This would have been sung in chant but occasionally embellished by simple improvised polyphony. In a house of women religious all of the musical roles would have been assumed by the nuns, but ecclesiastical custom required that the ministers serving at the altar be male.

The form and essential components of the medieval Mass were stabilized during the Carolingian era, thanks largely the organizing zeal of Charlemagne and the efforts of monastic liturgists like Alcuin and Benedict of Aniane. This Franco-Roman liturgy, as it is known to modern scholars, spread throughout Europe, carried to the North by missionaries who preached the Christian faith to Germanic tribes.

Although the general outlines of the medieval Mass can be confidently described, specific reconstructions of how the liturgy was celebrated at a given time and place can be complicated by the nature of the extant evidence. In the early medieval liturgy each of the main participants had a separate book that contained only the texts proper to his office. Not until the tenth century was there evidence of a tendency to assemble the disparate components in a single book, the missal, which a priest could use to celebrate Mass without assisting ministers. Thus evidence must be culled from a wide range of sources. Full understanding of the medieval Mass requires awareness of the historical evolution of its components, the framework of the liturgical year, the texts and music which expressed the meaning of its feasts, the ceremonial movements and gestures essential to its performance, and the often splendid vestments worn by the principal participants in the Mass liturgy.

The Early Development of the Christian Liturgy

Any overview of the early history of the Mass will of necessity be sketchy and incomplete, both because of the dearth of documentation and because of the vast range of theories that have been proposed to interpret the evidence. Thus the development of the Mass in the earliest centuries of the Christian era can be presented only in the most general outline. Earlier scholars, whose views continue to be repeated in syntheses of liturgical history, endeavored to trace essential components of the Mass liturgy through the New Testament back to its Jewish "roots." Recent research, which is still somewhat controversial, tends to downplay the Jewish heritage of the Christian liturgy, except for its pervasive use of the book of Psalms from the Hebrew Scriptures.

Jesus and his followers observed the Sabbath and the annual festivals. The first Christians were also predominantly Jews, but gentiles quickly attained equal rights to have the gospel preached to them. They were not obliged to observe Jewish ritual practices, and they probably knew nothing of Jewish temple ritual or the synagogue. Even within Judaism, animosity between those who accepted Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah and those who rejected this claim created deep divisions. The existence of these tensions have raised questions about how Jewish liturgy of the first century could have provided a notable foundation for early Christian worship. Temple worship did not survive the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Roman general (and later emperor) Titus. Animal sacrifices, the principal Judaic expression of submission to God, ceased immediately without a record of how they were carried out. The obvious fact that such rituals had nothing in common with the way Christians worshipped in New Testament times should not be overlooked. Evidence of the synagogue as a nexus of Jewish liturgy has been preserved only from a much later period: the first Jewish prayer book relevant to synagogue services dates from the late ninth century A.D.

The presumed "liturgical" information transmitted in the New Testament is sparse. Christians participated in the "breaking of the bread" (Acts 2:46 and 20:11), and the writings of St. Paul allude to early Christian Eucharists (see 1 Cor 11:23-28). Assumptions that poetic passages in the epistles by or attributed to the apostle Paul were liturgical "hymns" sung by early Christian communities cannot be confirmed: sometime poetic texts are just that-the spontaneous creations of their authors. Post-apostolic information, fragmentary and from diverse geographical areas, cannot be assembled into a coherent whole.

Sources of liturgical information, generally known as "church orders," survive from later periods. Among the most important of these are the Didache [1st-2nd c., Syria], the Apostolic Tradition [ca. 215, from Rome?], the Teaching [Didascalia] of the Apostles [ca. 230, Syria], the Apostolic Church Order [ca. 300, Egypt], the Apostolic Constitutions [ca. 380, Syria], the Canons of Hippolytus [336-340, Egypt], and the Testamentum Domini [?5 c., Syria]. These heterogeneous documents contain disciplinary prescriptions as well as more or less complete descriptions of Eucharistic liturgies and the conferring of the Sacraments (Baptism, Holy Orders).

These documents originated over a wide geographical area (Syria, Egypt, North Africa), and the surviving Syriac, Greek, Coptic, and Ethiopic versions represent translations (often incomplete) of lost originals. Experts are sharply divided on the question of interrelationships among them, a question rendered more problematical by the confused history of their transmission. Possibly accidental survivals cannot, moreover, be construed as representative of the full range of ways in which early Christians worshipped. Their authority thus remains uncertain. Do they merely reflect the plurality of liturgical practices that pervaded early Christianity? Given the pluriform nature of Christian belief in the post-apostolic age, lack of uniformity in liturgical matters would hardly be surprising. In addition, these predominantly Eastern sources are so heterogeneous that they can only with caution be linked to the development of the Western Latin liturgies.

Structure of the Mass

The Mass may de divided into (1) the liturgy of the Word and (2) the liturgy of the Eucharist. While this terminology is neither ancient nor medieval, it conveniently describes the twofold structure of the central act of Christian worship in the Middle Ages and for millions of Christians today. The liturgy of the Word was earlier known as the "Mass of the catechumens," because at one time the unbaptized were dismissed at its close. The liturgy of the Eucharist was called the "Mass of the faithful," since those who had been baptized remained. As will be described below, the first part of the Mass was gradually enlarged with the addition of chants. The second part of the Mass focused on the prayer of consecration, known as the "canon," said quietly by the priest- celebrant at the altar. The Mass concluded with the distribution of communion and the dismissal of the congregation.

In the mid-second century, a Roman apologist for the Christian faith, Justin, described a Sunday gathering of the Christian community during which passages from the "memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets" were read "as long as time permits." The "memoirs" were most likely reminiscences of Christ's ministry on earth recorded in the gospels, but the "prophets" might have been contemporary Christian authors rather than the seers of ancient Israel. Whoever presided at the gathering, most likely the bishop, commented on the "beautiful things" that had just been read. Justin also described the celebration of the Eucharist that followed this service of readings.

It is not too difficult to imagine that, during the centuries when the Christian Church's existence (or at least its well-being) in the Roman world could at any moment be threatened by imperial disfavor or persecutions, the development of ostentatious liturgical observances was out of the question. The modest size of Christian gatherings and the periods of persecution when all worship was de facto clandestine did not encourage ceremonial display. Indeed, the very idea of an elaborate "liturgy" would not have occurred to the Church's leaders before the edict of toleration promulgated by Constantine after he defeated his rival, Maxentius, in 312.

The process that transformed simple meetings of edifying readings and a reenactment of the Last Supper into the evolved eucharistic liturgies of the Eastern and Western churches required many generations. Prayers, scripture readings, and music gradually became embedded in a ritual of increasing complexity. Concurrently, the liturgy became more "clericalised," a process accelerated by the ever widening gap between the developing romance dialects and Latin, henceforth the language of Western liturgical worship. Speakers of Germanic vernaculars who converted to Christianity would have encountered insurmountable barriers to the understanding of prayers and chants in an utterly foreign tongue.


As noted earlier, the earliest textual and musical sources of the Mass liturgy are not comprehensive books with all the necessary chants, readings, prayers and ceremonial instructions. Instead, each major participant had a book that contained only his part only. (In what follows the reader must keep in mind that each medieval liturgical manuscript--copied out by hand, as the name implies--is a unique product, designed to fulfill the needs of the monastery or church for which it was copied.) The celebrant's book containing the prayers he was required to say was called a sacramentary. The scripture readings (if they were not simply read from a Bible) would be contained in an epistolary or an evangelary, depending on whether the text of the prescribed reading came from the epistles or the gospels.

The cantor and choir would have at their disposal a gradual, of which the earliest examples (9th c.) contain only the texts. Later, staffless "neumes" indicating the course of the melody were added, but these served only as a mnemonic aid to recall a melody already committed to memory, at least in its general outlines. Only with the careful heightening of these neumes and the development of the staff did it become possible to decipher an unknown melody. Most of the chant books from the early Middle Ages are so small that they could have been read by only a few singers at a time. Whatever larger groups of singers performed would have been committed to memory. The large chant books seen in museums (and the single sheets offered for sale by antiquarian dealers) date from a much later period (14th-17th centuries); they enabled a larger number of singers to gather around the lectern and sing. Most liturgical books are furnished with titles and instructions written in red and known as "rubrics" (from Latin rubrica, red ochre).

Additions to the "core" repertory of Gregorian chants for the Mass could either form a section of a "normal" chant book or be transmitted separately in special books. These books were known as tropers, prosers, or sequentiaries, depending on the type of addition or insertion, which could be textual, musical, or both combined. These additions, varied expressions of what has been called the "troping principle," will be discussed below.

Gradually, all of the texts necessary for the celebration of Mass (prayers, readings, chants) were gathered together into a single volume called the "missal." This development was engendered primarily by the increase in the number of Masses celebrated by a single priest with the assistance of a single acolyte-server. It has been claimed that the term "private Mass" derives from the fact that such a Mass was "deprived" of the normal chants and ceremonies of a solemnly celebrated Mass. (The purpose that was served by missals with fully notated chant texts is a question that remains to be resolved.)

The Ordinary and the Proper of the Mass - An Overview

Some of the spoken and sung texts of the medieval Mass remained virtually the same throughout the year. These are known as the Ordinary of the Mass. Variable elements that changed according to the feast or liturgical season belonged to the Proper of the Mass. Every Mass contains chants of the Ordinary and of the Proper. (The polyphonic Masses of the Renaissance and the orchestral Masses of Haydn and Mozart set only the five standard texts of the Ordinary, though sometime the Credo is omitted.)

The most important of the fixed spoken texts was the canon, a long, multi-sectional prayer that included the words of consecration: "This is my body ... This is my blood." The canon was introduced by the chanted preface, whose text varied slightly according to the feast (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Apostles, etc.) or season (e.g., Advent, Lent). On certain solemn observances (Christmas, Holy Thursday, Easter, etc.) part of the canon itself was modified to make allusion to the feast. For example, on Holy Thursday, when the liturgy commemorates both the institution of the Eucharist and Jesus's betrayal, the prayer that begins "Hanc igitur" contains the insertion: "Therefore this oblation of our service and of all thy family, which we offer to thee in memory of the day on which our Lord, Jesus Christ, entrusted the mysteries of his body and blood to be celebrated by his disciples, we beseech thee to accept ..."

Three prayers (collect, secret, postcommunion) were chanted aloud (in the case of the secret, only its conclusion) by the priest to a simple melodic formula (examples in Liber Usualis 98-102, but not all of the melodies have medieval authority). These prayers, of which many hundreds exist in the Western Mass liturgy, formed part of the Proper, since they varied every Sunday, on the weekdays of Lent, on all feasts of the Lord, and for the celebration of saints' days. They were not interchangeable; the collect was a general intercession near the beginning of the Mass, the secret recited just before the preface referred to the presentation of offerings, and the postcommunion gave thanks for the reception of the Eucharist.

At many points during the Mass the celebrant also recited to himself personal prayers, either expressing his unworthiness or referring to the symbolism of the ritual action being performed. Some of these prayers found their way into the Roman Missal (printed in 1570 and obligatory in the Roman Catholic church for the next four hundred years), but they were almost entirely eliminated from the new Roman Catholic liturgy implemented in 1963 after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council.

The epistle, a reading from one of the letters attributed to Paul or the apostles, and the gospel were also part of the Proper. On many Lenten weekdays passages from the Old Testament replaced the epistle. It was the deacon's prerogative to chant the gospel, while the epistle could be chanted by any cleric in minor orders.

The chants of the Mass-choral and solo-were also divided into Ordinary and Proper items. The Ordinary included the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo (sung only on Sundays and the most important feasts), Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. The deacon's brief dismissal chant ("Ite missa est" or "Benedicamus domino") with its response "Deo gratias" may also be considered part of the Ordinary. The numbers of pieces in collections of Ordinary chants tended to be small until the eleventh century, when a wave of interest produced a large number of new melodies for all of these chants except the Credo.

The texts of the Ordinary were invariable, except insofar as they were supplemented by additional texts called "tropes." These supplied a theological interpretation of the traditional chant text or "properized" it by inserting phrases that referred specifically to the feast being celebrated. (See below at the discussion of the Sanctus.) The Proper chants included the introit, gradual, alleluia, (replaced by the tract in penitential seasons or days and at Masses for the dead), offertory, and communion. Sometimes a sequence was sung following the alleluia, but enthusiasm for these hymnlike pieces waned until all but five were eliminated in the sixteenth century by the liturgical reforms of the Council of Trent. Proper chants were also provided with tropes to enhance the solemn celebration of a feast.

The following Table indicates the distinction between Ordinary and Proper items, and it illustrates how the parts of the Mass were divided among the various participants.

Table 1
Medieval Solemn Mass

Sung (* indicates Proper chant)


Spoken prayers/Ceremonies
*Alleluia [or Tract]

  Sanctus – Benedictus

  Agnus Dei
  Deo gratias
Collect (priest)
Epistle (subdeacon)
Gospel (deacon)
Preface (priest)
Lord’s Prayer (priest)
Postcommunion (priest)
Ite missa est (deacon)
Prayers of preparation (priest)
Incensing of the altar
Priest’s blessing of the deacon who will chant the Gospel
Offertory prayers
Blessing of incense
Incensing of the altar
Washing of hands
Additional prayers
Canon (priest): consecration of bread and wine
Spoken prayers (priest)
Additional prayers (priest)
[Reception of Communion]
Prayers of thanksgiving

The Liturgical Year

The distinction between the Proper and the Ordinary of the Mass depends on the fact that some parts of the liturgy remained constant throughout the year, while others changed according to one of two concurrent annual cycles called respectively the Temporale and the Sanctorale. The liturgy of the Latin Church favored prayers, readings, and chants whose texts made specific reference to (i.e., were proper to) the liturgical observance, whether a feast commemorating one of the events in Jesus' life or in celebration of a saint's feast day. (The eastern liturgies-Greek and Russian-have fewer variable texts for the Sunday eucharistic liturgy.) Although the liturgical year begins on the first Sunday of Advent, four weeks before Christmas, it will make more historical sense to explain how its organization is founded on the date of Easter.

The feasts of the Temporale are based for the most part on the movable date of Easter which, according the calculation fixed by the Council of Nicaea in 325, must be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon that occurs after the vernal equinox (defined as March 21). This is not as simple as it sounds. It requires the coordination of two different and independent astronomical cycles, the solar cycle of approximately 365.25 days and the lunar cycle of approximately 29.5 days, with an artificial seven-day division (the week) that relates to neither. [Important to the calculation was the "age" of the moon (luna), numbered from the new moon (luna i), thus making the full moon at the middle of the cycle luna xiv.] Not only was the calculation of all the variables itself difficult, but in the early centuries not all churches agreed about the earliest and latest dates of the 29-day spring lunar cycle on which Easter could be celebrated. Not all accepted a date as early as luna xv (the day immediately following the full moon) or as late as luna xxv. The latter date, for example, made Good Friday coincide with the annual festivity of the "birth" of Rome-an unappetizing penance for fun loving Romans!

The year 2000 may serve to illustrate of the dates of the Temporale. In 2000 the date of Easter falls very late in the year (23 April). The full moon occurs on 19 March, but this date falls two days before the ecclesiastical equinox. The next full moon, the first one after the equinox does not occur until Tuesday, 18 April, and hence Easter falls on the following Sunday. (Easter can fall no later than 25 April, the date when it will be celebrated in 2038.) The date of Easter fixes the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, forty days before (8 March).

Until the most recent reform of the liturgical kalendar, Lent was preceded by a penitential season of lesser severity marked by three Sundays known respectively as Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima. (Were these still observed in the year 2000, they would have been observed on 20 and 27 February and 5 March, respectively.) Exactly forty days after Easter is the celebration of the Ascension, a commemoration of Jesus' farewell to his disciples and departure into heaven. The sending of the Holy Spirit on the disciples is the theme of the feast of Pentecost Sunday, ten days later (11 June). During the high Middle Ages the Sunday after Pentecost began to be celebrated as the feast of the Holy Trinity.

The remaining Sundays of the Temporale were variously numbered: (1) after Pentecost, (2) after Trinity, or less frequently (3) after the octave of Trinity. (The word "octave" refers to the practice of commemorating the most important feasts of the Lord and certain saints for eight days after their occurrence--the Office of the feast itself being celebrated again with lesser solemnity on the eighth and final day of the octave, that is, a week later.) The number of Sundays after Pentecost (or Trinity) depended naturally on how early or late in the year Easter occurred. The year 2000 has room for 24 Sundays after Pentecost (23 after Trinity) before the new liturgical year begins on the first Sunday of Advent (3 December 2000), four Sundays before Christmas.

Although Christmas is included in the Temporale, its date does not vary; it is fixed on 25 December, the date of the winter solstice in the old Julian calendar (so called after Julius Caesar, who reformed it). The Christmas season also includes the feast of the Epiphany (6 January). The Sundays between Epiphany and Septuagesima were numbered from this feast. Some idea of the complex vagaries of ecclesiastical calendric calculation may be gathered from the fact that the festal dates of the Temporale of 2000 last occurred in 1916; they will not occur again until the year 2079.

The Medieval Experience of the Mass

The following discussion will take up in turn each of the spoken, chanted, and sung parts of the Mass, placing them in the context of the ceremonial actions that accompanied them. This mode of treatment recognizes that the Mass, despite the uncoordinated way in which it accumulated diverse elements over the centuries, is not merely a jigsaw puzzle of textual and musical elements. Long usage and familiarity created a unity that transcended the individuality of its parts. One must, furthermore, try to imagine the way the Latin liturgy might have been experienced by clergy and laity during the Middle Ages (or even up to the first half of the present century in Roman Catholic churches). Although the language barrier and the clericalization of the liturgy virtually excluded the laity from formal participation, a fervent belief that God became truly present on the altar transformed the experience for even the most unlettered worshipper. The richly decorated vestments, the comings and goings of the ministers and servers at the altar, the processions, the mystery of a sacred ritual language, the chanting and the silence, the glow of candles, and the fragrance of frequent censings created an encounter with the divine which powerfully united clergy and laity.

Methods of Singing of the Psalms

Since the texts of most of the Proper chants of the Mass are derived from the Psalter, a book of the Hebrew Scriptures consisting of 150 poetic texts known as "psalms," it will be valuable to understand something about the singing of psalms in late antiquity and the Middle Ages. Three principal musical forms were used. The simplest of these is known as direct psalmody, in which the text of the entire psalm is sung, most likely to a repeated formula (simple or elaborate), from beginning to end without interruption. Most often performed by a soloist, a verse-by-verse choral rendition amounted to the same thing. Responsorial psalmody took a form that was undoubtedly very common in the ancient world, and not only among the Jews. A soloist (cantor) sang successive verses of a psalm, also to a repeated formula, which he might have varied with impromptu embellishment. The chanting of the psalm verses was interrupted every verse (or group of verses) by a choral refrain drawn from one of the psalm verses. By the end of the fourth century this manner of singing the psalms had achieved great popularity in the West, having been introduced from the Near East.

Also from the same region came antiphonal psalmody. The way in which this was originally distinguished from responsorial psalmody is a puzzle that has perplexed scholars without producing any universally accepted answers. It seems that at first the psalm verses were still the responsibility of the soloist, but those who responded with a refrain were divided into two choirs. Did they sing different refrains-or successive halves of a single refrain? Was the text of the refrain a new composition, not taken from the body of the psalm? All of these questions have been raised without an entirely satisfactory resolution. Particularly frustrating is the fact that, although the word "antiphona" occurs with frequency in the writings of ancient authors, the meaning (or meanings) of the term is never explained.

As understood by the Middle Ages, an "antiphon" consisted of a short sentence or phrase, usually biblical but on feasts of the saints often referring to events in the life of that saint, which is set to a simple musical phrase. It was intended to be repeated between verses, or groups of verses, of a psalm. This practice declined, however, and throughout most of the Middle Ages "antiphonal psalmody" signified a mode of performance in which successive verses of the psalms were sung by two choirs standing or sitting opposite each other. (This manner of chanting the psalms dictated the arrangement of the choir stalls that can be seen in many monastic and cathedral churches.) The antiphon itself was sung only at the beginning and end of the psalm. It has been suggested that "alternating psalmody" might better describe this kind of psalmody, which is used in the Divine Office, a series of prayer offices (Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, None, Vespers, Compline) observed at fixed times during the day.

Chants, Prayers, Readings, and Ceremonial of the Mass

The introit chant of the medieval liturgy was a psalm between whose verses the choir sang an antiphon in neumatic style (2-5 notes per syllable, named after the notational signs discussed above) chosen from the same psalm. Penitential days and seasons had texts appropriate to the theme of contrition for sin; during other seasons of the liturgical year (the Sundays after Epiphany and Pentecost) text choices tended to be more generic. Some feasts of singular importance and antiquity have texts from other books of the bible; in these cases psalm verses appropriate to the spirit of the feast would be chosen. The introit antiphon for the first Sunday of Lent is psalmic: "He will call upon me, and I will hear him" (Ps. 90-15-16), but the introit antiphons for Pentecost ("The Spirit of the Lord has filled the whole earth," Wisdom 1:7) and for the feast of John the Baptist ("The Lord called me from my mother's womb," Isaiah 49:1-2) are not taken from the Psalter. In cases like these latter two, the psalm verse chosen could vary from place to place. For Pentecost one choice was "Benedicam dominum in omni tempore" ("I will bless the Lord at all times," the beginning of Psalm 34); for John the Baptist, "Bonum est confiteri domino" ("It is good to give thanks to the Lord," the beginning of Psalm 92).

Since the purpose of the introit was to accompany the procession of clergy from the vesting area to the altar, its length varied according to need, depending on the size of the church building and the number of clergy and assistants in the procession. The antiphon was repeated after each verse, as shown in the following schematic outline (Ant=introit antiphon; Vs=psalm verse; GP=Gloria patri):

Ant - Vs. 1 - Ant - Vs. 2 - Ant - Vs. 3 - Ant - GP -Ant -Sicut erat - Ant

However many psalm verses were sung, probably no more than two or three, the introit concluded with the doxology "Gloria patri ... Sicut erat" (Glory be to the Father ... As it was in the beginning) and a final repetition of the antiphon. (A doxology is a text in praise of the Trinity, derived from doxa, the Greek word for "glory". The lesser doxology has just been mentioned. The Gloria of the Mass, to be discussed below, is known as the greater doxology. Hymns-not sung at Mass during the Middle Ages-usually conclude with a poetic doxology.) In chant books of the Middle Ages the repetitive formula (psalm tone) to which the psalm verses were to be sung was indicated with a fragment of musical notation above the six letters EUOUAE. These represented the vowels of the closing words of the doxology: sEcUlOrUm AmEn. This indication sufficed for an experienced cantor to choose the desired psalm tone that provided a smooth melodic link to the ensuing antiphon.

The earliest description of the introit is found in the manuals of ceremony known as Ordines Romani. Some of these describe the papal Mass liturgy as it was celebrated early in the eighth century. This papal Mass ceremonial, adapted to different conditions, became the model for the medieval Mass liturgy, known to scholars as Romano-Frankish because it was codified in the Frankish (Carolingian) kingdom in the late eighth and early ninth centuries. At the introit the choir--in the Ordines Romani the papal schola cantorum--led the procession of clergy and assistants from the vesting area (secretarium) at the entrance of the church to the altar. At the entrance to the chancel (presbyterium) the singers divided into two groups so that the pope and his retinue could pass through their midst and mount the steps to the altar area. At a signal from the pope or archdeacon, the leader of the choir intoned the doxology that brought the entrance rite to a close.

The second item of the Mass liturgy, the Kyrie, has a complex and not yet completely clarified history. The words "kyrie eleison" (Lord, have mercy) are typically the response of a litany. (In this prayer form a leader sings or says brief petitions, to which the congregation makes an invariable response.) In the Western church litanies were almost invariably associated with processions, mainly those of a penitential cast. (The "kyrie eleison" response has been traced back to ancient Roman rituals of emperor worship and the cult of the sun, but its introduction to the Christian liturgy probably came at a time when these were no more than distant memories.) The Kyrie originated at Rome, where processions were daily occurrences during Lent from at least the sixth century.

For these processions clergy and laity met at a "collect" church some distance from the official "station" church of the day where the liturgy was to be celebrated. (Often this was the church of Sant' Adriano, the former meeting place of the Roman Senate, the Curia Iulia, still to be seen at the eastern end of the Roman Forum today.) Following a brief prayer ceremony, the procession of clergy and people passed through the streets to the singing of psalm verses alternating with refrains. As the procession approached the stational church, a member of the choir or a deacon began a litany, to which the people responded "kyrie eleison". The exact texts of the invocations are not known, but the music of the congregational response must have been quite simple. When clergy and laity arrived at the church and had taken their places for the liturgy, the pope (or his substitute) summed up the petitions in a concluding prayer.

From a letter of Gregory I (590-604) it seems that this normal litany form was observed on days when a procession from the collect church took place. On other days only the invocations "kyrie eleison" and "christe eleison" were used without the invocations. The number of repetitions is not specified, but it was apparently still flexible in the papal liturgy as described in Ordo Romanus I a century later (as many as 18 invocations). At the papal Mass the Kyrie had become the property of the trained singers of the schola cantorum.

The order of events just described-a procession to the stational church with a litany followed by the ceremonial entrance of the officiating clergy-ought to place the Kyrie before, not after, the introit of the Mass. Most likely, the order that survived in the medieval Mass, in which the Kyrie follows the introit, reflects either the practice on ordinary days that had no procession, or else the custom of simple parish churches. In such circumstances the priest and any assistants would have entered to the singing of the introit so as to be present for the Kyrie.

Not all of the earliest collections of Kyrie melodies present them as the melismatic chants found in later chant books. (A melisma is a long string of notes sung to a single syllable.) Sometimes, Latin words are underlaid to each note of the melody, thus rendering the chant syllabic (i.e., one note per syllable of text). Presently, it is not clear whether the melismatic or the texted versions are earlier. About 250 Kyrie melodies have been preserved, most sung over a restricted geographical area (i.e., there were few "international" Kyries). The majority of Kyrie melodies follows the formal pattern aaa bbb ccc'. Other schemata include: aaa, bbb, aaa', and aba, cdc, efe. (The repeated letters mean that the phrase is repeated, while ['] indicates a slight melodic variant) The simplicity of certain melodies printed in the Liber Usualis (56, 59, 62) give the impression of being archaic. The dates of the earliest occurrences of the melodies given in this book (hereafter LU; for a description see "Sources" below) must be revised according to Margaretha Landwehr-Melnicki (Das einstimmige Kyrie des lateinischen Mittelalters, Forschungsbeiträge zur Musikwissenschaft 1 [Regensburg, 1955]), a catalogue of Kyrie melodies found in the manuscripts of the Middle Ages.

The Gloria, used as a morning hymn in the Eastern church and later in Gaul, is a text of very ancient origin. Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria (d. 373) quoted the beginning of the hymn, and the form that eventually became part of the Mass appears in Greek in a famous fifth-century biblical manuscript, the Codex Alexandrinus. Although intoning the Gloria was at first a prerogative of bishops, it eventually became a chant sung on all Sundays (outside of penitential times) and on all feasts. Most of the hymn, after the song of the angels ("Glory to God") and the acclamations of praise to God the Father ("Lord, God, heavenly king"), is addressed to Christ ("Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father"). The Gloria closes with a brief invocation of the Holy Spirit ("cum sancto spiritu").

More than five dozen Gloria melodies are extant. One of the earliest, known as "Gloria A" (not included in the LU) has very long melismas at three points, including the closing "amen." Gloria melodies are generally neumatic; their range and melodic style implies performance by a choir. The Gloria is not sung to a repeated formula, but the recurrence of brief melodic motifs is a feature of some melodies. Gloria XV in the LU is an exception: its narrow range and constant repetition of a formula pivoting around the notes E, G, and a make it particularly suitable for congregational participation. It may be a very old melody, but the written transmission of the Gloria repertoire does not begin until the tenth century.

The collect, which sums up the principal theme of the day's liturgy (hence forming part of the Proper), closes the first portion of the "liturgy of the Word." Most of these prayers date back to the fifth and sixth century: their elegant succinctness marks them as perfect expressions of Roman oratorical style. The majority of these collects are couched in the same literary form. God the Father is addressed, using an allusion to one of the divine attributes on which the petitioner bases his plea. After the petition has been expressed, the prayer closes with a standard formula" "through Jesus Christ our Lord ..."

The typical collect consists of a series of syntactical units, each closing with a rhythmic arrangement of words (5 or 6 syllables) known as a cursus. The Latin collect for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost in the Roman Missal may serve as an example: the cursus has been underlined. The last three phrases end with an arrangement of accents known as the cursus planus (/ . . / .). The first phrase ("-rando manifestas") concludes with a cursus tardus: (/ . . . / .).

Deus, qui omnipoténtiam tuam parcéndo maxime et miserándo maniféstas,
multiplica super nos grátiam túam,
ut, ad tua promíssa curréntes,
caeléstium bonorum facias ésse consórtes.
Per Christum Dominum nostrum ... (standard conclusion)

(O God, who manifesteth thy omnipotence by showing mercy and forgiveness, increase in us thy grace, that thou wouldst make sharers of heavenly good things those who are hastening toward thy promises. Through Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.)

The use of the cursus imposes a harmonious balance on the words and elevates the prayer above the realm of normal speech. Both the use of this ancient oratorical device and the classical Latin vocabulary of the prayers attest to their great age. The collect is chanted by the priest to a simple recitation tone that emphasizes the syntactical divisions of the text (LU 100-102).

Two extended scriptural passages, the epistle and the gospel, occupy a central position in the first part of the Roman Mass liturgy, a fact recognized in the modern term "Liturgy of the Word." (The Gallican liturgy, replaced by the Roman liturgy in the eighth and early ninth centuries, had three readings at this point.) In apostolic and post-apostolic times, there existed no fixed order or length for the readings-both depended on the decision of the bishop or priest who presided at the Eucharist. Most probably, the reading continued uninterruptedly over several days or weeks until a book was finished. When the liturgy began to commemorate events narrated in the New Testament, only the specific passage relating to that event would have been read.

By the sixth century an annual cycle of Sunday and festal readings had developed. The earliest evidence of this cycle of pericopes, as the extracts from the Scriptures were called, is a list that identifies only the beginning and the end of the passage appointed to be read. The complete texts were not provided, since these would have been chanted from a biblical manuscript. Since the earliest lists of epistle and gospel readings for the Temporale developed independently of each other, little coordination between the two can be demonstrated. Very soon, special books were created (epistolary, evangelary) that contained only the necessary pericopes. A ceremonial procession with candles and incense accompanied the transfer of the Gospel book to the lectern from which it would be chanted by the deacon. The book with the gospel readings was sometimes covered with a luxurious binding decorated with gold, silver, and gemstones.

These scriptural readings were sung to simple formulae that clarified the principal syntactical divisions of each sentence in order to facilitate comprehension as they were proclaimed aloud. Most of the text was recited on a single pitch, but the midpoint and close of each phrase were articulated by simple melodic formulae. A special formula was employed for questions. The standard tones and the rules for their application (not necessarily with medieval authority) may be found in LU 103-109.

Two musical elements--a responsorial psalm and the alleluia--were sung between the readings. Occasionally, the texts of the readings and the chants seem to bear a relationship to each other. In fact, the responsorial psalm has been interpreted as a kind of congregational response to the first reading. A psalm has been present at this point in the liturgy since at least the time that Augustine served as bishop of Hippo in North Africa (396-430); he frequently preached on its text. It is presumed that the same practice prevailed at Rome. A cantor sang the psalm, while the congregation answered after every verse or two with an invariable refrain, thus a type of responsorial psalmody. This kind of psalmody fulfilled admirably the needs of popular participation in a society which was largely illiterate. The responsorial psalm-and with it the related role of cantor-was reintroduced to the reformed Catholic liturgy after the Second Vatican Council.

Early in the Middle Ages congregational participation at this point in the liturgy disappeared with the introduction of a very different, much more elaborate chant, the gradual, of such difficulty that it could be executed only by a skilled choir and soloist. The musical form of the gradual consists of a respond introduced by the cantor and continued by the choir, then a single solo psalm verse, melodically embellished, and finally a repeat of the respond. (This return of the respond was later abandoned, the choir joining in on the last phrase of the verse.) Graduals range from freely composed chants to tightly knit families of pieces that share common melodic material. How the latter category is to be analyzed has been the focus of considerable scholarly debate linked to theories about how chant was transmitted orally for centuries before it was written down. A group of nineteen graduals, known as the "Iustus ut palma" group, is based on a small number of musical phrases that function consistently as either beginnings, continuations, or cadences. (They are conveniently analyzed in Willi Apel, Gregorian Chant, 360.) Similar procedures are used in other groups of graduals, which are classified according to their "mode," a category determined by the final pitch of the respond (D, E, F, G, or a). The employment of standard phrases is more consistent in the solo verses than in the responds (see Apel, 346-47).

In some cases, the alleluia acclamation with its verse seems to be oriented toward the reading of the Gospel, which follows immediately afterward. According to the enthusiastic reports of some patristic authors, the singing of the word "alleluia" enjoyed great popularity in the early church. This cry of exaltation did not resemble in any way the later, far more elaborate Mass chant. The alleluia of the Mass was intoned by the cantor; this intonation was repeated by the choir and extended with a long melisma ("jubilus") on the final syllable of the word. The cantor continued with a (usually psalmic) verse, at the end of which the alleluia + jubilus returned, divided between soloist and choir. The earliest sources imply that the soloist sang the entire alleluia + jubilus at the beginning, which was immediately repeated by the choir. Because "alleluia" was so closely identified with the joyfulness of Easter, it was omitted during Lent and on penitential occasions.

There are about sixty alleluia melodies in the oldest sources (9 c.), some used for more than one text. While the rest of this core Gregorian repertoire remained substantially unaltered in the Middle Ages, hundreds of new alleluia melodies were composed, perhaps an indication that the small alleluia repertoire was newer and not entirely fixed when Roman chant was introduced North of the Alps in the late eighth century. One of the characteristics found frequently in alleluia melodies (a feature considered to represent later stages of composition) is the repetition of small melodic figures in the melisma on the final syllable of "alleluia." This feature can be found also in the earliest layer of alleluia chants. The reappearance of a large portion of the alleluia melody in the verse is also a notable characteristic of the newer alleluias. David Hiley has observed that "the whole [alleluia] is held together not simply by its overall responsorial form [alleluia-verse-alleluia] but by a network of internal references and patterning" (Western Plainchant, 136).

Many sequences were written in the Middle Ages. The genre, which originated in the ninth century, underwent many stylistic changes with respect to both text and music. (The name itself refers to the fact that early examples used the long melodic extensions of the alleluia jubilus melisma, which were known as "sequentiae.") Only the last stage of development, in which the sequence text resembled that of a rhythmic, rhyming hymn, can be discussed here. The first two stanzas of the sequence for the feast of Pentecost read as follows:
   Veni, sancte spiritus,
 Et emitte caelitus
 Lucis tuae radium.
 Veni, Pater pauperum,
 Veni, dator munerum,
 Veni, lumen cordium.
(Come, Holy Spirit, and send down from heaven a ray of thy light. Come, father of the poor; come, giver of gifts; come, bright light of hearts.)

The poetic rhythm is trochaic in both the stanzas of this sequence, and the same rhyme scheme (AAB) prevails. Both stanzas are sung to the same melody. Sequences differ from hymns in their musical and poetic structure. Whereas hymns have a single melody, which is repeated for each stanza, sequences differ from hymns in that each pair of stanzas is sung to successively different music. Thus the musical form of the sequence is: aa bb cc dd, etc. Sometimes the opening and closing stanzas stand alone without repetition (x aa bb cc ... z).

During penitential seasons, primarily the six weeks of Lent, the Western church ceased singing the alleluia, considered an expression of joy. In the Mass its place was taken by the tract. (A tract was also sung at Masses for the dead.) The successive psalm verses of the tract (as many as thirteen for the first Sunday of Lent) were sung without interruption in the manner of direct psalmody mentioned above. They were set to a rather elaborate formula that could be adapted to text phrases of varying lengths. From the musical point of view, the tracts are unusual on that they are restricted to only two (of the possible eight) modes. (A mode is an arrangement of tones and semitones associated with a specific final. In the case of the tracts those finals are D and G.)

The Credo of the Mass is a musical setting of the Nicene Creed. Originally a baptismal formula, it was explained to the newly baptized as part of their initiation into the Christian faith. The text of the creed was approved by the Council of Nicaea (325) and subsequently ratified by the Council of Constantinople (381). The Credo owes its presence in the medieval Mass to two separate secular interventions. Toward the end of the eighth century Charlemagne added it to the liturgy of the Palatine Chapel at Aachen (798), and in 1014 the Emperor Henry II insisted that the pope add it to the Roman Mass. The pope acquiesced, diplomatically pointing out to the emperor that the Roman see had never been tainted by heresy and thus had no need of a constant reminder of the truths of Christian faith. The days on which the Credo was sung were few: Sundays, the principal feasts of Temporale, and the feasts of apostles and evangelists. Few Credo melodies have come down from the Middle Ages; their melodies were grouped separately even as cycles of Ordinary chants began to develop. The most common Credo melody (LU 64-66) is actually a formula consisting of four elements ingeniously recombined in diverse ways (analyzed in Apel, Gregorian Chant, 414).

The offertory was sung during the preparation of the bread and wine for eucharistic consecration. (The name "offertory" also signified the complex of priestly prayers and ritual actions-preparation of the bread and chalice, mixing of wine and water, incensation, washing of the hands-that took place at this point during the Mass.) In its medieval form the offertory chant consisted of a choral refrain in richly neumatic style with two or three neumatic-melismatic verses sung by a soloist. The last portion of the refrain (the repetendum) was repeated after each verse. The earliest verifiable reference to singing at this point occurs in the eighth-century Ordo Romanus I, which describes an elaborate ritual for the reception of bread and wine from members of the Roman aristocracy by the pope and his retinue. The offertory chant is mentioned only when the pope gives the schola cantorum a signal that it should be concluded. Three of the earliest ninth-century graduals (containing the texts of the Mass chants without musical notation) have two or three verses for most offertories. A late eighth-century visitor to Rome thought the verse(s) notable enough-presumably for their melodic development-to mention them among his brief notes on liturgical observances at Rome (Ordo 22.21).

Some have hypothesized that the offertory, analogous to the "processional" chants of the Mass (introit and communion) was originally antiphonal but was transformed at some point into a responsorial chant. The evidence for antiphonal origins is weak. Nor is it clear, moreover, that offertory was originally a "processional" chant comparable to the introit and communion. Evidence for a Roman (i.e., papal) procession of this type at the offertory is slight, though it might have been a Gallican practice or one observed in the parish churches of Rome. Neither medieval music theorists, nor the books called "tonaries" that list chants by genre and mode, nor the medieval liturgical manuscripts themselves consider the offertories anything other than melodically elaborate responsorial chants. Although some music history texts continue to repeat the notion that the offertory was originally an antiphonal chant that somehow became responsorial, no evidence exists to support this belief.

The offertories of Gregorian chant consist of a richly neumatic respond with 1-3 verses in a more ornate style and lying often in a higher pitch range. After each verse a portion of the respond is repeated. The complete performance of an offertory with all its verses could last ten or more minutes, depending on the tempo chosen. Offertory verses are not preserved in all sources, and they may never have been sung in some locales. With few exceptions (Sicut in holocausto, Sanctificavit Moyses), the texts of the Gregorian offertories make no reference to offering.

Willi Apel has pointed to the "reiterative" musical style of the offertories-their tendency to focus on a single pitch, to return to it frequently and to stress it by means of repetition. They also manifest many instances of long and short passages of repeated melodic material. One of the most extraordinary (and hitherto unexplained) features of the offertory chants is the repetition of segments of the text-a phenomenon occurring nowhere else in the chant repertoire. The textual (and musical) repetition takes either the form A-A (e.g., Precatus est Moyses) or, more rarely, A-B-A (e.g., Domine in auxilium). Sometimes the second statement of the melody is embellished. During the singing of the offertory, the celebrant incensed the altar, and then washed his hands while saying verses from Psalm 26: "I will wash my hands among the innocent." As the offertory came to a close the priest recited the secret quietly, raising his voice only for its conclusion ("... per omnia saecula saeculorum" [for ever and ever]) to which all responded "Amen."

A brief chanted dialogue ("Sursum corda" [Lift up your hearts]) between the celebrant and those in attendance introduced the preface, which was chanted to a simple formula by the celebrant. This always included a reference to the angels just before the invariable closing phrase "una voce dicentes" (saying with one voice) which led directly into the Sanctus. Given the close connection between the preface and this chant, it has been assumed that the Sanctus must be one of the oldest chants of the Mass. This opinion has been challenged by arguments that the Sanctus was introduced to the Roman liturgy only at the end of the fourth or beginning of the fifth century. (See Bryan D. Spinks, The Sanctus in the Eucharistic Prayer [Cambridge University Press, 1991], p. 93-98 for a summary of recent research on this point.)

Sources of the melodies, as is the case with other chants of the Ordinary, are late (11 c.), but one of the simplest Sanctus melodies (LU 63) appears to be a continuation of the preface chant. There are about 230 medieval Sanctus melodies, many simple enough to be sung by a congregation. Some Sanctus melodies are attested in many regions, while others enjoyed only local currency-a situation comparable to that of other Ordinary chants. Its text falls into two parts, (1) Sanctus and (2) Benedictus, each concluded by "hosanna in excelsis," a quasi-refrain that might be set to the same music. In the later Middle Ages these two parts were occasionally split, the second postponed until after the words of consecration were said over the bread and wine.

The priest began the canon in a hushed voice while the choir completed the Sanctus. At the end of this long, multipartite prayer he chanted aloud the closing doxological formula ("Per ipsum et cum ipso ..." [through him and with him]), followed by the response "Amen." The priest then continued alone with the singing of the Pater noster (Lord's Prayer). This has been a part of the liturgy since at least the fourth century, when it is mentioned in the catechetical instructions attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386). Shortly thereafter, Augustine testified to its nearly universal use as a preparation for communion, and Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) placed it in its present position before communion.

At one time, the breaking or "fraction" of the eucharistic bread was a matter of great solemnity. (Even today in the Byzantine rite a specially baked loaf is ritually divided by the priest before the start of the liturgy.) During the late seventh century Pope Sergius I (687-701) introduced the singing of Agnus dei by clergy and congregation during the fraction ritual. The chant ("Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us") would be repeated as long as needed to prepare the bread for communion. With the introduction of unleavened bread and individual communion wafers, the fraction of large loaves was no longer a practical necessity, and the number of repetitions was reduced to three. Beginning in the tenth and eleventh centuries, the last of the "miserere nobis" (have mercy on us) refrains was replaced by "dona nobis pacem" (grant us peace).

Singing during communion can be traced back to the fourth century. At that time, Psalm 34 (33 in the Latin Bible of the Middle Ages) was the customary, if not invariable, choice as a communion chant, primarily because of the appropriateness of its eighth verse "taste and see that the Lord is good." Gradually, other psalms were introduced, sung with an antiphon related to the liturgical observance of the day. The number of psalm verses sung depended on the number of communicants. With the sharp decline in the reception of communion that took place in the Middle Ages, the singing of the psalm verses ceased to have any function and they were largely abandoned by the early eleventh century.

Only about 40% of the approximately 150 communions of the Gregorian tradition are derived from the Psalter. The gospels were a favorite source of texts. Many of the communions are short, simple antiphons, but others are as melodically elaborate as introits. This and other factors have led to the hypothesis that several successive compositional layers are represented in the repertoire. A surprising large number of communions are found with different finals in the manuscript sources (and are hence assigned to different modes), a situation that implies a lesser degree of fixity than other Mass chants (except for the alleluia, as noted above).

After the reception of communion the liturgy came quickly to a close. Each Sunday and important feast had its own postcommunion prayer, sung by the celebrant, which linked the reception of communion with the observance of the day. For example, the concluding prayer for Easter reads: "Pour upon us, O Lord, the spirit of your love, that you make of one mind those whom you have filled with the Paschal sacrament." From the formula of dismissal chanted by the deacon, "Ite, missa est" (Go, it is sent), derives the name "Mass." The precise meaning of the phrase remains obscure, but it has been shown that this dismissal ceremony parallels those found at the conclusion of other sacramental acts.

Excursus: The Troping of Chants of the Mass

Reference was made earlier to the amplification of Ordinary and Proper chants by the addition of tropes. These were phrases of text and music (occasionally music alone) that amplified (and in the case of textual additions) created a new interpretation of the traditional chant text. The following Sanctus tropes give a pronounced Trinitarian interpretation to the threefold "sanctus" acclamation. The tropes are given in italics, the standard text of the Sanctus in bold.

Mundi fabricator et rector.
Unice ipsius patri[s] et equalis dominus.
Sanctus dominus deus sabaoth,
Mundi qui culpas almis flammis mire detergis.
Pleni sunt celi et terra gloria tua.
Osanna in excelsis.

Nobis nunc famulis miserere tui
Cuius in laude puerorum turba devote prom[p]sit:

Benedictus qui venit in nomine domini.
Osanna in excelsis.

Maker and master of the world.
Only Son of the same Father and equal Lord
Holy Lord God of hosts,
Who wonderfully cleanses the sins of the world by nurturing flames.
Heaven and earth are full of thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

Upon us servants now have mercy,
[You] in whose praise the crowd of children devoutly sang:

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

The reference in the last trope segment is to the singing of the children at Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday before his death ("Palm" Sunday; cf. Matthew 21:9).

Ceremonial and Vestments of the Mass

The liturgy of the Mass consists of more than just the sung and spoken word. It involves gesture, distinctive attitudes of prayer and reverential postures (standing, kneeling), the use of candles and incense, special vessels (often of precious materials), and distinctive vestments. The architectural setting of a great cathedral or monastic church formed the backdrop to what has been described above. The ritual of the solemn Mass of the Middle Ages derived in part from Roman-Byzantine court ceremonial of late antiquity. With Constantine's bestowal of religious liberty on the Christian church, its bishops, once the target of state persecution, now received the honors proper to illustres, the highest officials of the Empire. This dignity involved the right to wear special insignia and the use of candles and incense in carrying out official functions. (In the visual art of the period Christ was often depicted with the accouterments of imperial rank and the apostles as senators.) Many of the trappings of this court ceremonial became "spiritualized" and incorporated into the evolving Christian liturgy.

The careful and devout observance of an elaborate ceremonial in all its particulars created a uniquely powerful impression that transcended the meaning of the sung and spoken words. Though the medieval laity's exclusion from what the twentieth century would identify as "active participation" in the liturgy was unfortunate, the ability of ritual to communicate the presence of the divine was fully realized in the medieval Mass. The modern term "Tridentine Mass," now used to signify the rite approved by the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century, is somewhat misleading. The Mass liturgy confirmed by this church council, called to counter the effects of the Reformation, was substantially a ratification of the liturgy handed down from the Middle Ages. The thoroughgoing revision of the traditional Mass liturgy of the Catholic Church that took place after the Second Vatican Council removed many of its medieval elements.

Liturgical vestments changed little during the Middle Ages. The priest first placed over his shoulders the amice, an oblong linen cloth tied in place around the waist. The alb, a long tunic reaching to the ankles and always white in color (from the Latin word for white, albus), was a garment worn by all social classes in the Roman world, retained as clerical vesture when secular fashions changed. The alb was secured at the waist by the cincture, either a rope-like cord or a band of fabric. The distinctive insignia of clergy ordained to the "higher orders" (deacon, priest, bishop) is the stole. The deacon wore it diagonally across the chest from the left shoulder to the right hip. Those who had received sacerdotal ordination (priest or bishop) wore the stole in the familiar manner around the neck, either crossed in front (priest) or hanging full length (bishop).

The distinctive priestly vestment was the chasuble, a large bell-shaped garment that descended from a common Roman form of outerwear. In earlier times (as depicted in the medieval mosaics of Roman churches) it was a very ample garment, known as a planeta, which had to be folded out of the way to permit free movement of the arms. The planeta is usually depicted as a rather dark-colored vestment in the Roman mosaics, but its color, that of the stole, and of other church decorations changed according to the seasons of the liturgical year or the feast. White is color of feasts of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin, and all saints who were not martyrs. Red is prescribed for Pentecost and feasts of the martyrs. Violet, regarded as a symbol of penitence, was used throughout Lent (from Septuagesima) and Advent. (In some places blue was an Advent substitute.) Green is the color for the season after Pentecost and the period between Epiphany and Septuagesima. If a church owned gold vestments, these could replace white on important festivals.

Medieval Interpretations of the Mass

Most medieval authors who discussed the Mass did not concern themselves primarily with its description or historical evolution (the subjects of the present essay). Following in the footsteps of the early ninth-century commentator on the liturgy, Amalar of Metz (c. 775-c. 850), they treated the Mass as part of a vast allegory that linked the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures with Christ's life on earth, culminating in his death and resurrection. The pattern adopted by Amalar in his discussion of the Mass liturgy involved an initial description of the ceremonial action (prayer, reading, chant), followed immediately by an allegorical interpretation of the same.

Amalar's mode of elucidation derived from the biblical exegesis of Origen (d. 254), who perceived historical, allegorical, tropological (moral), or anagogical (eschatological) significance virtually everywhere in the Scriptures. Amalar and his emulators adopted the view that whatever was perceptible to the senses pointed inevitably to higher spiritual meanings. Citing the authority of the English scholar Bede (673-735), Amalar explained the priest's washing of his hands at the offertory-arguably a practical measure if offerings were received from the congregation-as "the purification of the heart through tears and compunction" (Liber officialis 3:19.22). Amalar's allegorical understanding of the Mass disturbed some of his contemporaries, most notably the deacon Agobard and Florus, the bishop whom Amalar had replaced in the see of Lyon. They arranged to have his teachings condemned by the Synod of Quierzy (838). This hardly mattered, for Amalar's influence continued to shape medieval liturgical piety. The most important medieval author to engage in an objective, critico-historical interpretation of the liturgy was Walahfrid Strabo (808/9-849) in his Libellus de exordiis et incrementis quarundam in observationibus ecclesiasticis rerum (Book concerning the origins and developments of certain aspects of ecclesiastical observance).

While Amalar's explanations might today seem contrived and even misguided, they manifestly enriched the experience of the liturgy for many generations of Christians down to the twentieth century. Each age spontaneously interprets and reevaluates the liturgy according to its own instincts: the Protestant reformers of the sixteenth century took sometimes drastic steps to reshape Christian worship according to their own lights.

The modern restructuring of the Mass in the Catholic Church embraced principles of liturgical reform not unrelated to rationalist proposals voiced in the eighteenth century. Antiquarian views that prevailed in the sixties succeeded in replacing medieval piety with texts and practices derived from early Christian practice. (The problems associated with ascertaining the liturgical practices of the first four centuries of the Christian Church's existence have been discussed earlier in this essay.) Presently, the pre-Vatican II (i.e., medieval) Mass liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church may be celebrated only with the express permission of the local bishop. The heritage of the medieval Mass (the Latin language excepted) has been best preserved with all of its ceremonial intact in some of the Episcopal churches that define themselves as "Anglo-Catholic." Such parishes can be found in many major cities (e.g., Boston's Church of the Advent, New York's St. Mary the Virgin).


Bradshaw, Paul. The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship: Sources and Methods for the Study of Early Liturgy. Oxford, 1992.
In this informative and wide-ranging evaluation of scholarship in the field Bradshaw emphasizes the difficulty encountered in interpreting the earliest preserved documents on the liturgy. He reviews critically many of the current theories about the origins of Christian worship; other books in the present bibliography should be read with Bradshaw's conclusions in mind. His "ten principles for interpreting early Christian liturgical evidence" (ch. 3) could be applied to any historical discipline.
Fortescue, Adrian. The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy. 2nd ed. London, 1913.
Inevitably dated, but still a very useful and informed introduction to the subject.
Jungmann, Josef. The Mass of the Roman Rite. 2 vols. New York, 1951-55.
This is a translation of the second German edition (1949), which was updated several times by the author, finally in 1966 (Missarum Sollemnia: Eine genetische Erklärung der römischen Messe, 6th ed.). The most exhaustive treatment of the subject available-a difficult work not for the fainthearted. Much research has been carried out since Jungmann's definitive work, but it has not been superseded.
Klauser, Theodor. A Short History of the Western Liturgy: An Account and Some Reflections. 2nd edition. Oxford, 1979.
An updated translation of the fifth German edition of this classic history of the Mass liturgy, first published in 1965.
Every, George. The Mass. Dublin, 1978.
Not really a continuous history of the Mass but a series of interesting essays on ritual, sacrifice, and the development of the Roman Mass. Only about half the book concerns the Middle Ages.
Harper, John. The Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy from the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century: A Historical Introduction and Guide for Students and Musicians. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.
As the subtitle suggests, this volume is intended to serve as a comprehensive introduction to the medieval liturgy as well as to the "Tridentine" revision of the Roman Catholic liturgy and the liturgy of the Church of England. In addition to its treatment of the medieval Mass, it discusses the nature of the liturgy, the liturgical year, and liturgical books. A glossary and a select bibliography are included.
Senn, Frank. Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical. Minneapolis, 1997.
A broad and well-balanced coverage of Christian liturgy from the apostolic age to the present. Its treatment of the early material needs to be read in light of Bradshaw. The author, a Lutheran pastor, includes material on liturgical theology. Chapters 1-7 cover the early Christian and medieval periods. Highly recommended.
Foley, Edward. From Age to Age: How Christians Celebrated the Eucharist. Chicago, 1991.
A comprehensive, readable introduction that covers a very broad range of topics including the music of the Mass. The terminology is occasionally post-Vatican II, but medieval developments are placed in their widest liturgical context. Each chapter has an extensive bibliography of books and articles in English.
Cabié, Robert. History of the Mass. Washington, DC: The Pastoral Press, 1992.
A well organized history of the Mass from the Last Supper [sic] to the Missal of Paul VI by an eminent historian of the liturgy. Distinctive for its inclusion of many extended passages from important documents relating to the history of the Mass and its interpretation in ages past.
Metzger, Marcel. History of the Liturgy: The Major Stages. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1997.
A brief, systematic survey of liturgical history from a post-Vatican II perspective. It includes material on rituals other than the Mass. To be recommended, but readers need to be aware that the author regards certain practices of the past as distressing deviations from the (current) ideal.
Palazzo, Eric. A History of Liturgical Books from the Beginning to the Thirteenth Century. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1998.
An exceptionally well written and comprehensive survey of a complex topic. Those who wish to delve further into the subject should have recourse to Cyrille Vogel, Medieval Liturgy: An Introduction to the Sources, trans. and rev. William Storey and Niels Rasmussen (Washington: The Pastoral Press, 1986). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition (2000) has articles on all of the liturgical books with any musical significance. See also the survey "Liturgy and Liturgical Books" (Joseph Dyer).
Pfaff, Richard. Medieval Latin Liturgy: A Select Bibliography. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982.
A judicious selection of material available up to the time of its publication: still very useful for references.
Apel, Willi. Gregorian Chant. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1958.
For many years the standard work on Gregorian chant. Although some of the historical conclusions need revision, the comprehensive analyses of chant genres still merit study. Since Apel based his work on the chants as they were available in the twentieth-century Vatican editions, he devoted little attention to tropes and sequences.
Hiley, David. Western Plainchant: A Handbook. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
An indispensable survey of over 600 pages that brings together the insights of modern historical and musical scholarship. Broad coverage of all genres of chant, chant notation, medieval music theory, and non-Gregorian traditions. Of particular value for those who read music are the author's transcriptions, commentaries and analyses from manuscript sources.
Crocker, Richard. An Introduction to Gregorian Chant. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.
A non-technical introduction to the subject by a noted scholar. No music reading ability is assumed; a CD of music sung by the author is included with the book.

Sources of Music and Recordings

The most convenient book with music for the Mass is the Liber Usualis, published in many editions by the monks of Solesmes from 1896 up until the years preceding the Second Vatican Council. It duplicates no medieval book but provides music for all Sundays and principal feasts of the year. The weekdays of Lent, all of which have special Masses, are not included. For these one must have recourse to the Graduale Romanum. The square notation on four staff lines in these books is based on notation of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. (The vertical and horizontal strokes are modern additions designed to facilitate a style of performance known as the "Solesmes method." Although unhistorical, this method produced many beautiful and evocative recordings.) Dealers in second-hand theological books will be able to supply Latin- English missals printed before 1960. These contain all of the prayers and readings, as well as the texts of the chants necessary for the celebration of the Mass throughout the year.

A complete Mass with all of the chants of the Ordinary and the Proper for the first and the third Masses of Christmas, including the chanted prayers and readings, was recorded by the monks of Beuron Abbey (Germany) in 1959. The Third Mass has been reissued on a Deutsche Gramophon CD (427014-2). All three Christmas Masses are available on the Motette label (50321-1, 50321-2, 50321-3), as well as Masses for the feasts of Easter (50341), Pentecost (50351), St Stephen (50331), St. Martin (50311), and the Assumption of the Virgin (50361). Every year there appear many new chant recordings and re-releases of older material. Several of the new recordings incorporate new insights about performance practice, particularly with respect to the rhythmic interpretation of the neumes. Sometimes the medieval chant Propers are combined with Renaissance polyphony for the Ordinary of the Mass. Chant recordings are reviewed in Fanfare by Jerome Weber, who also compiles an annual annotated list of chant CDs for the journal Plainsong & Medieval Music, available in many university music libraries.

Web Sites

Reaction to the reform of the Catholic Mass liturgy in the early sixties spawned an enormous number of web sites in many languages seeking to restore the so-called "Tridentine" Mass. These can be accessed through http://www.unavoce.org. For information, scholarly and practical, about Gregorian chant and its performance, the best place to start is Peter Jeffery's site http://www.music.princeton.edu/chant_html. (Note: there is an underscore between "chant" and "html".)

The Abbey of Solesmes in France which, more than hundred years ago, led the movement to restore Gregorian chant to its medieval form has its own website (http://www.solesmes.com). All of the chant books currently available on this site have been adapted to the modern reform of the liturgy and hence do not reflect medieval practice.

To return to the contents of this article:

| Introduction | The Early Development of the Christian Liturgy | Structure of the Mass | Sources |
| The Ordinary and the Proper of the Mass - An Overview | Table 1: Medieval Solemn Mass |
| The Liturgical Year | The Medieval Experience of the Mass | Methods of Singing of the Psalms | Excursus: The Troping of Chants of the Mass | Ceremonial and Vestments of the Mass | Medieval Interpretations of the Mass |
| Selective Bibliography |

For other articles on music from the ORB encyclopedia, consult the ORB music index. The references for monastic orders can be found on the Religious orders page. A page on the Latin liturgy is planned but has not yet been completed.

Copyright (C) 2000, Joseph Dyer. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

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