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Low Mass

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Title: Low Mass  
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Subject: Tridentine Mass, High Mass, Missa Cantata, Solemn Mass, Roman Rite
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Low Mass

Low Mass (called in Latin, Missa lecta, which literally means "read Mass")[1][2][3] is a Tridentine Mass defined officially in the Code of Rubrics included in the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal as Mass in which the priest does not chant the parts that the rubrics assign to him.[4] A sung Mass in turn is a Solemn or High Mass if celebrated with the assistance of sacred ministers (deacon and subdeacon); without them it is a Missa Cantata.[5]

"Private Mass" (in Latin, Missa privata or secreta, familiaris, peculiaris),[6] which is now understood as Mass celebrated without a congregation, formerly meant any Low Mass, even with a large congregation.[7][8][9] In editions of the Roman Missal earlier than that of 1962, "Missa privata" was still contrasted with "Missa solemnis".[10] In 1960 Pope John XXIII, who in 1962 removed from the Roman Missal the section headed Rubricae generales Missalis, replacing it with his Code of Rubrics, decried use of the term "Missa privata": "The most sacred Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated according to the rites and regulations is an act of public worship offered to God in the name of Christ and the Church. Therefore, the term 'private Mass' should be avoided."[11] When applied to Low Mass in general, the word privata indicated that that form of Mass was deprived of certain ceremonies.[12]

In Low Mass incense is not used and the responses (in Latin) are given by one or more servers. Low Mass, celebrated in exactly the same way whether a congregation is present or not, was the most common form of Mass before 1969. In the 1970 edition of the Roman Missal a distinction[13] was made between Mass celebrated with a congregation and Mass celebrated without a congregation.[14] No such distinction was made in earlier (Tridentine) editions of the Roman Missal, which only distinguished between Solemn Mass and Low Mass (calling the latter Missa lecta or, as in the Rubricae generales Missalis included in pre-1962 editions, Missa privata).

The term "Low Mass" is sometimes used also by Christians not in communion with the Holy See for a spoken, not sung, form of their own Eucharistic celebrations.[15] However, this article concerns only the form of the Roman Rite of Mass officially known by that name.


  • History 1
  • Variations 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4
    • Media 4.1


Low Mass originated in the early Middle Ages as a shortened or simplified form of Solemn Mass. Catholic practice had been that there was (at most) one Mass in a monastery or parish church each day. However, over time it became necessary for a variety of reasons to celebrate more than one on the same day. It also became customary for monasteries to ordain most of their monks, though originally monks were almost all laymen, and for every priest to say a daily Mass. For a while, concelebration, whereby several priests took a full priestly part in offering Mass, provided all with the possibility to celebrate Mass each day, but this custom died out. Low Mass is considered to be a necessity that falls short of the ideal, which is Solemn Mass.

The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913 describes the result as follows:

... concelebration was in the early Middle Ages replaced by separate private celebrations. No doubt the custom of offering each Mass for a special intention helped to bring about this change. The separate celebrations then involved the building of many altars in one church and the reduction of the ritual to the simplest possible form. The deacon and subdeacon were in this case dispensed with; the celebrant took their part as well as his own. One server took the part of the choir and of all the other ministers, everything was said instead of being sung, the incense and kiss of peace were omitted. So we have the well-known rite of low Mass (missa privata). This then reacted on high Mass (missa solemnis), so that at high Mass too the celebrant himself recites everything, even though it be also sung by the deacon, subdeacon, or choir.


Originally, Low Mass was sung in monotone. Thus we read of priests in the Middle Ages going to sing their "Missa privata" or "Low Mass". This custom of singing died out in the 18th century. Much of Low Mass is said in a voice audible only to the celebrating priest and the server(s).

The Deutsche Singmesse. Also Messe basse, the French translation of Low Mass, was used to indicate Mass compositions, e.g. Fauré's Messe basse.

In 1922, the Holy See granted approval to the Dialogue Mass, which enabled the faithful to speak, with the server, the Latin responses of the Tridentine Mass and to recite the parts that they were permitted to sing at a Missa Cantata, as well as the triple "Domine non sum dignus" that the priest said as part of the rite of Communion of the faithful, which, though not envisaged in the Ordinary of the Mass until after the Second Vatican Council, could be inserted into the celebration of Mass. Apart from the language used and the differences between the editions of the Roman Missal, the Dialogue Mass was thus similar to a Mass of Paul VI that is spoken, not sung.


  1. ^ missa+lecta"+"low+mass"&dq="missa+lecta"+"low+mass"&lr=&cd=13 Timothy Lincoln Bouscaren, James I. O'Connor, The Canon Law Digest: officially published documents affecting the Code of Canon Law, vol. 5, p. 74
  2. ^ Edward Schaefer, Catholic Music through the Ages: Balancing the Needs of a Worshipping Church, p. 45
  3. ^ The Harvard Dictionary of Music (2003 edition), p. 516
  4. ^ "Missarum species duae sunt: Missa in cantu et Missa lecta. Missa dicitur in cantu, si sacerdos celebrans partes ab ipso iuxta rubricas cantandas revera cantu profert: secus dicitur lecta (Code of Rubrics, 271); "Masses are of two kinds: sung Masses (in cantu) and low Masses (Missa lecta)). A Mass is called a sung Mass, when the celebrant actually sings those parts which the rubrics require to be sung; otherwise it is called a low Mass" (translation by Rev. Patrick L. Murphy).
  5. ^ Missa in cantu porro, si celebratur cum assistentia ministrorum sacrorum, appellatur Missa solemnis: si celebratur absque ministris sacris, vocatur Missa cantata" (Code of Rubrics, 271); "a sung Mass, when celebrated with the assistance of sacred ministers, is called a solemn or High Mass (Missa solemnis); when celebrated without sacred ministers, it is called a Missa cantata (translation by Rev. Patrick L. Murphy).
  6. ^ , p. 555A Catholic DictionaryWilliam Edward Addis, Thomas Arnold,
  7. ^ "Private Mass. Formerly the same as Low Mass. Now applied to the Mass that a priest says privately, without a congregation" ( (1980)Modern Catholic DictionaryJohn Hardon,
  8. ^ "At first the expression 'private mass' meant what used to be called a 'low mass', i.e., one without the normal solemnity and not considered the celebration of the entire community. Only later in the period did it come to mean masses celebrated by the priest alone" (Ministry in the Church: a historical and pastoral approach, p. 298)Paul Bernier,
  9. ^ "The variations in the ceremonies practised in the celebration of the Eucharist make a division into two heads easy: missa solemnis and missa privata" (, p. 68)Essays on CeremonialEdward Godfrey Cuthbert Frederic Atchley, Percy Dearmer, John Wickham Legg, Edmund Bishop,
  10. ^ For example, in Rubricae generales Missalis, XVI, which deals with what parts of the Mass should be said aloud and which parts so quietly that only the priest himself can hear.
  11. ^ Rubricae Generales Missalis Romani, 269)
  12. ^ , 1908, p. 665The Rosary Magazine
  13. ^ Other distinctions include that, within Mass celebrated with a congregation, between Mass with a deacon and Mass without a deacon (see General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 120-186).
  14. ^ General Instruction of the Roman Missal (1970 edition), Chapter IV: "I. Mass with a Congregation ... III. Mass without a Congregation"
  15. ^ For example, Zion Lutheran Church, Services and the Anglican Parish of Saint Mark

External links

  • by Rev. William O'Brien, 1932Handbook for SacristanPreparations for a Low Mass -
  • - Compiled and arranged by The Rev. L Kuenzel, 1923A Manual of the Ceremonies of Low Mass
  • by Rev. Walter J. Schmitz, S.S., S.T.D.Learning the Low Mass: A Manual for Seminarians and Priests


  • Video tutorial of Low Mass with over 500 photos and accompanying liturgical texts
  • Video of a Low Mass offered by an FSSP priest in North America on the Feast of the Transfiguration
  • Video of the same Low Mass as above, but with a voice-over meditation taken from the writings of St. Peter Julian Eymard (alternate host)
  • Another video of a Low Mass
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