Latin Mass Society

Scholas' Guide to Sung Mass

Introduction
General Principles

Specific Guidelines:
Asperges/Vidi aquam
Introit
Kyrie
Gloria
Gradual and Alleluia
Creed
Offertory
Sanctus and Benedictus
Agnus Dei
Communion
Ite Missa Est
Domine salvam fac
Note on polyphonic settings


Introduction

Singers not familiar with the Traditional Mass (and even many who are) may find the following guide useful. A fuller account of these matters can conveniently be found in B. Andrew Mills, ‘Psallite Sapienter: A Musician’s Practical Guide to the 1962 Roman Missal.’ That book also summarises the liturgical laws governing what must be sung, and what can and cannot be sung, at Mass according to this Missal, issues which will not be covered here. Another excellent resource is the relevant section in J.B. O’Connell’s ‘The Celebration of Mass’ (pp432-456). This guide should not be taken as a definitive guide to the rubrics of the Mass, but as an indication of what the Schola, viewing proceedings from a choir loft, is likely to be able to see at certain key moments.

The guide diverges from the guidance of Psallite Sapienter in some small ways with a view to indicating the absolute maximum time the schola has to sing at certain points in the Mass. It should be emphasised however that the schola is under no obligation to fill this time with singing; having sung the obligatory texts, it is always acceptable to leave a reverent silence. If the organist is sufficiently competent, then an organ voluntary or improvisation may be appropriate, during the times when organ music is permitted (that is, not for most of Advent and Lent).

The chants to be sung at Mass can all be downloaded: the proper and ordinary chants will be found in the Liber Usualis or the Graduale Romanum (note that only the Graduale has the propers for the ferias in Lent). The only exception is the small number of chants specific to feasts of England and Wales; the LMS hopes to make these available online soon. Also referred to here are the books Versus Psalmorum et Canticorum, which contains the psalm verses which may be added to the Introit and the Communion antiphon, and Ott’s Offertoriale, which contains the extra verses which may be sung with the Offertory antiphon (these verses have also been set to Psalm tones in Richard Rice’s Offertoriale). The chant setting of the ‘Domine salvam fac’ can be found on the Chant Downloads page of the LMS website. It should be noted that the official (and obligatory) texts and preferred melodies are to be found in the Graduale Romanum; all other books are either derived from this (like the Liber Usualis) or are optional extras. Occasionally the chant text in the Graduale differs from what the priest says, but the schola should not attempt to correct it.


General Principles

The 1962 Missal, to a much greater extent than the 1970 Missal, allows singing by the schola to take place while the priest is saying certain texts and performing certain ceremonies. This includes the priest’s saying of texts (such as the Gradual or the Communion) which the schola sing, but the Schola can also make use of periods of silent prayer by the priest (notably the Offertory and the Canon of the Mass) to complete what they are singing. In this way the schola’s singing does not interrupt the liturgy, but serves as an adornment of it.

Thus there are special ‘spaces’ built into the Mass which the schola can use to sing, but the schola must be aware of the natural limits of these spaces. There will often be a sung dialogue between the priest and the schola and congregation which cannot begin until all other singing has been finished, and this should not be unnecessarily delayed by the schola.

It is accordingly often useful to sing pieces whose length can be varied, such as psalm verses alternating with the Communion antiphon (the schola can sing as many or as few verses as time permits, as long as they sing the Gloria Patri before the last antiphon).

However there are exceptions to this general principle, since some chants which the schola is obliged to sing will inevitably take more time than is provided by the priest’s silent prayer. In such cases the priest will go to the sedilia and sit down until the chant is finished.

Accordingly scholas need clear guidance on when to start singing, how long they have, when to stop, and what cues from the priest and servers to look out for. This is given by the following guide, which is written with the Missa Cantata (Sung Mass without deacon and subdeacon) in mind, though it will equally apply to Solemn Mass (Sung Mass with deacon and subdeacon): the only differences is that in some places below what the priest is referred to as doing may be done by the deacon or subdeacon. Certain special Masses and special ceremonies (processions, special blessings, ordinations, the Sacred Triduum, and so on) raise additional issues which cannot be dealt with here; there is guidance for these matters in Psallite Sapienter.


Three further general points

First, the schola’s Director needs to be certain whether the Creed and Gloria are to be sung; if there is any doubt he should check the Latin Mass Society Ordo, which is available on the LMS website as well as in hard copy. The Creed is Sung on all Sundays and on many important feasts; the Gloria is not sung in Advent and Lent, but otherwise it is sung on Sundays and on joyful feasts.

Second, the schola Director needs to ensure the priest knows what Mass Ordinary and Creed will be sung, since the priest needs to know what setting he should sing when he intones (sings the first line of) the Gloria and the Creed, if they are to be sung, and the ‘Ite missa est’. The schola Director should also check with the priest what, if any, notes the priest would like to help him pitch what he needs to sing. The priest may prefer a single note or a whole musical phrase. If the schola Director or organist is to provide these notes then it is essential he knows exactly when to give them: this will be indicated below.

Third, at certain moments the schola and congregation have to sing responses. There are a number of different tones in which these are sung according to the season, the importance of the feast, and the preference of the priest; they are set out in the Liber Usualis (‘The Common Tones of the Mass’, pp98-111). Experienced singers will know from the priest’s own singing how they should respond, but less experienced scholas would do well to check in advance with the priest if there is any doubt. Mistakes here are very common.


Specific Guidlines

Asperges/ Vidi aquam

(Sung at the principal Mass on a Sunday,[1] at the very beginning). This must be intoned by the celebrant, after he has arrived at the foot of the altar, knelt down, and been handed the aspergilium (holy water sprinkler) by the MC. Only when he is ready should he be given the note by the organ, if this has been agreed. The schola should take up the chant at the asterisk in the normal way.

At the end of the Asperges or Vidi Aquam there is a sung dialogue, and a collect sung by the priest (‘Exaudi nos, Domine, sancte Pater...’) to which the schola and congregation respond ‘Amen’.

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Introit

Where there is no Asperges (when it is not the principal Mass on a Sunday), the schola can begin the Introit as soon the priest enters the church.

If the Asperges has been sung, the priest will need to remove his cope and put on his chasuble before returning to the bottom of the altar steps to say the ‘Prayers at the Foot of the Altar’, but the Introit can be begun as soon as the Asperges, with its collect and ‘Amen’, has been completed.

It is the custom in some places for the beginning of the Introit to be delayed (regardless of whether the Asperges has taken place) until the priest is at the foot of the altar and begins the ‘Prayers at the Foot of the Altar’ (which he will say in a low voice), or at least until he has put the chasuble on after the Asperges and is moving towards his place at the foot of the altar. Beginning the Introit as early as possible is advisable where a long Kyrie is to be sung, especially a polyphonic Kyrie.

The Introit can be extended by adding verses of the appropriate psalm, as indicated in Versus Psalmorum et Canticorum, if (when there is no Asperges) the priest makes a long procession to the altar. In this case, the extra verses should be stopped (finish the verse you are singing) when the priest reaches the altar, and the Gloria Patri sung and Introit antiphon repeated.


Kyrie

This is begun immediately after the completion of the Introit. If the Kyrie is long, the priest may go to the sedilia to sit down until it is completed.

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Gloria

If the priest has been sitting down during a long Kyrie, he will rise when it is nearly completed and go to the middle of the altar to intone the Gloria. If it is a short Kyrie he will still be at the Epistle side of the altar, where (having finished the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar) he will say the Introit and the Kyrie in a low voice. When he has finished these prayers he will go to the middle of the altar as above to intone the Gloria. If he is to be given the opening notes of the Gloria these should be given when he is ready, at the centre of the altar.

The priest will remain at the middle of the altar and say the rest of the Gloria in a low voice. Since singing it will inevitably take longer than this he will then go to the sedilia and sit down while the schola completes the Gloria. He will then return to the altar to sing ‘Dominus vobiscum’, then go to the Epistle side to sing the Collect and Epistle. (The Epistle may also be said, not sung, at a Missa Cantata.)

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Gradual and Alleluia

(Or Gradual and Tract, or Lesser and Greater Alleluias, and where applicable the Sequence). The Gradual is begun as soon as the Epistle is completed by the priest. Schola members should be aware of the progress of the Epistle and be ready to sing when it ends, without delay; some Epistles are very short. (It is a useful feature of the Liber Usualis that the Epistle, with the other proper prayers, are printed in full alongside the proper chants.) There is no sung dialogue at the end of the Epistle (the priest merely places his hand upon the altar to indicate to the server that he should say ‘Deo gratias’).

During the singing of the Gradual and Alleluia the priest will say them at the Epistle side of the altar in a low voice. As with the Gloria the priest will complete his text before the schola finishes singing it, so if they are of any length he will go to the sedilia and sit down. He will rise before the Alleluia (or Tract or Sequence) is completed to perform the ceremonies which precede the Gospel (the prayer ‘Munda cor meum’, blessing of incense, etc.); these do not affect the schola.

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Creed

On days when the Creed is sung it is sung after the sermon, if there is a sermon. If there is no sermon, it is sung immediately after the Gospel (there is no sung response after the Gospel); the priest will go to the centre of the altar and will be ready to intone it immediately. If the schola is not certain of the priest’s intentions members should look out to see if, at the conclusion of the Gospel, the priest places his maniple over the Missal (or hands it to the MC): if he does, this indicates that he will preach, or at least that he intends to read the Epistle and/or the Gospel in the vernacular before continuing with Mass.

After preaching, if he preaches, the priest will put his maniple back on, and go to the centre of the altar, to intone the Creed. If he has not preached he will do this immediately after finishing the Gospel. The starting notes of the Creed should be given him when he is ready, with his maniple on and at the centre of the altar (not, for example, before he ascends the altar steps, if he is returning from the pulpit). As with the Gloria, after intoning the Creed the priest will say the rest in a low voice, and then go to sit on the sedilia while the schola finishes singing it.

The schola should if possible genuflect at the ‘Et incarnates est’ of the Creed, even if they are not visible: they may either genuflect and sing the words ‘Et homo factus est’ while kneeling, or genuflect quickly after singing it. (These two options are also applicable to other places where genuflections are marked in chants.)

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The Offertory

The priest will go to the middle of the altar (this may be immediately after finishing the Gospel, if there is neither sermon nor Creed, or it may be from the sedilia, if there has been a Creed). He will then turn to face the congregation, and with eyes downcast and hands outstretched, sing ‘Dominus vobiscum’, to which the schola and the congregation respond (using the appropriate tone) ‘Et cum spiritu tuo’. The priest will turn immediately back to the altar, and sing ‘Oremus’. It is at this moment that the schola can begin the Offertory antiphon (the priest will be reading the same text in a low voice).

There is plenty of time for the schola to sing the Offertory antiphon; they can continue singing during the Offertory prayers, while the priest incenses the altar, during the Lavabo (when the priest washes his hands), and while he says further prayers. Most Offertory antiphons have ancient verses which can be sung after the antiphon (these can be found in the Offertoriale as noted above). Alternatively the schola can take the time to sing a polyphonic motet or an appropriate piece of chant, after singing the Offertory antiphon.

After the lavabo the priest will say the prayer ‘Suscipe’ in a low voice: he will read this prayer off the large altar card in the middle of the altar, while bowed over the altar. He will then turn to face the congregation, and say aloud ‘Orate fratres’. This is a sign that the schola’s time for singing is coming to an end. It is followed by a response made by the server (‘Suscipiat’) and the Secret Prayer of the priest. The schola must be silent in time for the sung dialogue which follows this, which begins with the priest singing ‘Per omnia saecula saeculorum’, and introduces the Preface, which the priest will sing.

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Sanctus and Benedictus

At the end of the Preface sung by the priest (it ends with the word 'dicentes'), one of the servers will ring the bell and the priest will begin the Sanctus (‘Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus’). The schola should sing the Sanctus immediately.

The video below shows the sequence of ceremonies leading up this point. (It shows Solemn Mass, and the tone used is the 'Most Solemn Tone').

 

(After the Sanctus, the priest says the prayers of the Canon silently, with the exception of the line ‘Nobis quoque peccatoribus’ after the Consecration, which is said in a low voice.)

If it is a Chant setting the Benedictus will be sung immediately after the Sanctus, without a break, and there should be time to complete the Benedictus before the Consecration. (Editions of the Liber Usualis from 1921 until 1958 may indicate that the Benedictus be sung after the Consecration even if sung in Gregorian Chant; this rule is no longer in force.)

If it is a polyphonic setting the Benedictus is not sung until after the Consecration. A lengthy Sanctus, even without the Benedictus, may require the priest to pause before the Consecration to wait for the schola to finish: see the note below.

A polyphonic Benedictus is sung after the Consecration of the Chalice: wait until the priest has put the Chalice down on the altar and has genuflected, while one of the servers rings the bell, before starting to sing again.

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Agnus Dei

At the end of the Canon, which is said silently, the priest sings aloud ‘Per omnia saecula saculorum’, and the schola and congregation respond with a sung ‘Amen’. The priest sings the Pater Noster alone; the schola and congregation join in only with the last line, ‘Sed libera nos a malo.’ Shortly after this there is a brief sung dialogue, ending with the schola and congregation singing ‘Et cum spiritu tuo’. The Agnus Dei is sung immediately after this.

The video below shows the sequence of ceremonies and sung dialogue which leads up to the singing of the Agnus Dei. (Solemn Mass is shown, and the tone used is the 'Most Solemn Tone'.)

 

If there is Communion of the Faithful (and it is unlikely that this will not take place at a Sung Mass today), then if the Agnus Dei is not to delay the priest it needs to be over in time for the priest to turn to the people with the host and say aloud ‘Ecce Agnus Dei’. He does this after he has received the Host, and the Chalice, himself. See the note at the end.

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Communion

If schola members are to receive communion, it is advisable for them to go to the communion rail immediately after the conclusion of the Agnus Dei (or while it is still being sung by other members of the schola, if it is polyphonic: in this case they should wait until the priest has said ‘Domine non sum dignus’ three times, and one of the servers has rung the bell, and the priest has consumed the Host, before proceeding to the communion rail). They should wait at the communion rail to receive communion before the rest of the congregation. They should then return to their place and begin singing the Communion antiphon as soon as practicable.

If there is no communion of the faithful, the schola should sing the Communion antiphon when the priest receives communion, or when the Agnus Dei is over, if it is still going on at this point.

If no schola members receive communion, but other members of the congregation do, the schola can start singing the Communion antiphon when the priest begins to distribute communion to the faithful.

There should be plenty of time to sing the Communion antiphon. It can be extended by the addition of psalm verses from the appropriate psalm (see Versus Psalmorum et Canticorum). Or alternatively something else may be sung after the Communion antiphon, as at the Offertory.

The period of time available for singing at this point[2] includes the time necessary for the distribution of communion to the faithful, followed by the priest’s ablutions (a server will pour wine and water over the priest’s fingers into the Chalice; the priest will drink this from the Chalice). The schola may continue to sing while the server transfers the Missal from the Gospel side of the altar to the Epistle side, and the priest covers the chalice; these are indications that time is running out. The priest will then read the Communion antiphon himself from the Missal at the Epistle side of the altar, in a low voice. He will then go to the centre of the altar, and the singing must be completed in time for him to turn to the congregation and sing ‘Dominus vobiscum’, to which the schola and congregation sing in response ‘Et cum spiritu tuo.’

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Ite, missa est

After this ‘Dominus vobiscum’ there is a sung dialogue, during which the priest will sing the Post Communion prayer. The dialogue concludes with the ‘Ite missa est’, to which the schola responds ‘Deo gratias’ (with some variations, for example at Requiem Masses or Masses followed by processions), and usually the blessing of the faithful by the priest.

This is followed by the Last Gospel, to which there is no sung response either at the beginning or the end.

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Domine salvam fac and the Marian anthem

At the principal Sung Mass on Sundays in England and Wales, it is customary to sing the ‘Domine salvam fac’ at the end of Mass: that is, after the Last Gospel. It is sung when the priest and servers have formed up ready to process out. It is normally intoned by a cantor and taken up by the rest of the schola and congregation. It is followed by a collect sung by the priest. It is customary in some places in England and Wales to sing the Marian anthem proper to the season at the end of Sung Mass (though not at Masses for the Dead). If the ‘Domine salvam fac’ is sung the Marian anthem is sung after it; if there is no ‘Domine salvam fac’ then it is sung when the priest and servers have formed up ready to process out. It is usually intoned by the priest, who may turn to face a statue of Our Lady, if there is one conveniently to hand. The priest may lead the procession out during the singing of the anthem (if time is short), or after it is finished, and he has sung the collect and a verse, to which the schola and congregation must be ready to sing the appropriate response.

The Anthems can be found in the Liber Usualis pp273-279 (simple and solemn tones), and the seasons are as follows:

Alma Redemptoris Mater, from the 1st Sunday of Advent until Candlemas (2nd February) inclusive (Compline of Candlemas is the first time Ave Regina Caelorum is sung)

Ave Regina Caelorum, from Candlemas until Wednesday of Holy Week (no anthem is sung on Holy Thursday or Good Friday).

Regina Caeli, from the end of the Easter Vigil until the eve of Trinity Sunday.

Salve Regina, from Trinity Sunday to the eve of the 1st Sunday of Advent.

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Note on Polyphonic settings of the Sanctus and Agnus Dei

Whereas the priest will go and sit at the sedilia, if necessary, to give a choir the chance to finish singing the Kyrie, Gloria, Gradual and Alleluia (or Tract, and the Sequence if there is one), and the Credo, he cannot do this if the Sanctus or Agnus Dei takes more time than the texts he himself has to read at the altar. This can also happen with a long Benedictus. In these cases he must simply wait at the altar; in the case of the Sanctus he must delay the Consecration itself. (Such a delay should never be allowed on account of the singing of extra, non-obligatory, texts, such as Psalm verses or motets, or indeed because of the playing of the organ.)

A delay of this kind is not ideal and Schola Directors need to bear this issue in mind when choosing settings. It is noticeable that in settings written after the Council of Trent the Sanctus tends to be shorter than some of the excessively long settings composed before that Council. Again, there are very long settings to be found in the ‘Viennese School’ and this school has been criticised by some Popes for being insufficiently liturgical. It is not for us to exclude what is allowed by custom and liturgical law, or to rule out important parts of the patrimony of Catholic music, but this issue must be borne in mind, common sense exercised, and the issue discussed when necessary with the priest.

There is another problem with polyphonic settings of the Agnus Dei, which were written with different liturgical practices in mind. Many were composed at a time when the people did not commonly communicate during a Sung or Solemn Mass; rather, Communion was offered before or after Mass. This means that there was no Communion of the Faithful after the Priest’s Communion. Under these circumstances, a choir could continue singing the Agnus Dei until the ablutions, followed immediately by the Communion antiphon, before the priest sang the Post Communion. (Some settings of the Agnus Dei even incorporate the Communion antiphon as a final section.) Schola Directors should beware that a lengthy Agnus Dei, written with this sequence of events in mind, can seriously delay the Mass if it needs to be finished before the priest can show the Host to faithful and proclaim ‘Ecce Agnus Dei’. Again, common sense must be employed and the matter discussed with the priest.

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[1]Except Palm Sunday and a Requiem celebrated on Remembrance Sunday. Back to main text

[2]De Musica Sacra (27) of 1958 indicates that singing should take place only while the faithful are receiving communion. This is impracticable where schola members receive communion themselves and would in practice rule out the singing of additional chants or motets except where there is a very large number of communicants. The present authors suggest that extending the singing as described here is sanctioned by custom. Back to main text

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