Solemn Mass

Solemn Mass

Solemn Mass ( _la. missa solemnis) or Solemn High Mass or simply High Mass is - when these terms are used in a technical sense, not merely as a description - the full ceremonial form of the Tridentine Mass, celebrated by a priest with a deacon and a subdeacon, with most of the parts of the Mass sung, and with the use of incense. The terms Solemn Mass, Solemn High Mass, and High Mass are similarly often used within Anglo-Catholicism in which the ceremonial and also, usually, the text are based on those of the Tridentine Mass. This article deals with High Mass as celebrated according to the Tridentine use.

These terms distinguish the form in question from that of Low Mass and Missa Cantata.

Priests often take the parts assigned to the deacon and subdeacon.

A Solemn Mass celebrated by a bishop has its own particular ceremonies and is referred to as a Solemn Pontifical Mass.


The book "Ceremonial for the Use of the Catholic Churches in the United States of America" (commonly called the Baltimore Ceremonial), published upon the request of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, used the term "High Mass" of a sung Mass, even without deacon and subdeacon. The general usage agrees instead with the definition given in the article "Liturgy of the Mass" of the "Catholic Encyclopedia": "the essence of high Mass is not the music but the deacon and subdeacon." [] "The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language" (Fourth Edition, 2000) also defines "High Mass" as "A Mass in which the celebrant is assisted by a deacon and a subdeacon and accompanied by acolytes, a thurifer, and a choir." [] The site [ Liturgical Terms in Music] likewise describes High Mass and Missa Solemnis as "The full ceremonial form of the Choral Mass", distinguishing it from Missa Cantata, which it defines as "A choral Mass minus the Deacon and Subdeacon who participate in the High Mass" Other sites give similar definitions: "High Mass is sung, with a Priest, a Deacon and a sub-Deacon participating"; [] "A Mass in which the celebrant is assisted by a deacon and a subdeacon and accompanied by acolytes, a thurifer, and a choir"; [] "Mass with incense, music, the assistance of a deacon, subdeacon, etc." []

Importance within the Tridentine Mass

The article on the Liturgy of the Mass in the "Catholic Encyclopedia" has this to say about Solemn or High Mass::This high Mass is the norm; it is only in the complete rite with deacon and subdeacon that the ceremonies can be understood. Thus, the rubrics of the Ordinary of the Mass always suppose that the Mass is high. Low Mass, said by a priest alone with one server, is a shortened and simplified form of the same thing. Its ritual can be explained only by a reference to high Mass. For instance, the celebrant goes over to the north side of the altar to read the Gospel, because that is the side to which the deacon goes in procession at high Mass; he turns round always by the right, because at high Mass he should not turn his back to the deacon and so on. []

Since its 1970 revision, the Roman Missal no longer categorizes Mass as High or Low (in Latin, "solemnis" or "lecta"), and distinguishes Mass [General Instruction of the Roman Missal, chapter IV: The Different Forms of Celebrating Mass] only as celebrated with a congregation [General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 115-198] (with a subdivision according as it is celebrated with or without a deacon) [General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 120-186] or with participation by only one minister, [General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 252-272] and as celebrated with or without concelebrating priests. [General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 199-251] It recommends singing at all Masses, saying, for instance: "Although it is not always necessary (e.g., in weekday Masses) to sing all the texts that are of themselves meant to be sung, every care should be taken that singing by the ministers and the people is not absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays and on holy days of obligation"; [General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 40] and: "It is very appropriate that the priest sing those parts of the Eucharistic Prayer for which musical notation is provided." [General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 147] The distinction between High and Low Mass is necessarily observed where the Tridentine form of the Roman Rite continues to be used. The term "High Mass" is sometimes encountered also, both in Anglican and certain Roman Catholic circles, to describe any Mass celebrated with greater solemnity, but not in the technical sense here envisaged.


In the sacristy, before vesting, all three sacred ministers (priest celebrant, deacon, and subdeacon) wash their hands. The subdeacon and deacon arrive a bit earlier than the celebrant so that they may be vested and ready to help the celebrant when he arrives in the sacristy. While the deacon and sub-deacon vest, the first and second acolytes, respectively, help them. The sacred ministers recite certain prayers while they place on each new piece of clothing. First, the amice (a rectangular cloth of linen with long strings for tying) is kissed (if it is embroidered with a cross) and then placed on top of the head briefly while reciting one of the prayers during vesting. Then it is tied around the shoulders on top of the cassock (or on top of the habit, if the sacred ministers belongs to a religious order with one). Next the alb (a long linen tunic with sleeves) is put on. The cincture (in Latin, "cinctura"), a long cloth cord also called a girdle, is then tied around the waist. The subdeacon then completes his vesting by placing the maniple (an embroidered piece of fabric, folded in half, with a cross in the middle) on his left arm (provided there is no Asperges or other liturgical ceremony before Mass begins), securing it either with pins or with the elastic inside, and then the tunicle (an embroidered tunic with short sleeves) over all. The deacon places his stole (a long narrow embroidered piece of cloth, similar to the maniple but of greater length) over his left shoulder and binds it in place, at his right hip, with the cincture or girdle. He then puts on the maniple and his dalmatic (similar to the tunicle). The priest celebrant does the same except that he crosses his stole in front of him at the waist, binding it with the girdle or cincture. After the maniple he puts on a cope (a long, heavy embroidered cape). Following the Gospel and homily, the celebrant, assisted by the acolytes, removes the cope and puts on the chasuble (similar to the tunicle, but without sleeves and usually with an embroidered cross or image on the back). He will remove the chasuble and put the cope back on after the dismissal and before processing out.

The servers of the Mass (Master of Ceremonies, acolytes, thurifer, torch-bearers) and the clergy sitting in the liturgical choir stalls are vested in cassock (the ankle-length black robe with buttons, usually seen on priests and altar servers) and surplice (a flowing white tunic with sleeves) or cotta (a shorter version of the surplice). Anyone ordained to the subdiaconate or above also wears the biretta (a four-cornered hat with a pom-pom on top in the center and three fins on top around the edges) while sitting. Members of religious orders in habit have on a surplice over the habit. If it is part of their "choir dress", they also use the biretta. If not, then they use their hood in the same fashion as one uses a biretta. Birettas are plain black for priests, deacons and subdeacons, black with purple or red trim for monsignori, canons and bishops, and purple for archbishops; cardinals' birettas are scarlet.


The typical music of Solemn High Mass is Gregorian chant. However, a wide variety of musical settings of the Ordinary of the Mass have been composed over the centuries, and may be used instead. The works of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Giovanni Gabrieli are considered especially suitable. There are also several musical settings for the propers of Masses during seasons and on feast days and for certain votive Masses. An example is William Byrd's setting of the minor propers for the Lady Mass in Advent.

Despite the ban imposed, more than a century ago, by Pope Pius X in "Tra le Sollecitudine" (1903) on a large selection of post-Renaissance compositions often considered to be "sacred music," musical settings for the Ordinary of the Mass by composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart continued in use. Being based on texts in Latin, these settings, as well as the earlier ones, are less frequently met today.

The music of the Mass is typically performed by a choir made up of lay men and women (though in churches run by religious orders it is often made up of their members.) The choir, at least if monastic, was traditionally placed close to the altar. However, with the appearance of elaborate musical settings of the Ordinary of the Mass it became necessary to employ lay singers, and with this innovation, the choir moved first from the front of the church up to galleries on the sides of the church and then finally to a loft in the back. This in turn allowed musical instruments, besides the organ, to be employed in the music.

In Solemn Mass, by far the greater part is spoken by the celebrant inaudibly, but, apart from a very few parts such as the "Orate Fratres", all that he speaks aloud, such as "Dominus vobiscum" and the four opening words of the Gloria and of the Creed are sung by him. He says quietly for himself everything that the choir sings, except short responses such as "Et cum spiritu tuo" and "Amen." He reads for himself the words of the Epistle and the following chants while the subdeacon sings the Epistle, and he reads the Gospel for himself before the deacon sings the Gospel aloud.

Structure & Ceremonial

The ceremonies begin when the Master of Ceremonies (MC) rings the bell. The porter opens the sacristy door and the servers and ministers leave the sacristy and enter the church in the following manner: first the thurifer carrying his thurible and boat (or the aspersorium if the Asperges is to be had); next come the acolytes carrying their candles (the custom in Northern European and English-speaking countries is to have a crucifer holding a processional cross walking between the acolytes); the Master of Ceremonies comes next; and finally the three sacred ministers enter in single file in reverse order of precedence (or on either side of the celebrant if he is wearing the cope for the Asperges or some other ceremony before the Mass. The deacon and sub-deacon should be holding the ends of the cope.)
*Asperges (only on Sundays at the principal Mass of the day). The Asperges is only of obligation in cathedral and collegiate churches, but it was required by the bishops of England for all parish churches. This ceremony of sprinkling the congregation with lustral water is performed by the celebrant with the assistance of the other sacred ministers. After blessing the altar, himself, and the sacred ministers and servers, the celebrant then proceeds through the nave of the church to bless the congregation. All the while the choir, or a cantor, is singing the text from Psalm 50, verse 9 (all Biblical references from here on are from the Douay-Rheims Bible) "Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed: thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow." After the sacred ministers have returned to the altar a few verses and responses are sung between the celebrant and everyone else. The sacred ministers then go to the sedilia (the bench or seats where the sacred ministers sit during parts of the Mass) to put on their maniples and to help the celebrant change from cope to chasuble.
*Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. These prayers are said by the sacred ministers standing on the floor at the bottom of the steps leading up to the High Altar. They are also said to each other, kneeling, by the acolytes and those servers sitting in the liturgical choir. If the acolytes are close enough, they may say them with the sacred ministers. These prayers consist primarily of Psalm 42 with the verses said alternately between the celebrant and the other sacred ministers. While these prayers are being said, the musical choir is singing the text of the "Introit". After the prayers are finished, "all" rise. The sacred ministers ascend the steps to the altar to cense it.
*Introit. This text of the Mass varies daily. It usually consists of Scriptural or religious text, followed by a Psalm verse, followed by the Doxology. Then the Scriptural or religious text is repeated. This is usually being sung while the sacred ministers are saying the "Prayers at the Foot of the Altar" mentioned above and while they incense the altar. After "Prayers at the Foot of the Altar", the sacred ministers ascend the steps to the altar, the thurifer brings his thurible, or censer, and a 'boat' of incense. The celebrant places incense into the thurible, blesses it and then proceeds to cense the altar, accompanied by the other ministers. After he is finished, he hands the thurible to the deacon and the deacon censes him. The thurible is then given back to the thurifer, who departs to the sacristy until he is needed again. The sacred ministers then form a "semi-circle" (really a line) on the altar steps--the celebrant on the top platform (called a footpace), the deacon on a middle step, and the sub-deacon on the bottom step. The Master of Ceremonies then helps the celebrant find his place in the Missal. The priest makes the sign of the cross and recites in a low voice to himself the "Introit" that the choir has already sung. All bow with him when he recites the Doxology. Meanwhile the choir, after completing the "Introit", begins to sing the "Kyrie Eleison".
*Kyrie Eleison. When the celebrant has finished reciting the "Introit", he recites, again independently of the choir, the "Kyrie Eleison" alternately with the Master of Ceremonies (the other sacred ministers may join in with the M.C.) After this is finished the sacred ministers either form a straight line, remaining on their respective steps, until the Kyrie is nearly finished or they bow to the cross and descend the steps to sit at the sedilia if the musical setting for the "Kyrie" is particularly long.
*Gloria in Excelsis. Toward the end of the "Kyrie", the sacred ministers walk (still staying in a line) to the center of the altar. If they have been sitting, all rise, save the celebrant, who waits until his biretta has been collected by the deacon. The three sacred ministers genuflect at the foot of the altar steps, then ascend and form a line. (The deacon and subdeacon usually lift the ends of the celebrant's alb whenever they ascend the steps together, and place their closest hand under his elbows when they descend together.) The celebrant intones, i.e. sings the first few words of, the "Gloria", after which the choir sings the rest and the deacon and subdeacon ascend the steps to stand at either side of the celebrant, while he says in a low voice the remainder of the "Gloria" independently of the choir. When they are finished they remain in this position until the singing is nearly done or, if it is a long musical setting, they may go down and sit (first genuflecting), as mentioned above at the "Kyrie".
*Collect (sometimes called the Oration). Towards the end of the singing of the "Gloria in excelsis" (or "Kyrie" if the "Gloria" be omitted) the sacred ministers head to the center of the altar in a line. When the singing has finished, the Celebrant turns away from the altar and says, with hands extended to shoulder width only ("Ritus servandus in celebratione Missae", V, 1), "Dominus vobiscum" ("The Lord be with you"), to which is replied, "Et cum spiritu tuo" ("And with thy spirit"). The Celebrant then, with hands extended to no more than shoulder width and palms facing each other, reads the collect or prayer of the day. (Any time the verb "read" is used, this should be interpreted as "sing" in monotone, often with note variations at certain punctuations, and a special tone for the ending. The entirety of the Mass, as heard by the congregation, is sung--except the blessing, which is sung only by a bishop--though the priest recites quietly for himself everything that the choir sings, apart from short responses such as "Et cum spiritu tuo.")
*Epistle. Towards the end of the collect (or the last collect if there be more than one) the Master of Ceremonies heads to the credence table to get the Epistolary or book of readings. He hands it to the Subdeacon, who bows to the crucifix at the end of the collect, if the Holy Name of Jesus is mentioned, reverences the altar and then the liturgical choir (as opposed to the musical choir) if there be one. He then stands on the floor aligned somewhat behind the Celebrant and chants the Epistle or other reading proper to the day. Meanwhile the Priest too recites the Epistle in a low voice, and the Deacon, also in a low voice, responds "Deo gratias" ("Thanks be to God") at the end. The Subdeacon next reverences the choir, and then the altar. Ascending the steps to where the Celebrant is, he kneels while the Priest blesses him, then kisses the hand of the Celebrant, who has placed it on the Epistolary. He then hands the Epistolary to the Master of Ceremonies, who puts it back on the credence table or in some other appropriate place.
*Gradual & Alleluia (or Tract). Once the Subdeacon has finished reading the Epistle, the musical choir begins to sing the Gradual & Alleluia (or Tract, instead of the Alleluia, in Lent), which the Celebrant should have finished reciting for himself, after his private reading of the Epistle, before the Subdeacon has finished reading the Epistle.
*Gospel. While the choir sings the Gradual and Alleluia (or Tract) the subdeacon caries the missal to the Gospel side of the altar where the priest will read the Gospel in a low voice. Meanwhile, the Master of Ceremonies takes the Gospel book off the credence table and gives it to the deacon who then places it on the altar. After the celebrant finishes reading the Gospel, the sacred ministers go to the center of the altar and the Celebrant places incense in the thurible in the usual manner. The two acolytes with candles, the Master of Ceremonies, the thurifer with the thurible, the subdeacon, and the deacon with the Gospel book assemble at the bottom of the altar steps, genuflect, and go in procession to the Gospel side of the sanctuary. The subdeacon holds the Gospel book while the deacon sings the Gospel.
*Sermon (optional)
*Credo. The Celebrant intones the Nicene Creed with the words "Credo in unum Deum." While the choir sings the Creed, the sacred ministers recite the Creed in the low voice at the altar. All genuflect at the Incarnatus ("Et incarnatus est" to "et homo factus est."). The deacon then goes to the credence table, picks up the burse containing the corporal, and then spreads the corporal on the altar.
*Offertory. While the choir sings the offertory the ministers prepare the altar. The subdeacon goes to the credence table and receives the humeral veil. Having set the chalice veil aside, the subdeacon then carries the chalice, paten, purifacator, and pall to the altar. The celebrant receives the paten with the host. He places the host on the corporal while saying "Suspice sancte pater...". While the celebrant says the "Deus qui humanae..." the deacon pours the wine into the chalice, and after the celebrant blesses the water, the subdeacon pours a small amount of water into the chalice. With the paten in his right hand the subdeacon goes at stands facing the altar on the lowest step with the humeral veil covering his arms and the paten. Incense is then placed into the thurible and blessed by the celebrant. The oblations are incensed first, and then the altar is incensed while the celebrant says the beginning of Psalm 140 "Dirigatur Domine...". The deacon incenses the celebrant and any priests in the choir after which the thurifer incenses the rest of the altar party, followed by those in choir, and then the congregation.
*Secret. After the celebrant finishes praying "Suscipe sancta trinitas..." he says the secret prayers of the Mass in the low voice. He concludes the secret aloud "Per omnia secula seculorum. Amen."
*Preface. Either the common preface or a proper preface will be sung followed by the "Sursum Corda".
*Sanctus & Benedictus. Following the preface, the ministers say the "Sanctus" and "Benedictus" in the low voice while the choir sings them aloud.
*Canon of the Mass The Canon of the Mass is said by the celebrant entirely in the low voice. The deacon stands to the side of the celebrant and kneels on the first step for the consecration. Both the host and the chalice are elevated by the celebrant immediately after they are consecrated. The deacon is responsible for covering and uncovering the chalice with the pall.
*Pater noster. The celebrant sings the "Pater noster" aloud. At this time the subdeacon places the paten back on the altar and removes the humeral veil.
*Agnus Dei. The ministers say the "Agnus Dei" at the altar in the low voice while the choir sings the Agnus Dei aloud.
*The Pax. The kiss of peace is passed from the celebrant to the deacon, who in turn then gives the kiss of peace to the subdeacon. The subdeacon extends the kiss of peace to clergy attending Mass in the choir. While the choir continues to sing the Agnus Dei, the priest says the prayers prescribed for the preparation for his communion.
*Distribution of Holy Communion. If Holy Communion is to be distributed to the congregation, the Confiteor is said, followed by "Ecce Agnus Dei...". The priest then distributes Holy Communion to the faithful, placing the Host on the tongue of each person who receives. The choir sings the Communion Antiphon at any point after "Ecce Agnus Dei..."
*Ablutions. The celebrant cleans the chalice and his fingers with water and wine. The subdeacon then takes then covers the chalice and paten with the chalice veil and carries them to the credence table. After the ablutions, the celebrant goes to the Epistle side of the altar and reads the communion antiphon in the low voice.
*Postcommunion. After singing "Dominus vobiscum.", the celebrant sings the post-communion prayer or prayers.
*Dismissal. Facing the congregation, the deacon sings the dismissal, which is either "Ite Missa est." or "Benedicamus Domino".
*Blessing. The celebrant places his joined hands on the altar and says in a low voice the prayer "Placeat tibi, sancta Trinitas" for himself and those for whom he has offered Mass. Then he kisses the altar and, turning towards the congregation, blesses them "in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti", making over them the sign of the cross.
*Last Gospel. The celebrant usually goes to the Gospel side of the altar and reads the Last Gospel. Since the promulgation of the 1962 Missal, which lists under six headings the occasions when the Last Gospel is omitted, the only passage used, with the exception of Palm Sunday, is the John 1:1-14, in the recitation of which all genuflect at "Et Verbum caro factus est". At low Masses said on Palm Sunday (when palms are not distributed, as they should not be, unless perhaps this is the only Mass on that day) the Last Gospel is the one that is appointed for the ceremony of the blessing of the palms. When earlier editions of the Roman Missal were in use, a Last Gospel was read at every Mass, usually the John 1:1-14. When there were two coinciding liturgical days (feasts, ferias or vigils) that each had a proper Gospel (one not found in the common Masses used for the various categories of saints' feast days, such as "common of confessors"), the Gospel appointed for the liturgical day being commemorated was read as the Last Gospel, just as the collect, secret, and postcommunion prayers are commemorated for that day. The exit procession then forms in the following order: crucifer between the two acolytes, the master of ceremonies, and the sacred ministers.


ee also

*Pontifical High Mass
*Eucharistic theology
*Pre-Tridentine Mass
*Tridentine Mass
*Mass of Paul VI

External links


* [ EWTN photographs and video of a Solemn Mass]
* [ Video of a Solemn High Mass celebrated at the SSPX Seminary of St. Cure d'Ars, Flavigny, France] [ (alternate host - same video, but lower quality encoding)]
* [ Video of a 1941 Solemn High Mass narrated by Fulton Sheen]

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