The Roman Mass

For hundreds of years, Christians were persecuted by Roman authorities; however, during the fifth century in a miraculous turnabout, the once-underground Christian Church became not only tolerated—but formally established as the official church of Rome. Gradually, its most sacred ritual—Holy Ccmmunion (the taking of bread and wine to commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus and His Disciples as recounted in the New Testament)—became the foundation for the daily Mass. By c.1000, the Roman Catholic Mass had expanded to approximately 20 prayers, divided into two categories:


-       The Mass "Ordinary": the five standard prayers of the Mass that are used every day—the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei


-       The Mass "Proper": 15 prayers that change daily to focus on the specific occasion being celebrated in the church calendar—the most important church festivals being Easter and Christmas.



(sung parts are bolded)







FORE-MASS (The Liturgy of the Word)




  Entrance Ceremonies:


1  INTROIT (antiphonal chant)









(sung recitationally on psalm tones)






5   EPISTLE / 1st Lesson
(recitational—on psalm tones)



(responsorial chant: solo vs. choir)



7   ALLELUIA or Tract (responsorial chant)



8   GOSPEL / 2nd Lesson (recitational—on psalm tones)

    [optional Sermon here]









SACRIFICE-MASS (The Liturgy of the Eucharist)




  Offertory rites:

10  OFFERTORY (antiphonal chant)


11  Prayers and Psalm 25




12  Secret (spoken)

  Eucharistic prayers:


(sung recitationally on psalm tones)





15  Canon (spoken)


  Communion cycle:


(sung recitationally on psalm tones)






18  COMMUNION (antiphonal chant)


19  Prayers (spoken)




20  POST-COMMUNION (recitational—on psalm tones)







The prayers of the Mass Ordinary were among the most important musical texts of the Middle Ages and all subsequent historical eras. Short prayers, such as the Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei were sung with expressive melismas (many notes sung to each syllable of the text), but longer prayers such as the Gloria and Credo had to be sung in a recitational style (one note sung per syllable of text):


Kyrie: ("Lord have mercy . . .")—This prayer is in "A B A" form ["ternary"]


Kyrie eleison . . . Christe eleison . . . Kyrie eleison

(Translation): Lord have mercy . . . Christ have mercy . . . Lord have mercy.


Gloria: ("Glory to God in the highest . . .")


Gloria in excelsis Deo…Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis…
Laudamus te…Benedicimus te…Adoramus te…Glorificamus te…
Gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam…Domine Deus, Rex caelestis…Deus Pater omnipotens…Domine Fili unigenite Jesu Christe…Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris… Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis…Qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram…Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis… Quoniam tu solus sanctus…Tu solus Dominus…Tu solus altissimus, Jesu Christe… Cum Sancto Spiritu, in gloria Dei Patris. Amen.

(Translation): Glory to God in the highest…And on earth peace to men of good will…We praise You…We bless You…We adore You…We glorify You…
We give You thanks for Your great glory…Lord God, heavenly King…
God, the Father Almighty…Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of the Father…Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father…Who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us…Who takes away the sins of the world, receive our prayer…Who sits at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us…For You alone are Holy…You alone are Lord…You alone, O Jesus Christ, are most high… Together with the Holy Spirit in the Glory of God the Father. Amen.


Credo: (Creed: "We believe in one God . . .")


Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem…factorem caeli et terrae…visibilium omnium et invisibilium…Et in unum Dominum Jesum Christum…Filium Dei unigenitum…Et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula… Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine…Deum verum de Deo vero…Genitum, non factum, consubstatialem Patri…per quem omnia facta sunt…Qui propter nos homines, et propter nostram salutem…descendit de caelis…
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine…et homo factus est…Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato…passus, et sepultus est… Et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas…Et ascendit in caelum: sedet ad dexteram Patris…Et iterum venturus est cum gloria judicare vivos et mortuos…cujus regni non erit finis…Et in Spiritum Sanctum Dominum, et vivificantem…qui ex Patre, Filioque procedit…
Qui cum Patre, et Filio simul adoratur, et conglorificatur…
qui locutus est per Prophetas…Et unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam…Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum…Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum…
Et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen.

(Translation): I believe in one God, the Father Almighty...Creator of heaven and earth...and of all things visible and invisible...And in one Lord Jesus Christ...
the only-begotten Son of God...born of the Father before all ages...
God from God, Light from Light...true God from true God...Begotten, not made;
one in being with the Whom all things were made...Who for us and our salvation…came down from heaven...and by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Virgin Mary...He was made man...He was crucified for us, suffered under Pontius Pilate...died, and was buried...And on the third day He rose again in accord with the Scriptures...He ascended into heaven, and sits at the Father's right hand...And He shall come again to judge the living and the dead... and of His kingdom there shall be no end...I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life... Who proceeds from the Father and the Son...Who together with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified...Who spoke through the prophets...I believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church...I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins...I expect the resurrection of the dead...and a life in the world to come. Amen...



Sanctus: ("Holy, holy, holy Lord . . .")


Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth…
Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua…Hosanna in excelsis…

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini…Hosanna in excelsis.

(Translation): Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty...
Heaven and earth are full of Your glory...Hosanna in the highest!...
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord...Hosanna in the highest!...



Agnus Dei: (refers to Jesus as the sacrificial "Lamb of God")


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


(Translation): Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world: have mercy on us…Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world: have mercy on us…
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world: grant us peace.



The Mass was not the only sacred service in the Roman liturgy: a series of eight shorter daily prayer services known as the Divine Office (or "The Canonical Hours") was also developed during the Middle Ages. The Office includes services celebrated (usually in private) by clergy at 3AM, sunrise, 6AM, 9AM, noon, 3PM, twilight, and before bedtime. Some of the most expressive Catholic texts come from the Office— especially from the twilight service called "Vespers."