As a Roman Catholic, and with somewhat traditional leanings, I almost always enjoy listening and / or learning about musical settings of the Mass. (For that matter, I also love listening to Divine Liturgies, but that's a tradition of a different provenance.) My purpose herein, therefore, is to explain the different parts of the Mass, and to provide links to different settings of the Mass, as well as discuss some interesting traditions in music related to the Mass.
The Mass itself is defined, rather simply, in the original Catholic Encyclopedia, as follows:
The Mass is the complex of prayers and ceremonies that make up the service of the Eucharist in the Latin rites.However, usually, when we speak of a "Mass Setting" or a Mass set to music, we are speaking of parts of the aforedefined Mass, which may be divided as follows:
These texts comprise those which are sung...by the celebrant and the sacred ministers (who will be referred to as priest, deacon, and sub-deacon) and which are styled "Accentus"; and those which are assigned to the choir and which are styled "Concentus".The Concentus is further divided as follows:
First, those which are found in the section of the Roman Missal under the heading "Ordinarium Missae" (namely, the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei) and which will be briefly referred to as the Ordinary;
Second, those texts which are found under the headings "Proprium de Tempore", "Proprium Sanctorum", "Commune Sanctorum" (namely, Introit, Gradual, Alleluia Verse, Sequence, Tract, Offertory, Communion) and which will be referred to briefly as the Proper....For much of the time, when one sees a discussion or use of a "Mass," musically speaking, the discussion is referring to a musical setting of the "Ordinary." As stated in the Catholic Encyclopedia regarding the Ordinarium: "The texts are those of the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Credo, the Sanctus, the Benedictus, the Agnus Dei. A collection of these, or a portion of them, is styled simply a 'Mass.'"
To borrow from the Choral Public Domain Library, which provides some history and context:
The Ordinary is usually understood to consist of the first five of the following texts, of which the Kyrie, introduced to the west by Pope Sergius in the 8c., is in Greek rather than Latin:
- Kyrie eleison
- Gloria in excelsis Deo – sometimes called the Great Doxology
- Credo in unum Deum – Symbolum Nicenum, i.e. the Nicene Creed.
- Sanctus – Benedictus
- Agnus Dei
- Ite missa est
Separate musical settings of these movements were regularly composed as stand-alone movements, or as linked pairs (e.g. a pair of Kyrie–Gloria or Sanctus–Agnus Dei). The first composer to compose an entire cyclic mass setting, was the great Burgundian composer Guillaume de Machaut, writing in the middle 1300s. Machaut's Messe de Notre Dame (Mass of Our Lady) includes all six movements listed above, including a setting of Ite missa est.Also as may be seen in the CPDL, the importance of the Mass form may be witnessed by the fact that they have 400+ Mass settings available for download, by a large number of composers.
While first known to be set by Machaut, James McKinnin in the "Grove Music Online" resource notes that " All but the Credo were in place in the Roman Mass of the early 8th century." A specific discussion of each of these sections is beyond the scope of this post, but more information on each may be found here.
One of the more interesting occurrences, at least to my mind, has been the separation of the Mass from the liturgical setting, and into strict performance venues, as well as the modern advent of Chant recordings which (while some containing actual recordings by monks) have leapt into bestseller lists in being used as "calming, relaxing" spiritual music. I must surmise that the majority of listeners to these recorded works have no idea what the Latin words mean, generally.
I posted a great deal of sacred music on my last post on the topic. My plan here is to introduce a number of recorded masses for you to enjoy. I will note that it is rare to hear the Mass sung in this form in Latin, and while it is often sung in English, the English music is all too often lacking in beauty.
Guillame de Machaut - Mass of Notre Dame (Our Lady): prior to 1365
Josquin des Prez - Missa Hercules: circa 1484 - 1486
Thomas Tallis (c. 1505–1585) - Mass for Four Voices
William Byrd (1539 - 1623) - Mass for Four Voices
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina - Missa Papa Marcelli: 1562
Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611) - Missa Alma Redemptoris
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Great Mass: 1782
Ludwig van Beethoven - Mass in C Major: 1807
Ralph Vaughan Williams - Mass in G Minor: 1921
Arvo Part - Missa Syllabica: 1977