Low Mass

As far as I know, the traditional “ideal” in all rites is a solemn, sung liturgy. In the Roman Rite, we have the concept of a “low mass”. (For the purposes of this discussion I am not using the term in the formal sense of an EF low mass- I mean more generally the concept of a less solemn, spoken, not sung, liturgy, which is also, of course, an option in the OF). From conversations with Orthodox relatives, the concept of a “low” liturgy is completely foreign to the East. All eucharistic liturgies are to be completely sung with all the bells and whistles. I have relatives who converted to Orthodoxy (from Protestantism) who live in a small remote town where there is no Orthodox parish within a convenient driving distance. As such, a priest has agreed to drive up there to celebrate a Divine Liturgy in their home 4 times a year. The first time this happened, one of my cousins was asked to sing the epistle. He had never chanted in his life so the priest had to give him an impromptu lesson before the liturgy. This in the context of a home liturgy with a handful of people. Simply speaking the liturgy wouldn’t even cross their minds.
This may in part be why the average Orthodox parish doesn’t necessarily have a daily Divine Liturgy - other than major feasts.
My question is, was this always a distinction between West and East, or did the concept of a low mass evolve later? As the solemn, sung “high mass” remained the ideal in the Roman Rite, I wonder if that was the ancient norm with low masses becoming increasingly common simply because they are easier to celebrate?

I THINK the Low Mass evolved later.

In the Roman rite, what we generally consider as the basis for “high mass” derives from the widespread introduction of chant into the liturgy attributed to Gregory the Great, coming to us through his monastic tradition. This is the general basis of the plainchant that was somewhat standardized into the Roman rites at the end of the 9th century. High and Low masses most likely originated simply from the musical ability of the clergy. The presence of a cloister in larger churches usually gave rise to a greater feeling of solemnity as they had a greater number of voices to add to the music. The generally poorer parish priests did not have other priests, canons or monks to sing along with them, so many of their masses were simplified to the point of simple speech. Originally, the High/Low distinction in no way was meant to distinguish one from being more solemn than the other. It was only over time that singing gained a higher place in the Church’s view of solemnity.

The Solemn High Mass is considered to be the best, most ideal form of the Mass, and other forms are made from it to suit the pastoral needs of a community (if there isn’t a choir, if there aren’t enough clergy for a Solemn High Mass, et c.).

A note that this system is called ranked solemnity. There are definitive ranks of Masses in different styles. This was popular in the west until after the Sacred and Ecumenical Second Vatican Council, when the idea of progressive solemnity became common, in which features can be taken from the most solemn form of liturgy to allow it to be adapted better to the local needs and abilities.

The East never had any idea of rank or progression in their liturgical praxis. Their understanding is that the Divine Liturgy is simply the Divine Liturgy, with the only major changes taking place when a bishop celebrates, or when the liturgical season requires something additional. The only remarkable thing that can change outside of these is whether or not a deacon is present, but in that situation the priest simply performs the essential actions the deacon would (singing the litanies, removing the asterisk before the anaphora, et c.).
The lack of ranks or progressions of solemnity in the East seems to come from a few different ideas. Foremost is the fact that daily celebration of the Divine Liturgy has never been common outside of monasteries. Because of this, they could expect the entire community to be present on Sunday (even at one Liturgy, most Eastern Churches have the custom of only having one Liturgy each Sunday and Feast Day). With the full resources of the community being available at this weekly liturgy, there was no real reason to create a ‘lower’ version of it.

I found your question fascinating! First, keep in mind that in many Eastern Catholic traditions, a daily sacrificial liturgy is not celebrated. Further only one liturgy is typically celebrated on Sundays.

My Byzantine Catholic parish used to have a daily Divine Liturgy. No more. When it did, the prayers were the same but some of the pomp (like much of the incensing) was done away with. I’m not sure if this was done licitly though?

One thing that fascinates me is tiny EC parishes manage to assemble and train groups of adult male and boy altar servers, train people to chant the epistle, etc.

Yes, this always amazed me. The smallest Eastern mission seems to have NO problem training people to chant, etc… yet in huge Latin parishes we often hear a perpetual litany of “its tooooooooooooooooooooo hard”.

In pre-conciliar days, it was not the norm for the laity to chant. Only some responses if it was a dialogue Mass. It has never been inculturated into the laity, other than a trained choir.

Yes, everything is chanted or sung, but there are definitely “easier” and “harder” music selections for Eastern liturgies. Most people I see advocating for a return to Western chant are advocating for an immediate restoration of Palestrina-esque polyphony in Latin, which is way more complex than anything you’d see in a regular Eastern parish.

Well, first of all, “Palestrina-esque polyphony” isn’t “Western chant” so I think you are exaggerating a little :slight_smile:

I’m seeing two different trends among chant advocates. The first is to progress as rapidly as possible into a fairly complex program of chant by means of a schola.

Another approach has been to gradually phase in “chant-like” compositions for the entire congregation in more simple form, and even in the vernacular, with the hope of gradually building up to a certain level of more Gregorian repertoire. Google “Simple English Propers” for an example.

There are some who are attempting to blend the two together as well.

Maybe a little! It’s like calling Rachmaninov “Russian chant.”

This is great! I hope this effort gains a lot of traction.

Should be: the low mass DE-evolved later. Lol

Chant is more of European origin. Try going to Asian countries. Christianity is relatively new to them and when it was introduced to them, it was in simple form - spoken and singing. That is what they have today.

Doubt if the apostles chanted as they celebrated mass.

It is more of a tradition but more importantly, we must not forget that whether there is chant or not, a mass when celebrated meaningly will give the same grace to the participants.

It is good to have chant in the mass but it will not be any less of a mass when there isn’t.


What’s your point?

My point is all too often in the Latin Rite that ridiculous excuses are offered for the lack of reverence and solemnity. Yet tiny EC parishes are able to pull off the solemnity each week.

In many Eastern Catholic parishes, all the lay altar men and boys are immaculately vested. No excuses. They have chanters that chant the epistle. No excuses. Altar boys by the age of 10 are able to prepare the incense – a task that seems all too often to befuddle adults in the West. No excuses.

Doubt if the apostles chanted as they celebrated mass.

I wouldn’t be so sure, considering the Christian liturgy had its roots in Temple worship which had lots of what we would call chant.

It is good to have chant in the mass but it will not be any less of a mass when there isn’t.

Well, of course not, but we should be striving for the best, not adopting a minimalist approach. Read Sacrosanctum Concilium just for starters in RE the unique suitability of chant in the Roman Rite. You could move on to plenty of other church documents from there.

Jewish worship involved Hebrew chant.

So they may have chanted. It would not, of course, have been Gregorian chant. Moreover what we know today as Gregorian chant has only been around since the late 19th century, when Solesmes was charged with restoring Gregorian chant, which had fallen into decay and disuse for many centuries. So while the main corpus of today’s Gregorian chant is indeed from the 9th to the 12th centuries, it isn’t so much 9th-12th century chant as a modern interpretation of the Gregorian chant of that era. The original composers left no recordings, and many of the ancient manuscripts were written in neumes and not more modern square notes, so the restoration is really an interpretation than a restoration and is what the monks of Solesmes imagine Gregorian chant may have sounded like. Moreover it continues to evolve with modern studies, most still conducted at Solesmes. I’ve seen Divine Office antiphons changed in a period of as little as 2 years.

That doesn’t take away its grace and beauty, but does put a little bit of context into what we accept as “tradition”, which often isn’t as old and traditional as we thought. The biggest sponsor of Gregorian chant as we hear it today was Pius X who had Solesmes codify it into the Graduale Romanum Vatican Edition in 1908 (for the Mass).

Gregorian Chant is European, not chant in general. As I pointed out earlier in this thread, it is the universal tradition of the Eastern and Oriental Christian traditions (Byzantine, Syriac, Coptic etc) to chant every liturgy. These chants are Western Asian and African in origin. Christianity itself is Western Asian in origin and certainly our spiritual ancestors the Jews had / have chant. I would imagine the apostles did indeed chant in whatever style they inherited from the temple - especially when reciting the psalms.

This is a rather strange statement and quite Euro-centric. First, Christianity spread to Europe from Asia. Second, chant is an ancient tradition, not just in Christianity. Chant can be found in Judaism, both ancient and modern, as well as in non-Christian religions such as Buddhism. Even ancient pagans chanted. Northern Europeans did not invent chant.

Moreover, the ancient Christian Churches of Asian origin - in the Middle East and India have their own distinct forms of chant. The Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, and the Coptic Catholic Church (along with their Orthodox counterparts), were directly founded by apostles. Their services are entirely chanted.

[quote=]Doubt if the apostles chanted as they celebrated mass.

Why would you doubt it? Since ancient and modern-day Jews chant in their services, why would the Apostles have done any different?

[quote=]It is more of a tradition but more importantly, we must not forget that whether there is chant or not, a mass when celebrated meaningly will give the same grace to the participants.

It is good to have chant in the mass but it will not be any less of a mass when there isn’t.

The spirit of minimalism present in this thinking is disturbing. The Mass is still the Mass, with all its graces, if we drop every “extra” part. Why sing at all It doesn’t affect the consecration. Why have intercessory prayers? The Mass is still the Mass without them. The same grace is present. Why not just choose the shorter or easier options every time. Pretty soon, people will come to consider that the norm. And it doesn’t really matter anyway since it gives the same grace.

The question we need to ask is this: Why should we discard an ancient tradition, practiced in all of Christianity, without a compelling reason to do so? There can be good reasons to do so in particular circumstances, yes. But I think we should zealously protect chant as normative. We could start re-introducing chant in the west with something simple. The priest could chant the Eucharistic prayer, the priest or deacon could chant the gospel, or the congregation could chant the entrance antiphon or the communion antiphon.

This is very true!

On Wednesday my parish had a Divine Liturgy for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It was quite sparsely attended because most of the parish does not live nearby and it can be challenging to get there on a weekday evening. We 1 priest, 2 altar servers (an adult man and my 14-year-old son), myself, 4 of my children, and 2 others in the church. We chanted the whole thing. There was one hymn, exclusive to the feast, that we didn’t know the melody for. We did make a concession for that one. We used plainchant instead.

We used incense, we had processions, we venerated the cross. We did every bit of it as if we had a congregation that filled the house.

It probably had more to do with convenience.

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