Please explain high and low mass to me!

I don’t understand high and low mass. Do the numbers of candles on the altar give any indication? I attend a NO parish. Sometimes there are 3 candle candlabras on either side of the altar, others there are only 2 pillar candles. My guess is that high mass is for Holy days and feast days and such. Are low masses for weekday masses, etc.?

Any help for the newbe will be greatly appreciated! :smiley:

High and low mass pertain to the TLM or Extraordinary Form of the Mass only.

I don’t know what the number of candles in the NO represent but in the Extraordinary Form two candles signify that a Low Mass is to be said or is being said, six candles signifying a High Mass. In the High Mass the priest sings some of the prayers and generally there is a choir present. Where the priest sings, the congregation stands. Other than that, mostly everything else is the same.

For the definitions and differences of High/Sung/Low Mass with regard to the TLM, this recent thread may be helpful (esp. post 6)

As regards the candles: The common usage now (I think) in the TLM is 6 candles for a Solemn Mass, 4 candles for a Sung Mass and 2 for a Low Mass. However, the Sacred Congregation of Rites, which was entrusted with the liturgical interpretation and legislation, had certain further decrees dealing with this. So the rules determining the number of candles on the altar are

(1) For a solemn Mass 6 candles on the altar. This number is not actually givenby the rubrics, but inferred from the rubric on the incensing of the altar.

(2) In a Sung Mass, the number is not prescribed. Some places have 4- at one point 6 was common. The decree of the SCR only says : " Plures quam duae adhiberi possunt"

In a Missa Cantata for the Dead (de Requiem) 4 candles , at least are required, by decree of the SCR

(4) In a strictly private Mass of those who are not Bishops or Cardinals, only 2 candles can be used.

But in a Mass like a parish or community Mass, or on the more solemn feasts, or in a Mass celebrated instead of a solemn Mass or sung Mass (as might be the case on Sundays and feasts in certain places due to lack of clergy or choirs) according to custom, it was permissible according to a decree of 1857 to use more than 2 candles

(5) In a strictly private Mass celebrated by a bishop or Cardinal, on ordinary occasions, 2 candles suffice, but I think 4 was more common. 4 was required on solemn feasts. In a Mass not strictly private more than 4 could be used.

(6) 7 candles were required whenever the bishop celebrated a Pontifical Mass solemnly in his own diocese. This, I think, is the still the rule in the NO.

In the Novus Ordo Rite the distinction between High and Low Mass has been dropped.

In the Traditional Roman Rite (Extraordinary form as it is now called), a “low mass” is mass celebrated by the priest without deacon and sub deacon. The prayers of the Mass are read instead of sung.

Solemn Mass is Mass celebrated by a priest with deacon and sub deacon assisting with full solemnity. The “Solemn Mass” is The Mass of the Roman Rite, “low mass” is a modification/simplification of the Mass for brevity and simplicity where needed. The Low Mass was not a usual occurance in Rome, hardly ever was it found because of the numerous amount of clerics there.

The term “High Mass” came to distinguish the two, but not just the Solemn Mass vs Low Mass, but also the Sung Mass in either form [there is a simple form of the sung Mass and also the “more solemn form”. In reality the “Sung Mass” in either simple or more solemn form, is still “Low Mass” because of the absence of the deacon and sub deacon.

At my parish we have “High Mass” every Sunday. It is technically however a low Mass that is sung using the “more solemn form” as described by Fortescue and O’Connel. The more solemn form has Gregorian Chant, Incense, a Master of Ceremonies, Acolytes, Crucifer and torchbearers.

I have heard that in the past, 1962 and previous, the “more solemn form” with incense and chant was only used on special occasions such as Christmas and Easter when no deacon or sub deacon [or two other priests to fill their roles] were available.


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