Various Forms of the Mass [edited]

I’m studying Catholicism and I was stumped to learn that there are different forms of the mass.

I’ve tried searching countless sites just to leave them more confused than when I first arrived at them.

If there is anyone here who can very simplistically explain the difference between:

  1. A High Mass and a Low Mass


  1. The Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form of Mass

I would most appreciate it.

Thank You.

Welcome to the forums!

I’ll give it my best shot.

First, note that there are more than just those forms of Mass. The Catholic Church is divided up into 22 or so different rites. A rite is basically a particular visible form of expressing the faith. The one you are thinking of is called the Roman, or Latin rite. It is the Western expression of Catholicism. In the East, there are many different rites. All of them share the same doctrinal beliefs, and all are gathered in unity under the Pope - these things are hat makes them all Catholic. What makes them different from one another is the specific way that the faith is expressed - like in the Mass, in the prayers, and sometimes in the way that theology explains the doctrinal beliefs. Ask about this if you have more questions. It’s kindof hard to explain and questions may help you get a better conept of it.

Now you are asking about the Roman rite. In the middle ages, there were a lot of different variations on how Mass was said in different places in the western Church. Finally, after the Council of Trent in 1500, a new Missal - the book that has all the prayers and instructions for how Mass is said - was put together to replace all of these so that A) there would be no question of the orthodoxy of the Mass no matter where it was said, and B) there would be unity in the Roman rite, rather than a jumble of different practices. This is the Missal that was used up until the 1960s, with a few changes and updates that Popes introduced every now and then over the centuries.

In this Missal, there were two ways of saying Mass - the High Mass, and the Low Mass. The Low Mass was a basic Mass, with the bare necessities. The High Mass was a more solemn Mass, and it had music, and all the other “smells, bells, and whistles” as they say. It also requires more servers and deacons assiting the priest saying the Mass. It was basically a more ceremonious way of saying the Mass. Think of your two different forms of graduation a college may have - one held in the middle of the year for those who graduated after the fall semester, and the other held in the spring for most of the graduates. They both do the same thing, but one has many more people involved and is much more dressed up and solemn.

In the 1960s, the Church decided to put together a new Missal with the intention of better helping those in our modern culture to experience the Mass. This Missal - called the Pauline Missal or, as you will see it very often called the Novus Ordo, which means “new order” - has been used since. The older form was not technically disallowed, but many bishops believed it was or disallowed it themselves. As a result, in 2007 Pope Benedict issued a document which declared that both the old Mass, and the Pauline Mass could be said at any time. He said that the Pauline Mass would be called the Ordinary Form of the Roman rite, and the old one would be called the Extraordinary form.

The Pauline Mass - or Ordinary Form, as it is now properly called - does not have a distinction between High and Low Mass. You see, with the Extraordinary Form, there are very specific rules about what makes a High Mass and what makes a Low Mass. In the Low Mass, you could not have a deacon assisting, there was no music, no incense, etc. In a High Mass, you would have deacons, music, incense, and so forth. When they created the new Missal in the 60s, however, they did away with these strict requirements. They permitted the priest celebrating the Mass to choose whether to have music, or incense, whether a deacon would be assisting, etc., and he could mix and match. In other words, one could have a deacon but no music, or music but no incense. This isn’t possible with the Extraordinary Form, which has very specific instructions about these various things.

So basically, you have the Extraordinary Form, which has High (music, deacons, incense) and Low (no music, deacons, or incense) Mass, and you have the Ordinary Form, which can have any number of combinations of the different ceremonious aspects of it.

Here are a few of the differences between the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form (there are more):

*]The EF MUST be said in Latin, the OF may be said in Latin or in the vernacular language of a place.
*]The EF REQUIRES the priest to face the altar, away from the people, while the OF permits him to face the people, which is how it is normally done in OF Masses.
*]The EF has several more prayers than the OF, which usually express the faith of the Church more thoroughly.
*]The OF is much more directly “interactive” than the EF. The OF has the congregation actively doing something most of the time, whereas in the EF the people will often be waiting in silence as the priest does something.

Now there are many different opinions that people have about these differences. Many prefer the EF because the Latin helps keep people in awe of God, and the priest facing away from (or, as it is properly said, with) the people better illustrates the fact that he is talking to God as the people’s representative, rather than merely talking to the people. Some prefer the OF because they are usually more active, whereas some prefer the EF because they believe that the atmosphere of silence is better. Some folks get very adament about this, but just remember that the Church permits either one. It is a matter of which Mass one discerns God calling him to in prayer.

Feel free to ask any additional questions.

Peace and God bless!

  1. In the ‘olden days’ a low mass was one that was said with little or no music. A high mass had many parts that were sung both by the priest and a choir and/or the people, usually using Gregorian chant. It also had incense and sometimes sprinkling with holy water. In my parish, one mass each Sunday was a high mass. The high mass took more time than the low mass, because of that, most people didn’t bring young children.

  2. The ordinary form of mass is the liturgy established after Vatican II and so it is called the new order of the mass or the Novus Ordo. The extraordinary form is the older liturgy established after the Council of Trent and therefor called the Tridentine mass. It was said in Latin, had some additional prayers before and after the main part of the mass, had fewer readings and a one year instead of a three year cycle of readings. There were also fewer Eucharistic prayers to choose from. The high and low masses were Tridentine masses.

Both forms of the liturgy are permitted to be used today.

I know they are impossibly different to compare, but would an Ordianary Form Mass match up closer to a High or Low Mass. Im just trying to gauge how bare bones a Low Mass was, I am already aware that High Masses are very inolved

An Ordinary Form daily Mass would approximate a Low Mass, and an Ordinary Form Holy Day or perhaps Easter or Christmas Mass would approximate a High Mass.

I would say the low mass would compare to most ordinary form masses. At a low mass we often sang a song after communion and at the end as the priest processed down the aisle. Two that I remember were O Sacrament Most Holy after communion and Holy God We Praise Thy Name at the end. The Sunday mass usually took an hour. The daily mass was a no frills low mass and a speedy priest could do it in 20 minutes. The daily mass at my parish today takes 30 minutes and includes a brief homily.

So if the “High” and “Low” masses are in referrence ONLY to a Tridentine Mass, and thus the “Novus Ordo Mass” (Mass of Paul VI) is neither High nor Low but on it’s own level, then why does this parish in my city of Oakland California offer a “Latin High Mass (ORDINARY Form)” if the “Ordinary Form” is another term for “Novus Ordo”?

Here’s a link to the site:

Thanks again for everyone’s patience.

Looks to me like it’s either a typo, as I don’t see any other instances of it on the list, or they’re just using the terminology.

You see, with the Tridentine Mass, Low and High are technical terms which mean very specific things. A High Mass means what it means, and *only *that, and any Tridentine Mass has to be either a Low Mass or a High Mass (or what is called a Missa Cantata, which is basically a low Mass with music but nothing more).

The terms don’t apply to the Ordinary Form in a technical sense, and you can have any combination of the various aspects I wrote about earlier. However, the problem with this is that one doesn’t know what to expect. A person may prefer Masses with all the smells and bells, or Masses with music, and whatnot. Now if you go to a parish regularly, you’ll probably know how to find what you like because most parishes will be consistent about how they celebrate say, the 9AM Sunday Mass as opposed to the 11AM. If they have incense and a choir at a Mass, they’ll usually have that Mass at the same time each week. But that doesn’t help out visitors. Therefore, some people will use the terms to alleviate that problem. So when that parish says a high OF Mass, if it’s not a typo, they probably mean that there’s music, maybe some incense, that sort of thing. It’s being offered as a guide, rather than a technical term.

In fact, it looks as though that parish is either staffed by the Institute of Christ the King, which does a lot of work with the Tridentine Mass, or, the parish just does a lot of work with the Tridentine Mass on its own. GIven that, I would be fairly confident that they are using the terms to refer to the same things they mean in the Tridentine Mass. In other words, even though it’s not required to be that way, they are saying “High Mass” to mean that that OF Mass will have deacons, music, and incense.

Peace and God bless

The typical edition of the Ordinary Form (Novus Ordo) missal is in Latin as this is the official language of the Church. All vernacular editions are derived from the Latin. It is possible, therefore, to say the Ordinary Form Mass in Latin per the 1970 missal with the priest singing (chant) some parts and accompanied by a deacon and incense. I assume this is what is meant, but calling it a Latin High Mass I believe is a misnomer.

As regards the Traditional Latin Mass or Extraordinary form, there are three basic types:

Solemn or High Mass - priest is assisted by a deacon and sub-deacon; parts of the Liturgy are sung or chanted by the priest and/or choir, incense is used.

Missa Cantata or Sung Mass - celebrated in the manner of a High Mass, but without a deacon or sub-deacon. It is therefore technically a type of Low Mass according to the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1917. This Mass is, misleadingly, often called a High Mass although the Ceremonial for the use of the Catholic churches in the United States of America (1894) called it a “High Mass without deacon or sub-deacon.”

Low Mass - no deacon or sub-deacon, priest does not chant, no incense. Music or hymns not integral to the Liturgy may be played or sung.

Many more traditional parishes distinguish between the ‘low’ Novus Ordo Masses with only a few servers, etc, and the ‘high’ Masses that have a bunch of servers, perhaps red cassocks for them instead of black, incense, etc etc.

Sometimes, it is just used to mean ‘a big occasion’.

And to the guy who asked, a Novus Ordo Mass is the most like a Tridentine Missa Cantata- a Low Mass with music, incense, etc, but with only a priest. Less solemn and ceremonious than the High Mass, and no deacons.

There is really no High or Low Mass in the Ordinary Form. The closest I would say to there being a Solemn High Mass in the Ordinary Form is during the Easter Vigil, a Red Mass or one of the Papal Masses. :slight_smile:

You could just skip all the pagan mumbo jumbo and go to a protestant church and learn about Jesus and God instead of trying to memorize non biblical dogmas and rituals. Do you think participating in this circus of pagentry is going to get you any closer to God?

There are actually MANY forms of the Mass in the Catholic Church. Here is a complete listing:

The Western (Latin) Catholic Church

Latin liturgical tradition

  1. Ordinary Form (This is the MOST common liturgy in the Catholic Church. MOST of the time in the Western branch of the Catholic Church, this is what you will encounter)
  2. Extraordinary Form (This is the form from before the reforms that came after the Second Vatican Council in 1962)
  3. Ambrosian Rite (Only permitted in the Archdiocese of Milan)
  4. Mozarabic Rite (Only permitted in the Cathedral of Toledo, Spain and a few surrounding churches of the diocese)
  5. Bragan Rite (Only permitted in the Archdiocese of Braga, Portugal)
  6. Anglican-Use Mass (This form is permitted in the extremely rare circumstance in which an Anglican priest converts to Catholicism and brings his entire parish with him. In that event, a parish may continue to use the Anglican liturgy, with corrections to make it conform with Catholic teachings This is currently meant as a transitional liturgy, and upon the death of the pastor, the church reverts to the Ordinary Form.)

Rites of Religious Orders (These are not technically rites per se, but rather small variants of the Roman liturgy. The Ambrosian, Mozarabic, and Bragan Rites fall into this category too.):

  1. Dominican Rite
  2. Carthusian Rite
  3. Carmelite Rite
  4. Cisternian Rite

The Eastern Catholic Church
In addition to the Western (Latin) branch of the Catholic Church, most people are unaware that there are 22 independent Eastern Catholic Churches, ALL of whom are in union with the pope. They all have their own traditions. Several share the same form of the Mass with each other, which is known as the Divine Liturgy in the Eastern Churches.

The following liturgies are used by the Eastern Catholic Churches:

  • The Liturgy of St. Basil
  • The Chaldean Mass
  • The Order of the Divine and Holy Liturgy of Our Father Among the Saints Gregory the Theologian (or Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts)
  • The Liturgy of St. James
  • The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom
  • The Liturgy of St. Mark
  • The Holy Qorbono

Somehow, I’m very dubious that you’re a member of the Orthodox Church, as your signature line says… :rolleyes:

You actually think the pagan mumbojumbo and circus pagentry of typical pop-evangelical churches gets you any closer to God?

But that approximation is very approximated. Deacons can participate in all Ordinary Form masses.

The closer comparison between the EF high mass and the OF would be the “BIG” mass that every parish has on a holy day…the one that has incense, the big choir (sometimes the combined choirs of all the other masses), a bunch of servers, the best lectors in the parish, communion under both species, all two or three deacons, and the priests of the parish con-celebrating.

:thumbsup: Thank you Laserlike42 for your clear and informative response to these two questions–I’ll be reading your other posts shortly. :thumbsup:

The Sarum Rite/Sarum Use apparently has had some celebration by the Oxford University Newman Society as well as by the Bishop of Aberdeen. Interesting also in that it is a Western rite which some of the Orthodox also celebrate in the Western Rite liturgical tradition within the Orthodox Church. :slight_smile:

because the OF may be offered in Latin or in the vernacular language. Latin was never supressed and remains the preferred language for liturgy in the Latin rite.

You need to come to the abbey I am associated with. Every Mass is sung, using the OF, and using Gregorian Chant for the propers and the Kyriale. Every day. It certainly seems “high Mass” compared to the local parishes!

French is used for the rest (prayers, readings, homily, intercessions, Eucharistic prayer, etc), but even the readings are sung in French plainchant, as is everything else. The only part that isn’t sung is the homily and the intercessions on weekdays.

It’s a beautiful example illustrating that the lack of reverence isn’t structural to the OF Mass, it is due to lack of care and attention to detail by liturgists and clergy, because the abbey shows that a perfectly solemn and reverential Mass is still possible with the OF provided it is done right.

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