Elevation at a Solemn Tridentine Mass in Prostějov, Czech Republic
Ite missa est sung by the deacon at a Solemn Mass at Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini, Rome

Solemn Mass (Latin: missa solemnis) is the full ceremonial form of a Mass, predominantly associated with the Tridentine Mass where it is celebrated by a priest with a deacon and a subdeacon,[1] requiring most of the parts of the Mass to be sung, and the use of incense. It is also called High Mass or Solemn High Mass.[1]

These terms distinguish it from a Low Mass and Missa cantata. The parts assigned to the deacon and subdeacon are often performed by priests in vestments proper to those roles. A Solemn Mass celebrated by a bishop has its own particular ceremonies and is referred to as a Solemn Pontifical Mass. Within the Roman Rite, the history of the Solemn Mass has been traced to the 7th century in the Gregorian Sacramentary and Ordo Romanus Primus, followed by several centuries of adapting these pontifical liturgies. Eventually, the proliferation of multiple parish churches within the same cities saw these liturgies further adapted so that the average priest could celebrate them. By the 13th century, those Masses with ceremonial more closely following that of the pontifical liturgies were identified as "Solemn" or "High Masses" in contrast with simpler "Low Masses".[2] Since the promulgation of the 1969 Roman Missal, much of the Solemn Mass's ceremonial has fallen into obsolescence and disuse.[2]


Solemn or High Mass is the full form of Mass and elements of the abbreviated forms can be explained only in its light:

This high Mass is the norm; it is only in the complete rite with deacon and subdeacon that the ceremonies can be understood. Thus, the rubrics of the Ordinary of the Mass always suppose that the Mass is high. Low Mass, said by a priest alone with one server, is a shortened and simplified form of the same thing. Its ritual can be explained only by a reference to high Mass. For instance, the celebrant goes over to the north side of the altar to read the Gospel, because that is the side to which the deacon goes in procession at high Mass; he turns round always by the right, because at high Mass he should not turn his back to the deacon and so on.[1]

Thus, in the 21st century, the term "solemn Mass", capitalized or not, is also increasingly used instead of an analogous celebration in the post-Vatican II form of the Roman Rite of Mass, in which case it has been defined as "a high Mass in which the priest is assisted by two deacons".[3] The functions that the two deacons carry out are indicated in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the 1989 edition of the Ceremonial of Bishops,[4]

In the Syro-Malabar Church, this Holy Qurbana divine liturgy has three forms: a simplified form, a standard form for Sundays use, and a Solemn High form, known as the Raza, used only on solemnities. A reform of the Raza launched in November 1931[5] in order to return to the unadulterated and original form was issued in 1985, followed in 1989 by a reform of the other two forms carried out with the same principles.[6]

The terms "Solemn Mass", "Solemn High Mass" and "High Mass" are also often used within Anglo-Catholicism, in which the ceremonial, and sometimes the text, are based on those of the Sarum Rite or the later Tridentine Mass. Lutherans (mainly in Europe) sometimes use the term "High Mass" to describe a more solemn form of their Divine Service, generally celebrated in a manner similar to that of Roman Catholics. Examples of similarities include vestments, chanting, and incense. Lutheran congregations in North America commonly celebrate High Mass more or less,[7] but rarely use the term "Mass".[8]

History: from the Pontifical Mass to the Missa Solemnis

Adaptation of Roman papal liturgy in Frankish monasteries in the first millennium

See also: Pontifical Mass

The primitive and original form of Mass celebration is that in which the bishop surrounded by his clergy offers up the sacrifice in the presence of the congregation. The direct descendant of the bishops' collective service is the pontifical service, especially in its most elaborate form, the papal Mass. According to Jungmann, the solemn high Mass is "a late simplification of the pontifical service".[9] Ample proof is to be found in the arrangement for Mass ·as outlined in an eighth century Breviarium ecclesiastici ordinis adapted to the circumstances of a Frankish Scots monastery: in it, nearly everything of ritual splendor has been transferred to the monastic sacerdos: deacons, subdeacons, clerics, seven candles, Pax vobis and double lavabo. If these Frankish sources refer first and foremost to the role of bishops in the liturgy, they are soon allotted to the priests also.[citation needed]

Missionary exportation of the High Mass by the Order of Preachers

See also: Dominican Rite

The outlines of the present-day form of the missa solemnis became distinct after the tenth or eleventh century. The Synod of Limoges in 1031 enjoined abbots and other priests not to have more than three deacons on feast-days, while bishops were allowed to have five or seven.[10]

In 1065, Bishop John of Avranches provided testimony of the arrangement of the High Mass in its modern form with only one deacon and one subdeacon:[11]

When the priest reaches the altar after the Confiteor, he kisses deacon and subdeacon. The deacon thereupon kisses the altar at both the narrow sides, hands the priest the Gospel-book to be kissed; then the priest kisses the altar. Several taper-bearers are among the assisting group, on feast-days seven. When the subdeacon begins the Epistle, the priest sits down, but iuxta altare. The subdeacon hands bread and wine to the deacon after the Gospel; the water is brought by a cantor. The incensing follows. Then the subdeacon takes the paten, but turns it over to an acolyte.

The conventual Mass at the Abbey of Cluny at the same time also displays the same type of Mass with deacon and subdeacon.[12]

In general the rite of high Mass has not changed much since the eleventh century, if we except the peculiar usages of certain regions and certain monasteries.

The High Mass was exported out of the monasteries and into the mission territories by the Order of Preachers as exposed in the Missale convetuale of Humbert of Romans published in 1256, the Carmelite order publishing its own similar rite seven years later.[13] Just as the Dominicans simplified the Gregorian chant for their missionary convents, they also exported the High Mass in a slightly simplified ritual. The careful description of the priestly High Mass which is presented in the 1256 Ordinarium of the Dominicans reveals in all essentials the present-day arrangement. The solemn vesting program is dropped, two to four candles are found sufficient, and they stand on the altar. The priest no longer employs the phrase Pax vobis but only Dominus vobiscum, he says the oration, and likewise the Gloria and the Credo, at the altar, and washes his hands only after the incensing. The solemn blessing, as well as the assisting priest (presbyter assistens), substitute for the old colleger of priests, were still in the foreground in the 12th century.[9]

Rarification of the High Mass

See also: Low Mass and Missa solemnis

The movement towards the rarification of the Solemn Mass was a slow process through the Middle Ages which worsened after the Renaissance as it retained only for great feast days. While the Capuchins had made their conventual mass a Low Mass, the Jesuits were the first to exclude the Solemn High Mass from their ordinary practise in their second constitution, after the 1550 papal bull, Exposcit debitum, "out of duty". The Society of Jesus not only had no choral Office but also no high Mass, since for the latter the contemporary arrangements usually presupposed the presence of the community to take care of the singing; pastoral activity in the wake of the Counter-Reformation was seen as the reason for this abandonment:[14]

Non utentur nostri choro ad horas canonicas, vel missas, et alia officia decantanda: quandoquidem illis, quos ad ea audienda devotio moverit, abunde suppetet ubi sibi ipsis satisfaciant. Per nostros autem ea tractari convenit, quae nostra vocationi ad Dei gloriam magis sunt consentanea.

Constitutiones Societatis Iesu, 1550

On the other hand, other movements, such as the French school of spirituality, promoted the High Mass in its parochial form, as a way to introduce the faithful to a more mystical faith. Such was Jean-Jacques Olier who, in 1657, published an explanation of the rites of the High Mass for the parochial use.[15] In this classical period, the Missa solemnis developed as a genre of musical settings for the High Mass, which were festively scored and rendered the Latin text extensively, opposed to the more modest Missa brevis. Its complexity, however, also contributed to make it into a rarity.

By the mid-twentieth century, the missa cantata had, in most dioceses, become the predominant solemn form the Mass of parish service for Sunday services, while the low mass took over the rest of the week. The High Mass came to mean the summum officium of any determined community, reaching a high-point in a solemn Mass with deacon and subdeacon and an introductory procession of the clergy, which was not necessarily even weekly in some parishes. Among the various daily services, the High Mass became a Sunday summum officium distinguished, marking the climax of the morning service and capable of many varying degrees, only rarely reaching a high-point in a solemn Mass with deacon and subdeacon.[16]

Liturgical Movement: between antiquarianism and active participation

See also: Missa cantata

From the 19th century onwards, in the context of the Liturgical Movement, various currents existed with some leaning towards antiquarianism while others favoured active participation within the dialogue Mass.

Pope Pius XII did not think that the Dialogue Mass was an absolute replacement of the High Mass. In his landmark encyclical Mediator Dei, Pius XII explains that High Masses possess their “own special dignity due to the impressive character of its ritual and the magnificence of its ceremonies.” Pius XII encouraged the dialogue Mass and external lay participation but still retains the honor of the High Mass:[17]

A "dialogue" Mass of this kind cannot replace the high Mass, which, as a matter of fact, though it should be offered with only the sacred ministers present, possesses its own special dignity due to the impressive character of its ritual and the magnificence of its ceremonies. The splendor and grandeur of a high Mass, however, are very much increased if, as the Church desires, the people are present in great numbers and with devotion.

— Pius XII, Mediator Dei, 100

One year later, in 1948, the Jesuit priest, Josef Andreas Jungmann, published the most in-depth study of the Solemn Mass, Missarum Sollemnia, showing both its antiquity and its rarity in the parochial structure, arguably proving that the missa cantata was "the unbroken continuation of the presbyter Mass of Christian antiquity.".[16]

Vatican II and the High Mass

The Second Vatican Council, while calling for a reform of the liturgy, insisted on the solemnity of the sacred rites:[18]

Liturgical worship is given a more noble form when the divine offices are celebrated solemnly in song, with the assistance of sacred ministers and the active participation of the people.

— Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 113

Since its 1970 revision, the Roman Missal no longer categorizes Mass as High or Low (in Latin, solemnis or lecta), and distinguishes Mass[19] only as celebrated with a congregation[20] (with a subdivision according as it is celebrated with or without a deacon)[21] or with participation by only one minister,[22] and as celebrated with or without concelebrating priests.[23] It recommends singing at all Masses, saying, for instance: "Although it is not always necessary (e.g., in weekday Masses) to sing all the texts that are of themselves meant to be sung, every care should be taken that singing by the ministers and the people is not absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays and on holy days of obligation";[24] and: "It is very appropriate that the priest sing those parts of the Eucharistic Prayer for which musical notation is provided."[25] The term "High Mass" is sometimes encountered also, both in Anglican and certain Roman Catholic circles, to describe any Mass celebrated with greater solemnity. While some have argued that simplifying the Solemn High Mass removed barriers between the Protestant and the Catholic liturgies,[26] others have argued that it led to the destruction of traditions held in common by Latin Christians and the Eastern Orthodox.[27]

However, the Solemn High Mass continues to be celebrated around the world, in parishes as well as during Catholic meetings for youth, such as the World Youth Day in Panama in January 2019.[28] However, in Catholic communities which continue to celebrate the Mass according to the pre-Vatican II missals, the low mass appears to attract more faithful than the High Mass.[29] Of the two most recent motu proprio concerning the pre-Vatican II celebration of the Mass, neither Summorum Pontificum nor Traditionis Custodes mention the High mass.


See also: Vestment

In the sacristy, before vesting, all three sacred ministers (priest celebrant, deacon, and subdeacon) wash their hands. The sacred ministers recite certain prayers while they place on each vestment. First, the amice (a rectangular cloth of white linen with long strings for tying) is kissed (if it is embroidered with a cross) and then placed on top of the head briefly while reciting one of the prayers during vesting. Then it is tied around the shoulders on top of the cassock (or on top of the habit, if the sacred ministers belongs to a religious order with one). Next the alb (a long, white linen tunic with sleeves) is put on. The cincture (in Latin, cinctura), a long cloth cord also called a girdle, is then tied around the waist. The subdeacon then completes his vesting by placing the maniple (an embroidered piece of fabric, folded in half, with a cross in the middle) on his left arm (provided there is no Asperges or other liturgical ceremony before Mass begins), securing it either with pins or with the ribbons or elastic inside, and then the tunicle (an embroidered tunic with short sleeves) over all. The deacon places his stole (a long narrow embroidered piece of cloth, similar to the maniple but of greater length) over his left shoulder and binds it in place, at his right hip, with the cincture or girdle. He then puts on the maniple and his dalmatic (similar to the tunicle). The priest celebrant does the same except that he crosses his stole in front of him at the waist, binding it with the girdle or cincture. After the maniple he puts on a cope (a long, heavy embroidered cape) if the Mass is preceded by the Asperges (sprinkling the congregation with holy water). Following the Asperges, the celebrant, assisted by the acolytes, removes the cope and puts on the chasuble (similar to the tunicle, but without sleeves and usually with an embroidered cross or image on the back). The outer vestments of the priest and deacons correspond to the liturgical color of the season or day (green, purple, white, gold, red, pink or "rose", or black).

The servers of the Mass (Master of Ceremonies, acolytes, thurifer, torch-bearers) and the clergy sitting in the liturgical choir stalls are vested in cassock (the ankle-length black robe with buttons, usually seen on priests and altar servers) and surplice (a flowing white tunic with sleeves) or cotta (a shorter version of the surplice), though in some places acolytes wore simple albs and cinctures instead. Anyone ordained to the subdiaconate or above also wears the biretta (a three-cornered hat with perhaps a pom-pom on top in the center and three fins on top around the edges) while sitting. Members of religious orders in habit have on a surplice over the habit. If it is part of their "choir dress", they also use the biretta. If not, then they use their hood in the same fashion as one uses a biretta. Birettas are plain black for priests, deacons and subdeacons, purple or black with purple or red trim for monsignori, canons, bishops and archbishops; cardinals' birettas are scarlet.


See also: Missa solemnis

The typical music of Solemn Mass is Gregorian chant. However, a wide variety of musical settings of the Ordinary of the Mass have been composed over the centuries, and may be used instead. The polyphonic works of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Giovanni Gabrieli are considered especially suitable. There are also several musical settings for the propers of Masses during seasons and on feast days and for certain votive Masses. An example is William Byrd's setting of the minor propers for the Lady Mass in Advent.

Despite discouragement, more than a century ago, by Pope Pius X in Tra le Sollecitudine (1903) of the selection of post-Renaissance compositions often considered to be "sacred music", musical settings for the Ordinary of the Mass by composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart continue in use. Being based on texts in Latin, these settings, as well as the earlier ones, are less frequently met today.

The music of the Mass is typically performed by a choir. The Ordinary is theoretically designated for the whole congregation, whereas the Propers are proper to the choir of clerics in attendance. In practice, even the Ordinary is often too complicated for the congregation, and the choir is often made up of specially trained lay men and women (though in churches run by religious orders it is often made up of their members.) The choir, at least if clerical, was traditionally placed close to the altar in stalls. However, with the appearance of elaborate musical settings of the Ordinary of the Mass it became necessary to employ lay singers, and with this innovation, the choir moved first from the front of the church up to galleries on the sides of the church and then finally to a loft in the back. This in turn allowed musical instruments, besides the organ, to be employed in the music.

In Solemn Mass, by far the greater part is spoken by the celebrant inaudibly, but, apart from a very few parts such as the "Orate Fratres", all that he speaks aloud, such as "Dominus vobiscum" and the four opening words of the Gloria and of the Creed are sung by him. He says quietly for himself everything that the choir sings, except short responses such as "Et cum spiritu tuo" and "Amen". He reads for himself the words of the Epistle and the following chants while the subdeacon sings the Epistle, and he reads the Gospel for himself before the deacon sings the Gospel aloud.

Structure and ceremonial

The mass begin when the priest rings a bell. The porter opens the sacristy door and the alter servers, deacons and priest and leave the sacristy and enter the church in the following manner: first the thurifer carrying his thurible and boat (or the aspersorium if the Asperges is to be had); next come the acolytes carrying their candles (the custom in Northern European and English-speaking countries is to have a crucifer holding a processional cross walking between the acolytes); the Master of Ceremonies comes next; and finally the three sacred ministers enter in single file in reverse order of precedence (or on either side of the celebrant if he is wearing the cope for the Asperges or some other ceremony before the Mass. The deacon and sub-deacon should be holding the ends of the cope.)

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Liturgy of the Mass". Catholic Encyclopedia – via New Advent.
  2. ^ a b Crichton, J.D. (1986). "Mass, High". In Davies, J.G. (ed.). The Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship. Philadelphia: Westminster Press. p. 365. ISBN 0-664-21270-0.
  3. ^ Schaefer, Edward (June 18, 2008). Catholic Music Through the Ages: Balancing the Needs of a Worshipping Church. LiturgyTrainingPublications. ISBN 9781595250209 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ "The Deacon at Mass" (PDF). Diocese of Superior. September 16, 2014.
  5. ^ Pār̲ēkkāṭṭil, Jōsaph (1987). Syro-Malabar Liturgy as I See it. Fr. Abel. p. 17.
  6. ^ Pallath, Paul (2000). La liturgia eucaristica della chiesa siro-malabarese [The Eucharistic Liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church] (in Italian). Padova: Messaggero. ISBN 88-250-0842-2. OCLC 48091912.
  7. ^ Lutheran Service Book, Divine Service Setting I, III
  8. ^ Mass Archived 2009-10-19 at the Wayback Machine in the Christian Cyclopedia.
  9. ^ a b Jungmann, Josef Andreas (1948). Missarum Sollemnia. A genetic explanation of the Roman Mass. Vienna: Herder. p. 200.
  10. ^ Mansi, Giovanni Domenico (1774). "XIX. Concilium Lemovicense II, Sessio II" [Acts of the Second Council of Limoges]. Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio. Venice: Antonius Zatta. pp. 545 B. Archived from the original on 2021-07-29. Retrieved 2021-07-29.
  11. ^ John of Avranches (1853). Liber de officiis ecclesiasticis, PL CXLVII, 32 ff (in Latin). Archived from the original on 2021-06-16. Retrieved 2021-08-04.
  12. ^ Udalrici Cluniacensis (1853). "Caput II: De domno abbate". Consuetudines cluniacenses. Liber Tertius: pro singulis obedientiis (in Latin). Migne. pp. 733–734. ((cite book)): |work= ignored (help)
  13. ^ Bonniwell, William R. (1944). A History of the Dominican Liturgy. J.F. Wagner. p. 375.
  14. ^ Ignatius of Loyala (1838). Constitutiones Societatis Iesu. Robarts - University of Toronto. London : J.G. and F. Rivington.
  15. ^ Olier, Jean-Jacques (2009). L' esprit des cérémonies de la messe: explications des cérémonies de la grand'messe de paroisse selon l'usage romain (in French). Artège Editions. ISBN 978-2-916053-66-0.
  16. ^ a b Jungmann, Josef Andreas (1948). Missarum Sollemnia. A genetic explanation of the Roman Mass. Vienna: Herder. p. 211.
  17. ^ "Mediator Dei (November 20, 1947) | PIUS XII". www.vatican.va. Archived from the original on 2021-07-19. Retrieved 2021-07-29.
  18. ^ "Sacrosanctum concilium". www.vatican.va. Archived from the original on 2008-02-21. Retrieved 2021-07-29.
  19. ^ General Instruction of the Roman Missal, chapter IV: The Different Forms of Celebrating Mass
  20. ^ General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 115–198
  21. ^ General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 120–186
  22. ^ General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 252–272
  23. ^ General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 199–251
  24. ^ General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 40
  25. ^ General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 147
  26. ^ "Loving the Post-Vatican II Mass". America Magazine. 2009-11-30. Archived from the original on 2021-07-29. Retrieved 2021-07-29.
  27. ^ Hull, Geoffrey (2010-10-07). The Banished Heart: Origins of Heteropraxis in the Catholic Church. Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 978-0-567-44220-8.
  28. ^ "Juventutem Looks to Build on WYD Panama's Traditional Latin Mass Celebrations". NCR. 11 April 2019. Archived from the original on 2020-10-21. Retrieved 2021-07-29.
  29. ^ Peter Kwasniewski. "The Problem of the Dominant Low Mass and the Rare High Mass". New Liturgical Movevement. Archived from the original on 2021-07-29. Retrieved 2021-07-29.