What is a Solemn Mass?
  • PeterG
    Posts: 36
    One of our priests (ordained only one year) has expressed a wish for a "High Mass" (Ordinary Form) each month. By this I believe he means a more ceremonial liturgy with incense, sung responses, etc. As organist and choir director I applaud his initiative but understand that this term no longer applies in the Novus Ordo. So I'm wondering whether a better name for what he is seeking is a "Solemn Mass"? Could someone give me a definition of "Solemn Mass" (if there is one) or give me a better term.
    Many thanks in anticipation.
  • I don't know if a better term exists, but because of the lack of a better term, at my current employer we have been using the term "Solemn Mass" to indicate the Mass (OF) that is more ceremonial, with incense, choral music, ordinaries sung in Latin, some propers, etc. I like to use the term indicate the difference to the other Masses (even more so in the diocese of Rochester where everywhere else they only seem to celebrate "Low Mass" and nothing more... but that is another story...)
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,713
    Bp. Peter Elliott gives a model for a "Solemn Mass" in his book Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite, chapter 6: a full celebration of a sung liturgy, with the celebrant assisted by one or two deacons, with incensations, a chanted Gospel reading, a sung Creed and preface, and other ritual elements.

    To work up to that excellent form of celebration, it might be helpful to refer to Musicam sacram (1967), paragraphs 28-31, which indicates which sung parts of the Mass the priest should implement first; and which parts can be added, step by step, corresponding to greater degrees of solemnity in the celebration of Mass.
  • ThurlowThurlow
    Posts: 20
    Coming from a high Episcopal background, we were taught that a Solemn Mass means a sung Mass with incense and solemn vestments (cope, chasuble) and Sanctus bells, and High Mass has the three sacred ministers (priest, deacon, sub-deacon). Thus a Solemn High Mass would be a sung Mass with incense, and the three sacred ministers.
  • PeterG
    Posts: 36
    Thank you Rudy de Vos, chonak and Thurlow for your responses. Rudy's comment "we have been using the term "Solemn Mass" to indicate the Mass (OF) that is more ceremonial, with incense, choral music, ordinaries sung in Latin, some propers, etc" answers my question. As I suspected there's no definition, unlike the 'High Mass' pre-VII. Our Solemn Mass will doubtless move in much the direction Rudy indicates.
    chonak's references from Bp Elliott and Musicam Sacram will be most helpful also.
  • The subdiaconate was abolished in the Western rites of the Roman Catholic Church in 1973. The subdeacon's liturgical duties were divided between the lector and the acolyte. Furthermore, a very early post-Conciliar document (which I'll trace on request) said that it was inappropriate for a priest to vest and minister as a deacon. In the modern Roman rite it is impossible to celebrate an old-fashioned "Missa Solemnis" with three "sacred ministers."

    I agree, however, that a sung mass in which the principal celebrant is assisted by a deacon and/or a concelebrant, one or more lectors, a thurifer, and candlebearers, may reasonably be called a "Solemn Mass" or a "High Mass." Such as mass is the closest possible approximation to a pre-Conciliar Missa Solemnis.

    Some Anglo-Catholic parishes that have adopted post-Conciliar practices (e.g., the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in New York) continue to call their principal Sunday service "Solemn Mass," even though they no longer vest servers as subdeacons and no longer vest priests as deacons.

    In England (and among American Anglo-Catholics) the term "High Mass" was used in the past to refer exclusively to what the old Roman Missal called a Missa Solemnis (with three sacred ministers, etc.). Among American Roman Catholics this same term was used to refer either to either a Missa Solemnis or a Missa Cantata (without ministers), and the term "Solemn Mass" was used to refer to specifically to a Missa Solemnis.

    British usage of "high mass" was exemplified in Fortescue's CEREMONIES OF THE ROMAN RITE DESCRIBED. (In recent revisions, edited by Alcuin Reid, "Solemn Mass" is used where Fortescue used "High Mass.") American usage of "high mass" was exemplified in Laurence J. O'Connell's BOOK OF CEREMONIES.

    Using "High Mass" to refer to any sung Mass makes sense, because "high" refers to the use of the raised voice (distinguished from the lowered voice, used at private masses).
    Thanked by 1hilluminar
  • PeterG
    Posts: 36
    Bruce E: Your note is very informative, thank you.
    In the end, however, it seems clear none of the names precisely fit the situation I originally described, although "Solemn Mass" is probably the nearest. I imagine we will go with it, but If anyone comes up with a more apt description I would certainly be interested to hear it.
  • In light of Bruce's thorough and accurate treatment of the subject, perhaps Solemn Mass in our time, or with respect to the Novus Ordo, would aptly refer (as it did in pre-conciliar times) to a mass celebrated with the full and complete liturgical solemnities (festal adornments and ceremonial) associated with, or prescribed in, a given Rite.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    One could be cheeky and call it "Holy Mass."

    Personally, I think it's most helpful just to call it Sunday Mass. We want people to attend an OF Missa cantata and say, "wow, wasn't Mass amazing today!" Because it is, after all. They should perceive this as the normal expression of Sunday Mass, and all parishes should move toward this.

    "Solemn Mass" in my opinion is excessively frowny and dour. "High Mass" sounds too Anglican or elitist.

    Multiplying terms will just confuse people, fork energy, and conduce to various ghettoizations.

  • I agree to an certain extent, Pes. However in practice in most Catholic parishes the choral liturgy has not been diligently promoted as the documents call for. It also seem impossible to offer more than one such "high" or "solemn" mass on a Sunday even at churches that do possess over a choir of note.

    Then there are of course people out there that prefer to attend Mass when it is the choral liturgy. If we simply call it "Sunday Mass" there is no distinction from the other Sunday Masses, which there should be, since even though it is the same rite there are some major differences (such as the incense, deacon, acolytes etc).

    I agree all parishes should move toward celebrating an OF Missa Cantata and that people should perceive it as the norm, but we all know it will take years and probably a lifetime to accomplish that. IMO the term "Solemn Mass" is not elitist, but only reinforces that the Mass has higher level of solemnity because of the above mentioned differences.

    Of course there are some that might find it elitist, and I think that is OK to an extend. (Especially in the Diocese of Rochester where you almost cannot find Solemnity anywhere else). People need to know that the "Low Mass" form which is currently the norm in most parishes, is not what is supposed to be the norm. Anycase, I'll get off my box now... ;-D
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Rudy, I hear what you're saying.

    Instead of tagging the Missa cantata as "solemn" or "high," why not avoid calling it anything and instead tag the other Masses as 'Low Masses'?

    That might serve precisely the same purpose we're talking about. It makes a distinction and puts the label on what the Church wants us to move away from. This would promote the normalization of the Missa cantata and -- because it gives it a special label -- tag the Low Mass as the deviation.

  • Pes:

    I love your idea.

    Some say that "Deprived Mass" is a better translation of "Missa privata" than "Private Mass." So using "Mass" to identify a (normative) sung Mass and adding a qualifier for masses that are "deprived" of music makes eminent sense.
  • A Solemn mass is a mass celebrated with great festivity and full ritual, ceremonial, and musical adornment. Solemnities are festivities. We should not abandon yet another fine word to those who put a negative construction on it. Solemnitas is Festivitas. There is nothing sad or dour about it. Nor is it 'elitist' - whatever that is. This is a tag used by some people who are wont to put a negative construction on anything that is other than abominably pedestrian. (If I am ever accused of being an elitist, I know that I am doing something right!)
  • Pes
    Posts: 623

    I think we may have a difference here in American and English usage. Solemn in the USA almost always means "grave, somber, serious."
  • MJO: [sound of applause] + [sound of regret that I'll not be at AUC this week]
  • With respect, Pes - I know that this connotation is widespread here in our country. In my opinion we should resist it, not yield to it. We should not surrender this fine historical word, which has, liturgically, a meaning of joyful celebration. (Try smiling with a sparkle in your eyes when you say 'solemnities' with beautiful liturgy in mind.)

    Thanks, DBP - I'll be thinking of you during our SOLEMN Pontifical High Mass on Friday evening.
  • That's short for Solemn Pontifical High Mass with Long Pre-Concilliar Faces Opposed to Spurious Post-Concilliar Arch(a)eologism, right?
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Let's call it "Reductive Post-Conciliar Archaelogism with Beaming Pedestrian Handshake."

    MJO, I shall give it the old college try.
  • Well, DBP, there will be no long pre-conciliar faces here this week. Only joyful ones delighting in the fruits of the genuine oecumenism which the Council and John Paul II made possible! This is, in the words of the psalmist, 'our solemn feast day'.
  • Blow up the trumpet in the new moon * even in the time appointed, and upon our solemn feast day.
    For this was made a statute for Israel * and a law of the God of Jacob.
  • Amen! Alleluya!