Low Mass

Low Mass

Low Mass (sometimes called Missa Privata) is Mass said by a priest without music or incense and without the assistance of a deacon and subdeacon. The term may refer specifically to a Tridentine Mass said by a priest with the assistance of one or more servers, instead of a deacon and subdeacon and other ministers. Low Mass was the most common form of Mass before 1969: High Mass required participation by several clergy, and Missa Cantata, a relatively modern invention, was in use at most for one Sunday Mass and by no means in every parish.


Low Mass originated in the early Middle Ages as a shortened or simplified form of Solemn Mass. Catholic practice had been that there was (at most) one Mass in a monastery or parish church each day. However, over time it became necessary for a variety of reasons to celebrate more than one on the same day. It also became customary for monasteries to ordain most of their monks, though originally monks were almost all laymen, and for every priest to say a daily Mass. For a while, concelebration, whereby several priests took a full priestly part in offering Mass, provided all with the possibility to celebrate Mass each day, but this custom died out. Low Mass is considered to be a necessity that falls short of the ideal, which is Solemn Mass.

The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913 describes the result as follows:

... concelebration was in the early Middle Ages replaced by separate private celebrations. No doubt the custom of offering each Mass for a special intention helped to bring about this change. The separate celebrations then involved the building of many altars in one church and the reduction of the ritual to the simplest possible form. The deacon and subdeacon were in this case dispensed with; the celebrant took their part as well as his own. One server took the part of the choir and of all the other ministers, everything was said instead of being sung, the incense and kiss of peace were omitted. So we have the well-known rite of low Mass (missa privata). This then reacted on high Mass (missa solemnis), so that at high Mass too the celebrant himself recites everything, even though it be also sung by the deacon, subdeacon, or choir.''


Originally, Low Mass was sung in monotone. Thus we read of priests in the Middle Ages going to sing their Missa Privata. This custom died out in the 18th century. In practice Low Mass was said in an inaudible voice between the celebrating priest and server(s). Thus the name "Missa Privata" came into use.

The French and Germans came up with the idea of accompanying Low Mass with music as an aid to the devotion of the faithful, thus giving rise to the French Organ Mass and the Deutsche Singmesse.

In 1922, the Holy See granted approval to the Dialogue Mass, which enabled the faithful to speak, with the server, the Latin responses of the Tridentine Mass and to recite the parts that they were permitted to sing at a Missa Cantata, as well as the triple "Domine non sum dignus" that the priest said as part of the rite of Communion of the faithful, which, though not envisaged in the Ordinary of the Mass until after the Second Vatican Council, could be inserted into the celebration of Mass. Apart from the language used and the differences between the editions of the Roman Missal, the Dialogue Mass was thus similar to a Mass of Paul VI celebrated without singing.

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