Introit (literally, “he enters”, referring to the priest or celebrant; Proper).
The Introit consists of a short poetic text, called an antiphon, followed by a psalm verse, and concluding with the repetition of the antiphon. There are numerous antiphons, so the particular day or event would dictate the choice of the appropriate one for the Mass. One antiphon needs special mention: “Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine” (Give him eternal rest, Lord). This opening of the Introit of the Mass for the Faithful Departed is the source of the term “Requiem Mass”.
At different times in the evolution of the practice of the liturgy entire psalms would be sung, using special formulas called psalm tones. Usually, the psalm would be concluded with the “Gloria Patri” (the lesser doxology, or “glory-giving”), consisting of the words: “Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen” (Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and always and to the ages of ages. Amen). Essentially, this textual formula conferred a Christian usage to a Jewish text from the Old Testament.
This one word is the short title for a two-phrase text, “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison”, Greek phrases meaning “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy”. The phrases originated in both Pagan antiquity and the Old Testament. In liturgical use, each phrase is said three times, and then the first phrase is given again three times. Thus:
Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison;
Christe eleison, Christe eleison, Christe eleison;
Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison.
The three-times-three structure of the Kyrie vividly identifies it as Trinitarian, reflecting God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and thereby marks it as a Christian text regardless of its origins.
Again, this single word is the short-hand way of referring to a much longer text, “Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis”, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will”. Also an ancient text of the church, this first phrase can be found in the gospel of Luke when the angels announce Jesus’s birth to the shepherds. There is much more to follow in this long element, which is an extended glorification of God that also incorporates many instances of belief statements about the person of Jesus. This text is called the “greater doxology” to distinguish it from the “lesser doxology”.
The Gloria, a joyful text, is omitted in penitential seasons (Lent and Advent) and in the Requiem Mass.
Collect (Proper). (Spoken/intoned.)
This is a short opening prayer, concluding the Introductory Rites.
Liturgy of the Word:
Epistle (Proper). (Spoken/intoned.)
The Epistles are letters, most of them from St. Paul, to individuals or to church communities in the mid- to late first century. In the earliest years of the church, they would have encouraged, corrected, and sustained the far-flung Christian movement, being read in the assembly as a part of the gathering for the Lord’s Supper. On occasion, an Old Testament text might be read in place of a New Testament Epistle, but was nevertheless called “the Epistle”.
Gradual (Proper). (Spoken/intoned.)
The response to the Epistle was a psalm (or, occasionally, a reading from other books of the Bible). Originally an entire psalm was chanted by a cantor, to which the congregation would respond with a short verse or part of a verse from the psalm. The Gradual became the focus of musical endeavor, for the verse response to the psalm grew into a long, ornate plainchant composition. We will discuss this further in a later section of this essay.
Alleluia, Tract, and Sequence (Proper).
The ancient word of praise precedes and follows a verse, similar to the antiphon-psalm-antiphon pattern. In penitential or sorrowful times, the Alleluia is replaced by a more solemn text called a Tract. According to the New Grove Dictionary, the term “Tract” is thought to have originated from the Latin “to draw”—texts that were drawn up from the heart in grief.
Both Alleluia and Tract melodies end in a long melisma—a series of notes on only one syllable, for example the “-a” of Alleluia. This long melisma was called the “Jubilus”. By the ninth century, words were being created to underlie the Jubilus to facilitate memorizing the melody. Eventually these melodies with their added text became independent chants, called Sequences. A late 9th- early 10th century Frankish composer, Notker of St. Gall, not only wrote many Sequences but discussed them in the preface to his collection of Sequence texts. In the way of creative folk at every time, more and more Sequences were devised to the point of superabundance, until a moratorium was called; of all of these only four Sequences were retained (a fifth to be added in the 18th century). The most well-known Sequence today is “Dies irae”, the long poem about the Day of Judgement, used in the Requiem Mass.
Gospel (Proper). (Spoken/intoned.)
The reading is from one of the first four books of the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John—in which Jesus’s life and work are narrated.
Homily (Proper). (Spoken.)
This is the first word of a long statement of belief, one of a number that were devised over the early centuries of the church. This particular text was created in a kind of “committee” agreement during the great Council of Nicea in 325 CE, and so was called the Nicene Creed. Although created early in the history of the church, the Nicene Creed was the last addition to the Ordinary, appearing first at the end of the eighth century.
Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem,
I believe in one God, Father almighty,
factorem caeli et terra, visibilium omnium et invisibilium.
maker of heaven and earth, all things visible and invisible.
Et in unum Dominum, Jesum Christum, Filium Dei unigenitum.
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, only begotten Son of God.
Et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula.
And born of the Father before all ages.
Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero.
God from God, light from light, true God from true God.
Genitum, non factum, consubstantialem Patri: per quem Omnia facta sunt.
Born, not made, of one substance with the Father: through whom all things were made.
Qui propter nos homines, et propter nostrum salute descendit de caelis.
Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven.
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est.
And was incarnate by the Holy Spirit, of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato: passus, et sepultus est.
He was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate: suffered, and was buried.
Et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas.
And he arose on the third day, according to the Scriptures.
Et ascendit in caelum: sedet ad dexteram Patris.
And he ascended into heaven: he sits at the right hand of the Father.
Et iterum venturus est cum Gloria judicare vivos et mortuos: cujus regni non erit finis.
And he will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; of his reign there will be no end.
Et in Spiritum Sanctum Dominum, et vivificantem: qui ex Patre, Filioque procedit.
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
Qui cum Patre, et Filio simul adoratur, et conglorificatur: qui locutus est per Prophetas.
Who together with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified: who has spoken through the Prophets.
Et unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam.
And in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum.
I confess one baptism for the remission of sins.
Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum. Et vitam venture saeculi. Amen.
And I await the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Liturgy of the Eucharist:
A time to receive gifts, including the elements of bread and wine that were to be consecrated for the Eucharist, the Offertory texts and chants are “time fillers”. They were originally psalms, but non-psalm texts developed even in early times.
Preface (Proper). (Spoken/intoned.)
A few short sentences by the officiant and responses from the communicants set the tone of thanksgiving for the coming sacrament; the celebrant then declaims the obligation of all in heaven and earth to glorify God. The text leads directly to the angels’ song of praise:
This short but powerful text originated in both the Old Testament and the New; it became a part of the Mass by about 400 CE. By the eighth century, both clergy and congregation were to sing the texts.
Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, Dominus Deus sabaoth.
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts.
Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua.
Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna in excelsis.
Hosanna in the highest.
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in excelsis.
Canon (Ordinary, with some Proper passages). (Spoken/intoned.)
This section contains St. Paul’s words of the institution of the Last Supper and the prayer of consecration.
Pater Noster (Ordinary). (Spoken/intoned.)
The Lord’s Prayer:
Pater noster, qui es in caelis: sanctificetur nomen tuum;
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be your name;
Adveniat regnum tuum; fiat voluntatis tua, sicut in caelo, et in terra.
Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as in heaven.
Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie;
Give us today our daily bread;
et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris.
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Et ne nos inducas in tentationem. Sed libera nos a malo. Amen.
And do not lead us into temptation. But deliver us from evil. Amen.
Agnus Dei (Ordinary).
Here is the point at which St. John’s description of Jesus as the Lamb of God intersects with the sacrificial lamb of the Day of Atonement and the Passover, as discussed earlier. The three-fold statement replicates the three-fold Kyrie eleison. The variant of the Agnus Dei for the Requiem Mass will be shown at the end of the usual text.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Lamb of God, who bears the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.
Lamb of God, who bears the sins of the world, give us peace.
For a Requiem Mass:
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem.
Lamb of God, who bears the sins of the world, give him rest.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem sempiternam.
Lamb of God, who bears the sins of the world, give him rest eternal.
Like the Offertory, this portion of the Mass fills time as communicants receive the bread (and wine, in some cases); texts are from psalms or other sources.
Post-Communion Prayer (Proper). (Spoken/intoned.)
Prayers of thanksgiving and continuation in the faith.
Ita, missa est (Ordinary). (Now spoken/intoned.)
The dismissal, or an alternative such as “Benedicamus Domino—Let us bless the Lord”, is followed by the response “Thanks be to God”.
Parallel organum: the earliest stage, in which the chant melody remained above the added voice, and the intervals between them were constantly “perfect”—fourths, fifths, unisons, or octaves (derived from ancient Pythagorean acoustics). A modified form of parallel organum allowed the voices to diverge from a unison to attain the perfect interval and then converge to a unison.
Free organum: the voices were permitted to cross, nevertheless retaining the relationship of a perfect interval.
Aquitanian organum: named for the region of Aquitaine in Southern France, where manuscripts from the early twelfth century from the Abbey of St. Martial in Limoges show this style; the chant melody, called the tenor because it “holds” the chant melody, is now below the added voice. The notes of the chant melody are prolonged while the added voice sings groupings of florid melismas (many notes per syllable). At times, though, the two voice parts would sing at about the same rate, in a style called discant. There is, then, a marked difference between the highly ornate or florid sections and the relatively simple sections in Aquitanian organum.
Notre Dame organum: named for the Cathedral of Paris, Notre Dame, which was constructed during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Features of Aquitanian organum appeared in Notre Dame organa: prolonged notes of the chant melody with passages of melisma in the added voices, as well as discant sections where all voices moved in roughly the same rhythm. But two significant developments mark Notre Dame organum. First, during the eleventh and early twelfth centuries there, the number of added voices, all of them above the tenor, increased dramatically; there were from one to three new melodies, creating as much as a four-part density. Second, with the increased number of voices, a mechanism for timing the occurrence of the pitches had to be devised to insure that the appropriate interval relationships were preserved. This latter feature impelled the invention of a notation system that conveyed duration of sound.
The durational values in Notre Dame organa were derived from ancient poetic meters in patterns called rhythmic modes. Groupings were made to total three units of time (honoring the Trinity for the sacred rite in which the music was used). So, the rhythmic patterns of Notre Dame organa were based on durational proportions of 2 + 1, or 1 + 2, and extensions of these patterns.
Another aspect of Notre Dame organum was the manifestation of composers’ names. Two of these are Leoninus, or Léonin (fl. ca. 1163-1190), and Perotinus, or Pérotin (fl. ca. 1200). Léonin is credited with the Magnus liber organi de graduali et antifonario, or Great Book of organum for the gradual and antiphoner, consisting of two-voice polyphony. Pérotin revised the Magnus liber and composed three- and four-voice organa. These four-voice polyphonic works were the most advanced at the time.
It may be evident by the full name of the Magnus liber that the Proper of the Mass was the primary focus of the earliest polyphonic composition. Graduals and Alleluias make up the bulk of the Magnus liber, although texts of the Office of Vespers were also treated. It was not until the following century when composers turned to the Ordinary of the Mass to exercise their skills.
Polyphonic settings of the Ordinary
About a century after the time of Pérotin, Guillaume de Machaut (ca. 1300-1377), a French poet and composer, entered the service of the aristocracy in France after some years of travel through Europe as secretary to John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia. By this time, huge changes in rhythmic notation had been adopted, leaving behind the relatively simple modal rhythms of the “Old Art”, or Ars antiqua, of the 13th century. The “New Art”, or Ars nova, employed not only divisions and subdivisions of temporal units but also duple as well as triple groupings, making possible rapid passages and a remarkable variety of syncopation. Additionally, a new and subtle unifying device, called isorhythm, became a favorite way to treat the slow-moving lower voice of compositions, typically a fragment of Gregorian chant.
In isorhythm, a rhythmic pattern, called a talea, for perhaps six to ten notes will be applied to a melodic fragment that does not match the rhythmic pattern in length; the melodic fragment, called a color, may be repeated a number of times, but because the rhythmic pattern does not match it in length, the note values or rhythm of the melody keep shifting, making the melody sound different with each repetition. Think: I am not amused; I am not amused; I am not amused; I am not amused. Here the talea is five units, while the color, represented by the text, is four.)
The 14th Century: Machaut
Machaut wrote a large number of secular pieces, but the work of greatest impact for the future of Mass treatments was his Messe de Nostre Dame (using old French spellings of “Mass” and “Notre”). Earlier polyphonic movements of the Ordinary exist, notably the Mass of Tournai, but Machaut’s landmark work, in the early 1360s, is the first complete setting of the Ordinary of the Mass for four voices by a single composer, and shows not only unifying stylistic devices but also a recurring motto in all the movements.
Machaut used the range of techniques of the Ars Nova era in this remarkable work. He employed isorhythm in the Gregorian tenors in the Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and Ita missa est movements and in all voices in the Amen of the Credo. The rhythmic complexity in the Amens of the Gloria and Credo are stunning tours de force. Harmonically, Machaut conformed to the Ars Nova practice of using a particular progression to create cadences: in what is called a “double leading-tone cadence”, not one but two pitches a fourth or fifth apart rise in parallel motion to a “home” pitch. The distinctive sound is a hallmark of fourteenth century music, revealing an underlying conformity to older rules for “perfection” while pushing toward a harmonic cadence formula suitable for polyphonic composition.
In every way, Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame marks the beginning of a long tradition of composers addressing the Ordinary of the Mass as a challenge to their creative imagination and ingenuity.
15th Century: Dufay and the Burgundian Mass
Developments in fifteenth century treatments of the Ordinary bear this out. Among the favorite pastimes of the Burgundian Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474), for instance, was the creation of canons. The word “canon” means a “rule” for treating a melody so as to make it serve in several ways against itself. Today, with our paltry acquaintance with canonic devices, we consider works like “Three Blind Mice” and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” as the standards of the genre. In Dufay’s time, though, composers used a rich palette of canonic devices. For instance, one could use the melody forward and backward at the same time (canon cancrizans or “crab” canon), or right-side-up against upside-down (canon in inversion), or both inverted and reversed at the same time as in its original state. One could begin the melody at two different pitches (an interval canon, such as at the fifth). One could extend the note values (canon in augmentation) or compress the values (canon in diminution), or change the way the primary note value was divided (all of these termed mensuration canons).
With any of these options, the composer ratcheted up the game by giving curious little clues to the solution of the canonic puzzle: “Go forward full and return half”! This was an actual instruction by Dufay in the Agnus Dei movement of his Missa L’homme armé. What does the instruction mean? Well, perform the melody in its full note values in regular forward progression, then perform it backwards at half the original note values. This kind of puzzle or game marked the Renaissance attitude of celebrating the intellect, the ability of the human being to reason out difficult mathematical relationships.
Another feature of the polyphonic Mass settings of the fifteenth century was its thematic unity. In some cases, a fragment or motto at the beginning of each movement gave the whole its coherence. In other cases, composers used a known melody in the tenor as the foundation for the entire Mass. The formal term for this foundation melody, no matter its source, is cantus firmus—literally, an established song, or borrowed melody. The cantus firmus formed the tenor voice—the voice that earlier had held the chant melody. (Remember, at this time, “tenor” was not a vocal category but simply the voice part that “held” the foundation melody, the cantus firmus.) The cantus firmus might be a Gregorian chant, but often it was not. In fact, not only was the cantus firmus often not Gregorian chant, it was very often a secular tune! The name of the cantus firmus melody lent its name to the entire mass; thus, the Missa L’homme armé mentioned above was a Mass (Missa) constructed on the song, “L’homme armé”, “The Armed Man”. Such a Mass was termed a “cantus-firmus Mass” or “tenor Mass”.
“The Armed Man”, technically a secular chanson, was widely known in the fifteenth century, a time when the Hundred Years’ War had strained the endurance of the two contending nations, France and England. The chanson itself has a short and memorable text in Old French:
L’homme, l’homme, l’homme armé, l’homme armé,
The man, the man, the armed man, the armed man,
L’homme armé doibt on doubter, doibt on doubter.
The armed man ought to be feared, ought to be feared.
On a fait partout crier
It has been everywhere proclaimed
Que chascun se viengne armer
That everyone should arm himself
D’un haubregon de fer.
With a mail coat of iron.
L’homme, etc. (The first two lines return.)