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Low Mass (in Latin, Missa lecta)[1][2] is a Tridentine Mass defined officially as Mass in which the priest does not chant the parts that the rubrics assign to him.[3]

The view expressed by Adrian Fortescue in 1910, that Missa Cantata "is really a low Mass",[4] has thus been officially rejected,[5] and "the rubrics of the Low Mass do not permit the priest to chant", though singing by others may accompany his celebration of Mass.[6]

"Private Mass" (in Latin, Missa privata or secreta, familiaris, peculiaris),[7] which is now understood as Mass celebrated without a congregation, formerly meant Low Mass.[8][9][10] In editions of the Roman Missal earlier than that of 1962, "Missa privata" was still contrasted with "Missa solemnis".[11] In 1960 Pope John XXIII decried use of the term "Missa privata": "The most sacred Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated according to the rites and regulations is an act of public worship offered to God in the name of Christ and the Church. Therefore, the term 'private Mass' should be avoided."[12] When applied to Low Mass in general, the word privata indicated that that form of Mass was deprived of certain ceremonies.[13]

In Low Mass incense is not used and the responses (in Latin) are given by one or more servers. Low Mass was the most common form of Mass before 1969. Its form is exactly the same whether a congregation is present or not. In the 1970 edition of the Roman Missal a distinction was made between Mass celebrated with the people and Mass celebrated without the people.[14] No such distinction was made in earlier (Tridentine) editions of the Roman Missal, which only distinguished between Solemn Mass and Low Mass (calling the latter Missa lecta or, before 1962, Missa privata).

The term "Low Mass" is sometimes used also by Christians not in communion with the Holy See for a spoken, not sung, form of their own Eucharistic celebrations.[15] However, this article concerns only the form of the Roman Rite of Mass officially known by that name.


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".[16] This custom of singing died out in the 18th century. Much of Low Mass is said in a voice audible only to the celebrating priest and the server(s).

The French and Germans evolved the concept 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 that is spoken, not sung.


  1. The Harvard Dictionary of Music, p. 516
  2. "Encarta Encyclopedia: article Mass (religion)". Archived from the original on 2009-11-01. 
  3. "Missarum species duae sunt: Missa in cantu et Missa lecta. Missa dicitur in cantu, si sacerdos celebrans partes ab ipso iuxta rubricas cantandas revera cantu profert: secus dicitur lecta (Code of Rubrics, 271); "Masses are of two kinds: sung Masses (in cantu) and low Masses (Missa lecta)). A Mass is called a sung Mass, when the celebrant actually sings those parts which the rubrics require to be sung; otherwise it is called a low Mass" (translation by Rev. Patrick L. Murphy).
  4. "Liturgy of the Mass"
  5. Missa in cantu porro, si celebratur cum assistentia ministrorum sacrorum, appellatur Missa solemnis: si celebratur absque ministris sacris, vocatur Missa cantata" ("Mass with chant" (Missa in cantu), if celebrated with the assistance of sacred ministers, is called "solemn Mass" (Missa solemnis); if celebrated without sacred ministers, it is called "sung Mass" (Missa cantata) - Code of Rubrics, 271
  6. Scott A. Haynes, S.J.C., Guidelines for Liturgical Services according to the 1962 Missale Romanum: Music for Low Mass
  7. William Edward Addis, Thomas Arnold, A Catholic Dictionary, p. 555
  8. "Private Mass. Formerly the same as Low Mass. Now applied to the Mass that a priest says privately, without a congregation" (John Hardon, Modern Catholic Dictionary (1980)
  9. "At first the expression 'private mass' meant what used to be called a 'low mass', i.e., one without the normal solemnity and not considered the celebration of the entire community. Only later in the period did it come to mean masses celebrated by the priest alone" (Paul Bernier, Ministry in the Church: a historical and pastoral approach, p. 298)
  10. "The variations in the ceremonies practised in the celebration of the Eucharist make a division into two heads easy: missa solemnis and missa privata" (Edward Godfrey Cuthbert Frederic Atchley, Percy Dearmer, John Wickham Legg, Edmund Bishop, Essays on Ceremonial, p. 68)
  11. For example, in Rubricae generales Missalis, XVI, which deals with what parts of the Mass should be said aloud and which parts so quietly that only the priest himself can hear.
  12. Rubricae Generales Missalis Romani, 269)
  13. The Rosary Magazine, 1908, p. 665
  14. General Instruction of the Roman Missal (1970 edition), Chapter IV: "I. Mass with a Congregation ... III. Mass without a Congregation"
  15. For example, Zion Lutheran Church, Services and the Anglican Parish of Saint Mark
  16. On the meaning of "Missa privata", see above.

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