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The Mass (or Missa, Latin) is the main celebration of the Eucharist in the Roman Catholic Church and one of the most importants parts of the Christian liturgy, variations of which are performed in many mainstream Christian denominations (under various names, including 'communion' in the Anglican Church). During Eucharist the congregation and ministers receive the body and blood of Christ in the form of wine and bread.

History and Conventions

In the sixth century the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church was unified by the Gregory the Great, hence the name Gregorian plainsong. The mass was traditionally celebrated in Latin to Gregorian plainsong. The Kyrie is the only non-Latin part of the whole service as the only Greek remainder after pope Gregory's unification. At the advent of professional music composition the text was among the first to be formally set in the 14th Century, notably by Machaut.

Ordinary and Proper

The whole liturgy can be divided in two groups. On the one hend the permanent sections of the liturgy, parts that recur every Mass, and on the other hand the hymns sung only at special occasions, once a year. The former is called Ordinary, the latter Proper. When people use the word mass as a musical term they often mean the musical setting of the texts of the Ordinary. This has the following parts: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei.

A Requiem is a type of mass. Not an ordinary but a special one, a mass for the death. It consist of the Ordinary, with exception of the Gloria and Credo, and the parts from the Proper that are about the death and prayers for eternal rest, Introitus Requiem, Sequentia Dies Irae, Offertory Hostias, Communio Lux aeterna.

In the Roman Catholic church, the mass is set to its original Latin text. In the Anglican and Lutheran churches, masses are set in the local language, for the former English, and for the latter German or Scandinavian languages etc. An example of a non-Latin mass is Brahms' German Requiem. It is even not a translation of the texts but a selection of bible verses.

Many composers have set shortened versions of the (ordinary) mass, sometimes omitting the Credo, and even the Gloria (though in the Anglican Church either the Gloria or the Kyrie is sung according to the term: at lent and advent, the Kyrie; all other times, the Gloria. As such English settings of the mass tend to include the Gloria). In these instances the omitted movements may be said by the congregation or sung to Gregorian chant. An example of these shortened masses ('Low Masses': Fr. 'Messe Basse' or 'Messe Solemnelle') is Fauré's 'Messe Basse' for SSA.


The movements of the mass, in the most common order of service, are the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. The texts follow:


Kyrie movements often have a structure that reflects the concision and symmetry of the text. Many have a ternary (ABA) form, where the two appearances of the phrase "Kyrie eleison" are comprised of identical or closely related material and frame a contrasting "Christe eleison" section. Or AAABBBCCC' form is also found later on. Famously, Mozart sets the "Kyrie" and "Christe" texts in his Requiem Mass as the two subjects of a double fugue.


As the first movement in settings of the ordinary mass and the second movement in settings of the Requiem mass, the prayer has been set by composers spanning the full extent of Western music tradition. Common settings of the prayer range from solemn chorales to contrapuntally rich fugues. In popular music, as well, the prayer has received mention by various artists/bands/ensembles (Mr. Mister, Trans-Siberian Orchestra). Among the most notable settings are:

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Requiem in D minor
  • Johann Sebastian Bach - Mass in B minor
  • Tomas Luis de Victoria - Missa O Magnum Mysterium
  • Erik Satie - Messes des Pauvres
  • Hector Berlioz - Grande messe de morts
Latin English

Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison; Kyrie eleison

Lord have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.


In Mass settings (normally in English) composed for the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer liturgy, the Gloria is commonly the last movement, because it occurs in this position in the text of the service. In Order One of the newer Common Worship liturgy, however, it is restored to its earlier place.

Latin English

Glória in excélsis Deo
et in terra pax homínibus bonae voluntátis.
Laudámus te,
benedícimus te,
adorámus te,
glorificámus te,
grátias ágimus tibi propter magnam glóriam tuam,
Dómine Deus, Rex cæléstis,
Deus Pater omnípotens.
Dómine Fili Unigénite, Iesu Christe,
Dómine Deus, Agnus Dei, Fílius Patris,
qui tollis peccáta mundi, miserére nobis;
qui tollis peccáta mundi, súscipe deprecatiónem nostram.
Qui sedes ad déxteram Patris, miserére nobis.
Quóniam tu solus Sanctus, tu solus Dóminus, tu solus Altíssimus,
Iesu Christe, cum Sancto Spíritu:

in glória Dei Patris. Amen.

Glory be to God on high.
And in earth peace towards men of good will.
We praise thee.
We bless thee.
We worship thee.
We glorify thee.
We give thanks to thee for thy great glory.
O Lord God, heavenly King
God the Father almighty.
O Lord, the only-begotten Son Jesu Christ.
O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father.
Thou that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Thou that takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer.
Thou that sittest at the right of the Father, have mercy upon us.
For thou only art Holy. Thou only art the Lord. Thou only art the Most High.
Thou only, O Jesu Christ, with the Holy Ghost,

art Most High in the glory of God the Father. Amen.


In a service the Credo (or Nicene Creed) is often either said by the congregation or sung to one of the many chant settings due to its length.

Latin English

Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem,
factorem caeli et terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium.
Et in unum Dominum Jesum Christum,
Filium Dei unigenitum, et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula.
Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero,
genitum non factum, consubstantialem Patri;
per quem omnia facta sunt.
Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem

descendit de caelis.

Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est.
Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato,

passus et sepultus est,

et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas,
et ascendit in caelum, sedet ad dexteram Patris.
Et iterum venturus est cum gloria, iudicare vivos et mortuos,
cuius regni non erit finis;
Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificantem,
qui ex Patre Filioque procedit.
Qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur:
qui locutus est per prophetas.
Et unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam.
Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum.
Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum,
et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen.

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible:
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds;
God of God, Light of Light, very [true] God of very [true] God;
begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father,
by Whom all things were made;
Who for us men and for our salvation

came down from Heaven, and became man.

and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man:
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered and was buried:

And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures:
And ascended into Heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father:
And he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead:
Whose Kingdom will have no end;
And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord, and Giver of Life,
Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son
Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified,
Who has spoken through the Prophets.
And I believe in One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church,
I acknowledge one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
And I look for the Resurrection of the Dead:
And the Life of the world to come. Amen.


Latin English

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth;
pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts;
Heaven and earth are full of Your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.


Latin English

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in excelsis is repeated after the Benedictus section, often with musical material identical to that used after the Sanctus, or very closely related. The Sanctus and Benedictus are often set together in one movement by composers.

Musical Forms
Polyphonic forms CanonCanzonaInventionFugueOrganumRicercarRoundSinfornia
Sectional forms Strophic formChain formBinary formTernary formRondo formArch formRitornello form
Cyclical forms BalletConcertoMassOratorioOperaRequiemSonataSong cycleSuiteSymphony
composed forms
BagatelleFantasiaEtudeImpromptuPreludeRhapsodySymphonic poem
Dance forms AllemandeBalladBoleroContradanceEstampieJigPolkaWaltz

French: CouranteGigueMinuetSarabande

Italian: BarcarolleSaltarelloTarantella

Polish: MazurkaPolonaise