Postures at Sung Masses
Question from Patrick Williams on 02-13-2003:

Dear Mr. Donovan,

Someone recently asked about postures for the people at a Tridentine Sung Mass. The Liturgical Ordo from the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter gives the following guidelines:

Summary of Postures at Solemn (High) or Sung Masses:

1. All stand when the priest makes his appearance from the sacristy.

2. All kneel for the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar and stand when the celebrant ascends the altar steps.

3. All remain standing for the Introit, Kyrie, and the Gloria while they are recited by the celebrant.

4. When the celebrant sits down for the singing of the Gloria, all sit. Rise when the celebrant rises towards the end of this chant.

5. All stand for the singing of the Collect (except at penitential and Requiem Masses, when all kneel), and sit for the chanting of the Epistle and what follows.

6. When "Dominus vobiscum" is sung before the chanting of the Gospel, all stand. All stand during the Creed, genuflecting with the celebrant at the words "Et incarnatus est . . ."

7. All sit when the celebrant sits down for the singing of the Creed. Rise with the celebrant and remain standing while he sings "Dominus vobiscum" and "Oremus," then sit.

8. All rise for the incensation of the clergy; bow to the thurifer when he bows to them before and after he incenses them, and, having been incensed, all sit.

9. When the celebrant begins to sing "Per omnia saecula saeculorum" before commencing the Preface, all rise and remain standing until the Sanctus has been sung. Then all kneel.

10. All rise at the "Per omnia saecula saeculorum" before the Paternoster. All kneel after the Agnus Dei is sung.

11. During the distribution of Holy Communion, all remain kneeling until the door of the tabernacle has been closed.

12. All stand for the singing of "Dominus vobiscum" and the following Postcommunion prayers (exceptions: all kneel at penitential Masses celebrated in violet vestments and at Requiem Masses).

13. All kneel for the Blessing and make the sign of the cross.

14. All stand for the Last Gospel (genuflecting with the celebrant) and remain standing until the procession has returned to the sacristy.


For those who don't know, a High or Solemn Mass (Missa solemnis) is a Mass at which the celebrant is assisted by a deacon and subdeacon as well as a choir or at least a cantor. Incense is always used at a High Mass. Much of the liturgy is sung, including the Epistle and Gospel. Sometimes it is called a "Solemn High Mass," which is redundant.

At Low Mass (Missa privata), there is no deacon or subdeacon. The prayers and readings are spoken, not sung, by the priest. There is no incense. Low Mass is sometimes accompanied by singing or organ music.

At Sung Mass (Missa cantata), there is no deacon or subdeacon (the priest sings their parts as well as his own), but there is a choir or cantor and the prayers and readings sung at High Mass are sung. Incense is not necessarily used. Although it is sometimes incorrectly called a High Mass, Sung Mass is actually a modified form of Low Mass.

At High Masses and at Sung Masses, the priest inaudibly recites the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei as the choir sings them. In Masses celebrated according to the 1954 Missal or prior, he even recited the Epistle and Gospel at the altar as they were being sung by the subdeacon or deacon. This was changed in the 1962 Missal (the one used by the priests of the Fraternity of St. Peter as well as most other Tridentine Mass celebrants). Other parts of the Mass, most notably the Canon, are also said inaudibly by the priest even at Low Masses. So, the Consecration takes place in silence.

Unlike the Novus Ordo Mass, where the GIRM lays down clear rules for when to stand, sit, or kneel, there is considerable variation in the postures of the faithful at the Tridentine Mass from place to place. The guidelines given above (which are based on the rules for clergy present in choir) are followed to the letter at the Tridentine Sung/High Mass in Indianapolis, or at least were when I assisted at that Mass two years ago. At the Tridentine Mass in Atlanta, however, the people kneel throughout the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei.

The 1962 Missal does say that those who are actually singing should be standing. So if there is congregational singing of the Gloria and Credo, which is highly desirable, the people may remain standing for those parts of the Mass instead of sitting when the celebrant sits. The FSSP Ordo mentions this.

As for the longer, elaborate polyphonic Masses, the people would probably stand (not kneel) for the Kyrie, sit along with the celebrant after he recites the Gloria and Credo as the choir sings them, and stand or kneel according to local custom during the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. When polyphonic Masses are sung, the Sanctus and Benedictus are usually written as separate movements, so the normal practice is to sing the Benedictus after the Elevation of the Chalice through the remainder of the Canon. This is done even in longer orchestral NOVUS ORDO Masses in some places with the Eucharistic Prayer said silently except for the Consecration itself. Card. Ratizinger has expressed his approval of the practice.

In the Tridentine Mass, the Agnus Dei is sung after the Fraction (Breaking of the Bread) and accompanies the Prayer for Peace ("Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your apostles," omitted at Requiem Masses), the Kiss of Peace (at High Mass), the preparatory prayers of the priest before Holy Communion, and the priest's Communion, or parts of these, depending on its length. The words differ on Maunday Thursday, when "miserere nobis" (have mercy on us) is said after all three invocations, and at Requiem Masses, when "dona eis requiem" (grant them rest) is said after the first two invocations and "done eis requiem sempiternam" (grant them everlasting rest) after the third.

Also, I wanted to say that the "change" in the lyrics of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is unlikely to be a goddess reference of any sort. The words "To us the path of knowledge show, And teach us in her way to go" appear in the 1940 Protestant Episcopal Hymnal and in many respectable Catholic hymnals. So, it's a translation that's been in use for at least 63 years and nothing to be concerned about.


Answer by Colin B. Donovan, STL on 02-18-2003:

Thank you. That should satisfy even the most curious.