Non solum: Singing at Daily Mass

The U.S. document Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (2007) treats “The Parts to be Sung” beginning at no. 115. Helpful guidance is given on these genres, in this order:

  • dialogues and acclamations,
  • antiphons and psalms,
  • refrains and repeated responses,
  • and finally, hymns.

Then there is this about daily Mass at no. 116:

At daily Mass, the above priorities should be followed as much as possible, in this order: dialogues and acclamations (Gospel Acclamation, Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Amen); litanies (Kyrie, Agnus Dei); Responsorial Psalm, perhaps in a simple chanted setting; and finally, a hymn or even two on more important days. Even when musical accompaniment is not possible, every attempt should be made to sing the acclamations and dialogues.

As we move into Lent, a time when attendance at daily Mass oftentimes increases, it would be useful to talk about music at daily Mass, and whether the bishops’ guidance is being followed. When I’m away from the abbey and off campus, I find that singing at daily Mass typically involves one or two hymns – probably about two stanzas of each – but everything else is recited.

Is it possible to sing the more properly liturgical items first, as the U.S. bishops advise? What has been your experience? When there is not musical accompaniment, what Mass settings and refrains work best unaccompanied?

Let us share our wisdom and learn from one another.


Moderator’s note: “Non solum” is a feature at Pray Tell for our readership community to discuss practical liturgical issues. The title comes from article 11 of the Vatican II liturgy constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium: “Therefore there is to be vigilance among holy pastors that in liturgical action not only are laws for valid and licit celebration to be observed, but that the faithful should participate knowingly, actively, and fruitfully.” (Ideo sacris pastoribus advigilandum est ut in actione liturgica non solum observentur leges ad validam et licitam celebrationem, sed ut fideles scienter, actuose et fructuose eandem participent.) May the series contribute to good liturgical practice – not only following the law, but especially grasping the spirit of the liturgy!


  1. We sing the Acclamations: Gospel, Sanctus, Memorial and the Great Amen. We sing the Gloria if it is prescribed, Nissa Simplex and the Psalm on some Feasts. We have a tight time frame, 25-30 minutes, but these are sung prayerfully by all.

  2. I fully support this recommendation. Our parish moves the site of its Monday daily Mass to two nursing homes a month (2nd and 4th Mondays). I am amazed and delighted that they sing very robustly. A song leader leads them in singing hymns for twenty minutes or so before Mass, and then they sing three hymns, the gospel acclamation, and the eucharistic acclamations. The pastor makes sure that there is an accompanist for the singing in the event that the regular VOLUNTEER is unable to attend.

  3. It certainly helps to have the dialog and Ordo chants firmly familiar with the congregation for priests and people to be able to sing them without reliance on an instrumentalist (whether the music is from the Missal or not, it needs to be able to “work” without any instrumental support – chant normally fits this bill, whether in Latin or in the vernacular – I loved the old David Hurd New Plainsong Mass for this very purpose, though I’ve not been in a place that’s used the updated Ordo). Just happened to witness such a thing at a Sunday Mass where there was a last-minute scramble. Such familiarity is a form of congregational empowerment. I am strongly in favor making sure congregations are so empowered.

    * * *

    A possible Lenten tangent that Fr Ruff might want to consider for another topic: What are priest and people’s experience with use of the Lenten Prayers Over The People that came with the most recent edition of the Missal?

  4. My experience with daily mass was limited to the single mass that was celebrated on secular holidays – Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day, in the over nine years that I was Music Director at St. Bernardine of Siena, in Forest Park IL. I was careful to do less music than we did at a weekend liturgy. The Responsorial Psalm was chanted, unaccompanied, using one of the familiar Gregorian Chant Psalm Tones; the gospel acclamation was also chanted. Eucharistic Acclamations were whichever setting we were singing on the weekend. The proper Communion antiphon was chanted. There was instrumental music during Communion, and sometimes during the Preparation of the Gifts. We sang an opening and closing hymn, all the stanzas of each. Especially on Memorial Day and 4th of July, I made it a point to program a patriotic hymn, America, America! the Beautiful, National Hymn, or Eternal Father, Strong to Save. Had I played for daily mass during Lent or Advent, I would have chosen to do only 1 hymn, rather than two, perhaps with some judicious editing of certain stanzas in the case of longer hymns.

  5. My experience with daily Mass at a large parish without musical leadership was that, if the presiding priest chanted the dialogues and acclamations, the people responded in kind, I seldom heard the Kyrie chanted, whereas the Alleluia at the Gospel was unfailingly chanted. If the priest sang a familiar hymn at the beginning and end, people would also sing. Several priests rotated through that parish during my tenure there, and I would say that, of about 8 or 10, two of them had the self-confidence as singers to lead the congregation in this way.

    I don’t know how much seminarians are taught to sing without an accompanying instrument. If I remember correctly, when I attended daily Mass at the seminary, they always had an organist. Maybe it’s part of the getting used to real parish situations that doesn’t happen in the seminary.

  6. Does “dialogues” refer to the “Lord be with you/and with your spirit” exchanges, as well as the exchange before the preface? These are rarely if ever sung outside of a ROTR context even at Sunday Mass, yet they are easy to learn and sing.

    Weekday Masses were probably my first real exposure to Latin at Mass, as it seems somewhat common for the Agnus Dei to be sung on weekdays in some parishes. Sometimes you’ll get an opening and closing hymn – the churches I have been to usually pick old standards that people can sing without accompaniment – “Immaculate Mary” immediately comes to mind as an example.

    1. @Jack Wayne:
      Hi Jack – my understanding is that these are the dialogues meant. Practice varies, but I think it’s becoming a bit more common in some places to sing these dialogues.

      A Vatican II Latin Mass on weekdays could sing just some things, such as the Agnus Dei. But a pre-Vatican II Latin Mass wouldn’t allow singing just that – either it’s a High Mass and everything is sung, or it’s a low Mass where everything is recited and congregation can sing vernacular hymns. At least that’s my understanding – but was there some other provision made in the few years before Vatican II when there was such a flurry of reform documents leading up to Vatican II? Does anyone know?

      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        The weekday Masses I was referring to were Ordinary Form Masses – priests who liked Latin seemed to only use it for weekday Masses in the early 2000s, even if Latin was never used at Sunday Masses. My first exposure to Latin was at these sorts of Masses, as well as Benediction, where O Salutaris and Tantum Ergo are still commonly sung in Latin (in fact, it was these hymns that were my first real experience of unaccompanied, un-cantored, unamplified congregational singing).

        My understanding is that the Low/High distinction is still in force for the EF. I don’t know if there were any particular documents allowing parts to be sung at Low Mass, but based on my experience of Low Masses celebrated by some elderly priests (ones ordained in the 50s and who lived through the liturgical reform), I wouldn’t be surprised if permission was granted to sing the preface, Sanctus, and Agnus at Low Mass.

    2. @Jack Wayne:
      My experience is that the African priests sing the dialogues. Not so much our native-born American priests. I suspect they are trained differently in the seminaries in Africa, and perhaps the singing of the dialogues is modeled more often there.

  7. I know I’m breaking somewhat with the order of precedence that I/we support and promote, but a practical first step
    for introducing SOME element of music in “non-singing” parishes has been to sing a carefully chosen hymn that will “foreshadow” and tie together the feast/readings, the “homilette” and the prayer texts of the day. People have come to look for and appreciate that tie-in.

  8. This is our practice for Friday daily Mass at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Houston. Keep in mind that this is a school Mass, and so I have the luxury of rehearsing the students; however, some of this can be introduced with simply a singing priest.

    Entrance Chant: sung by the choir, either the Latin from the Graduale Romanum, or an English Roman Missal antiphon setting.

    Opening dialogue sung

    Kyrie in Greek: congregational – we have used both Mass XVI and Mass VIII

    Collect and Amen sung

    Responsorial Psalm: sung using antiphons in Lumen Christi Missal, with verses pointed to Meinrad tones

    Alleluia: Graduale Simplex setting in mode corresponding to the Responsorial Psalm

    Gospel Dialogue: sung

    Offertory: varies – sometimes choral piece either related to readings, or based on the proper, sometimes a congregational hymn related to the readings.

    Dialogue, Preface sung.

    Sanctus sung (either Roman Missal in English, or Mass VIII)
    MA (consistent text, English from Roman Missal)
    Amen – sung to simple response tone
    Agnus Dei – Mass XVIII or Mass VIII

    Communion chant – varies – sometimes Latin from Graduale for the day (which corresponds best with the readings); or Roman Missal antiphon in English; or Simple Gradual antiphon in English. In all cases they alternate with verses sung by cantor (Latin, English, or Spanish), and it lasts the duration of the communion procession.

    After the dismissal – seasonal Marian antiphon

    Although this is more elaborate than many daily Masses can be, one will note that the congregational music attempts to adhere to those tiered guidelines.

  9. May I please have my forty-five minutes of near silence every day? I know well that aggiornamento and the ressourcement movement in modern liturgy absolutely cherishes the sung Mass and the didactic hymn at all and every cost. This includes even the cost of individual believers. All dissenters must be plowed down and under for this great pearl of price. Blest be he who breaks my bones under the plow! dinumeraverunt omnia ossa mea. Ipsi vero consideraverunt et inspexerunt me! (Ps. 22:18 Vulgate)

    Is is not the apex of beauty in the way the qui pridie and simili modo pierce profound contemplation? There is no song which can replace the entry of the unspotted lamb of the Pasch into our mire. A turgid didactic offertory hymn forces the faithful to consider the Lord as the composer considers the Lord. This never satisfies all. Why can we not be satisfied merely to reside with the κοσμοκράτωρ in his dwelling-space? Or, are most Catholics unable to see the sublime beauty of the Mass in itself, demonstrating itself, living itself? Instead, must most be told Who and What the Mass is?

    Please, please, pastors and monks, the most beautiful sound is its absence.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo:
      Quiet low EF Masses have sort of grown on me, though I wasn’t too much a fan of them at first. I think it better for the parts meant to be audible to remain somewhat audible at Low Mass – but even then the Low Mass is marked by long periods of silence, which I think can really allow one to enter into the Mass.

      My attitude towards the OF is that it is preferable to sing as much of it as possible since none of it is really allowed to be done quietly. In the OF, the choice isn’t between silent and sung, but rather between sung and lecture. The lecture style has become the post Vatican II ideal – at least in practice. Weekday Masses are a great place to introduce more singing since they tend to have a more intentional/devoted crowd – a crowd that can then help a congregation sing its part on Sunday.

  10. My pastor has a strong singing voice and has ensured that acclamations and opening/closing hymns are sung at every Mass, even those without accompaniment. Though few in number relative to our weekend crowds, the weekday attendees sing quite well.

  11. I use the missal chants with the Gospel Acclamation at daily Mass and the Gloria on feasts. Everything is a capella. The assembly sings with gusto. We will occasionally sing a hymn on solemnities. I have done this in all my assignments and the experience is the same.

  12. Our local experience is that the gospel acclamation is the only thing sung at weekday masses. And this is a parish that sings heartily on Sunday. I think there is a place for diocesan liturgy commissions to train priests in one or two simple settings of the eucharistic acclamations at least that could be used throughout the diocese.
    Maybe the Gloria should only be used if it is sung (?)

  13. Sadly, the “Quiet Mass” has become a reality on Sunday in some area parishes. Literally nothing is sung. It models the weekday Mass one finds in almost every parish, again totally devoid of music.

    Lest we think it is just a Catholic thing … the local Episcopal community now has one at 8:30 on Sunday morning.

    Priests who refuse to sing … parishes who have dismissed all their musicians … it goes round in circles and spreads like the flu.

    Silence is not golden, but it has become a reality.

    Will there be a “quiet section” in heaven?

    1. @Don Donaldson:
      The Episcopal “eight o’clock” said service without music has a following among those who find the full Eucharist later in the morning to be too much. I sometimes attend our Low Mass at 8 and appreciate the quiet celebration. And for those who think this is too individualistic, I find there’s a palpable community feeling in the quiet. While there’s no music, it’s not because the faithful don’t wish to participate. They have roles as lector, server, greeter, etc., and speak their liturgical parts strongly, and fellowship time afterward is friendly. Just a different celebration, peaceful, but by no means anti-music. Our Solemn High Mass at 11 is gorgeous and musically rich.

  14. I write as a non-musician and layperson in the pew.

    Sixty years ago, as my generation can just remember, the standard Mass on both Sundays and weekdays was a Low Mass. Vernacular hymns were allowed, I believe, in 1958.

    Since the Second Vatican Council, music has rightly come to be seen as ‘a necessary and integral part’ of the liturgy, not an optional extra (SC, 112). That doesn’t mean that we must sing everything; only that singing should be the norm, at least on Sundays and solemnities.

    As for weekday Masses, where in many places there is usually neither accompaniment nor cantor, I would rather sing the short acclamations and responses (Gospel Acclamation, Preface Dialogue) than a couple of token verses of a dreary, draggy hymn. If we sing only hymns, the singing becomes singing at Mass rather than singing of the Mass — an important distinction!

    And yes, there is a place for silence in the Mass on both Sundays and weekdays (SC, 30; GIRM, 56, 164). Clergy and liturgists take note!

  15. I serve two rural parishes. Daily mass draws anywhere from 5 to 35 people, myself included.

    The Doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer and Great Amen are always sung.

    When there are more than five, the Holy, Holy and Memorial Acclamation and usually an opening song are also sung.

    A sung Kyrie, a Gospel Acclamation and/or Lamb of God are usually added for feasts and during Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter.

    These sung versions of the Eucharistic Acclamations and Lamb of God are alternated: Missal Chants (slightly adapted), Holy Communion setting II from the Lutheran Book of Worship, Mass of Glory, Mass for Christian Unity, People’s Mass and the Danish Amen Mass.

    Our singing is unaccompanied and has become quite confident in ten years – the congregation finds its own voice. A leading voice always seems to emerge naturally within the group.

  16. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
    If by the EF one means just what was the situation in 1962, then I don’t think there is any instruction other than De Musica Sacra (1958). It says :- There are two kinds of Masses: the “sung Mass” and the “read Mass.” The Mass is called a “sung Mass” if the priest celebrant actually sings those parts which are to be sung according to the rubrics. –
    It then further distinguishes sung Mass as either Solemn Mass or ‘missa cantata’. It goes into great detail on singing at the Solemn Mass, and does not (as far as I can see) explain the extent to which this applies at a missa cantata, is seems generally assumed that it applies in full. However, according to the above definition all that is required is that the celebrant sings where and as in the rubrics.
    The next Instruction is Musicam Sacram (1967), which applies to a rite with (mainly) the same words and structure as 1962, but largely (optionally) in the vernacular, and largely audibly proclaimed. Here there is a clear hierarchy in elements to be sung, (#28-31) which remains in place except as modified by GIRM.
    I imagine your 1950’s ordained confreres chose simply to hold the changes at or about that point, ie before the new Missal. (after all some revision was overwhelming desired by VII)

  17. Daily Mass times are generally early morning and many attendees are on their way to work or at noon, for those on their lunch break. Parish funerals get scheduled for the noon hour and there is much singing then.

    I am glad to be well past the day of the 19 Minute Mass with a homily that I experienced in college. And that the Prayer Meeting at 6:30am in Dallas concluded with communion just before Mass began at 7, because the pray-ers had to get to work.

  18. The list of priorities for singing seems to me to be a little diversion after Vatican II particularly for anglophone parishes. The true acclamations of the Roman Mass are those which depend upon the priest or deacon singing their parts yet we sing them (Amen, Memorial Acclamation) as if they were little hymns without any need for the singing of the clergy. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that treating the 3 interventions of the people during the Eucharistic Prayer as a kind of new, baseline “Ordinary of the Mass”, is a mistake, impractical, not really supported by Church discipline at all and has ENCOURAGED hymn singing. It seems to me that we should leave chanting the true short acclamations to when the ministers chant their parts and only use the Missal melodies. The question of “what to sing on weekdays” should really be phrased as “what should the cantor/organist ensure is sung at weekday Mass?”. My answer is: the parts of the Ordinary and the Alleluia-with-verse before the Gospel is a good starting point. (btw, “Gospel Acclamation” is a poor and misleading translation). None of these parts require singing priests or deacons. When a minister chants, we chant the responses/acclamations correspondingly.

  19. There’s a lot to be said for the chants in the English Missal as we now have it. I use them at all daily Masses, and while they seemed at first a little clumsy, they have a way of bedding in which allows even small groups (I mean 3 or 4 people + priest) to sing them. The only thing I had to get people used to was that in the ‘Holy Holy Holy’ the last syllable of ‘holy’ was not stressed. Simply elongate the ‘ho’ and let the ‘ly’ fade away. It works perfectly.

    Fergus Ryan’s point is well made. When you have priests who do not sing it’s like you have one rite going on at the altar and another in the pews.


  20. The German churches (Catholic and Lutheran) have a very old tradition of hymns in the vernacular; some of them are very well known. On the other hand, many priests do not want to sing acclamations, because they cannot sing (or at least think so). Cantors are seldom, but organists are very common. There are not many role models for people who might want to sing individually as a cantor, and it takes a lot of courage to stand in front of an audience singing individually.
    So I make the same observation as Fr. Anthony: Many Masses on weekdays are with two or three hymns (e.g.: Entrance, Sanctus, after Communion), but all acclamations and psalms are recited. (And psalms are often omitted which is regularly criticized by bishops and liturgists.) – Actually it is quite the other way round than the US document (and the Roman Missal generally) wants. But that is how it is, and most people do not understand why this should be wrong, it is what they know since childhood.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *