Let’s clarify some terminology, shall we?
There are, fuctionally, three chief kinds of masses done in modern Episcopal Churches:
- High Mass
- Sung Mass
- Low Mass
Let’s go through these.
Low Mass: This is a service where the priest and deacon say their parts. There’s no singing. It’s purely a said mass. However, this doesn’t preclude the use of hymns. There can be Low Masses with hymns as well as Low Masses without hymns. Your typical 8 AM service (whether Rite I or Rite II) tends to be a Low Mass without hymns; your typical Low Church service also tends to be a Low Mass (whether they’d refer to it as such or not) no matter how many hymns or praise songs get crammed into it.
There also aren’t a whole lot of servers in a mass of this sort, generally only one or two. Incense is not used; it doesn’t make much sense to have a Solemn Low Mass (Liturgically, “Solemn” = Incense).
Sung Mass: Now, when I use the term “Sung Mass” I mean the same thing as a missa cantata. I know that some authorities—particularly those in the earlier part of the 20th century—use “Sung Mass” as a term for a Low Mass with hymns. (This is the position of Ritual Notes, 9th edition.) However, in our current situation, saying “Sung Mass” makes more sense for two reasons: 1) using the Latin term seems a bit too precious, and 2) the literal meaning of the English means “a mass that is sung” not “a mass that is said where some hymns are stuck in.”
In a Sung Mass, everything that would normally be said by the priest is sung. (Hence the note “Where rubrics indicate that a part of a service is to be ‘said,’ it must be understood to include ‘or sung,’ and vice versa.” on p. 14 of the BCP.) This category is the point of the post so I’m going to stop here and revisit this in a moment.
Generally there are at least two servers, often more. A choir is a nice thing but not essential. It does make sense to have incense here; a Solemn Sung Mass is not uncommon among Episcopal Churches that use incense.
High Mass: High Masses aren’t terribly common around the Episcopal Church and are only seen at some Anglo-Catholic parishes. High Masses are always sung, not said. The difference between a Sung Mass and a High Mass is personnel. A High Mass has a subdeacon as well as a full deacon; a Sung Mass does not. You can be as tricked-out and smokey as you like but without a subdeacon, you’re doing a Sung Mass not a High Mass.
The Episcopal Church has formal ranks for priests and deacons—subdeacons, not so much. In the old days, subdeacon was one of the nine grades of ordination through which one traveled, and was the one in order right before deacon. The Liturgical Renewal Movement and therefore Vatican II didn’t like the nine grade system and tossed it out, officially abolishing the subdeacon. Since no order for such an ordination exists, a subdeacon in the Episcopal Church can be a layperson but ought to have the training and qualities of life to fit the bill. If it were up to me—which of course it’s not—I’d think that officially licensed lay readers ought to be taught how to subdeacon, that being the closest thing to it these days.
It’s frowned upon but permissible to have a priest function as a deacon in a Sung or High Mass. Where there are deacons, a deacon ought to be used. Nothing annoys me more, however, than seeing a priest serve as a subdeacon. If it can be a lay position, than it ought to be one. In a church that puts a great emphasis on the ministry of the Baptized, a layperson serving properly as a vested sacred minister (i.e., not trying to usurp the priestly or diaconal roles) is a good reminder.
Alright—let’s go back to the Sung Mass again in order to engage this crucial question: What parts of a Sung Mass are Sung?
Let’s start by looking at our resources. The loose-leaf Altar Book edition of the BCP has a Musical Appendix that begins on p. 215 and goes through p. 238. It includes:
- Opening Acclamations for the various seasons and occasions
- Salutations for use before prayers
- 2 Collect Tones (the first of which is specifically identified for the Collect for Purity)
- Directions and tones on chanting the “Lessons Before the Gospel”
- 2 Gospel Tones
- Prayers of the People, Forms I and V
- [The Sursum Corda (Lift up your hearts) and Proper Prefaces are elsewhere in the book depending on rite, season or occasion]
- The Christ Our Passover fraction anthem
- 2 Invitation to Communion Tones
- Baptism Material
Hey, that’s quite a lot of material. Let’s flip over to the Hymnal now. The Eucharistic service music is found from S76 through S176. The Glorias are found in the Canticle section from S272 through S281. These items include:
- Opening Acclamations (S76-83)
- Kyries in Greek and English (S84-98)
- Trisagion (S99-102)
- Nicene Creed (S103-105)
- Prayers of the People: Forms I, III, IV, and V (S106-109)
- The Peace (S110-111)
- Rite I Eucharistic Prayers
- Sursum Corda (S112)
- Sanctus (S113-117)
- Conclusion of Prayer and Amen (S118)
- Lord’s Prayer (S119)
- Rite II Eucharistic Prayers
- Sursum Corda (S120)
- Sanctus (S121-131)
- Memorial Acclamations (S132-141)
- Conclusion of Prayer and Amen (S142)
- Amen (S143-147)
- Lord’s Prayer (S148-150)
- Fraction Anthems (S151-172)
- Episcopal Blessing with Responses (S173)
- Dismissals (S174-176)
- Glorias (S272-281)
Between the Hymnal and the Altar Book, the clergy and congregation have music for basically every part of the service except for the Confession of Sin, the middle parts of the Canon of the Mass, and the Post-Communion Prayer (both of which could be monotoned if you had to).
What I’ve seen in practice and what makes sense is to have a few different levels in the Sung Mass:
- One where everything singable is sung except for the Lessons which are read
- One where everything singable is sung on the Simple Tones
- One where everything singable is sung on the Solemn Tones
These seem like good differences to distinguish between various parts of the liturgical year.
If you’ve stuck with me this far, you’ll notice an option that I don’t list here. In fact, one of the most commonly encountered Episcopal services isn’t found here. That’s the one where the service is said up until the Sursum Corda, then the Sursum Corda and the Proper Preface are sung and everything else is said.
This way of proceeding is common. It is also legal according to the rubrics of the prayer-book. But logically—theologically—what is this arrangement saying? That the Eucharist is a completely different kind of thing than what preceded it? Is this something that we want to be saying?
Galley is of the opinion that this is fine:
It is . . . important to point out that it is fully legitimate to sing [the Gloria and the Sanctus], or at least the Sanctus, even at celebrations at which there is no other music whatever. (It is also appropriate to sing the Sursum corda dialogue and the preface in such circumstances.) (Ceremonies of the Eucharist, 46)
Really? Why “appropriate”? To use my terminology, Galley is making the argument that the Gloria and the Sanctus should be considered songs and that, as in a Low Mass with hymns, they can be dropped in. I see his point here. In point of fact, these two parts of the Ordinary are angelic hymns in ways that the rest of the Ordinary is not. What does not make sense to me is the approval to then sing the Sursum corda and the Proper Preface that lead into the Sanctus without singing anything else. Again, what makes this appropriate? If the priest sings these parts, why not the rest? If the congregation can handle singing the Sursum corda dialogue and the Sanctus, then why not the Amen and other parts as well?
You wouldn’t usher in a subdeacon at the Offertory to switch a Sung Mass to a High Mass in the middle of a service. You wouldn’t sing the mass through the creed, then start speaking everything. So why speak until the Sursum corda and only then begin to sing?