About this blogger:
A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), and did graduate work in Musicology. He serves as choirmaster for the new FSSP parish in Los Angeles, where he resides with his wife and children.
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“Each Mass contains the slaying of the Victim, not repeated here in the West after centuries, made once only long ago in Palestine, yet part of the sacrifice offered throughout the world each morning. All Masses are one sacrifice, including the death of the cross, continuing through all time the act of offering then begun … Every time we hear Mass we look across that gulf of time, we are again before the cross, with his mother and St. John; we offer still that victim then slain, present here under the forms of bread and wine.”
— Fr. Adrian Fortescue (d. 1923)

The 1961 Code of Rubrics • Pope St. John XXIII
published 3 September 2019 by Jeff Ostrowski

82864 Low Mass OPE SAINT JOHN XXIII promulgated rubrical changes that are (perhaps) not as well known as one might expect. To be honest, not that many people are familiar with the 1958 Instruction on Sacred Music (“De Musica Sacra”) approved by Pope Pius XII. We already had a long discussion about that document. We have also spoken about the rubrics for the Extraordinary Form, and how they have changed since 1908—regarding distribution of Holy Communion, the “extra” Confiteor, when the Introit should properly be sung, psalms added to antiphons, and so forth—during an extensive discussion on “De Ritibus Servandis.”

Today, we will discuss a Code of Rubrics that went into effect on 1 January 1961, as explained by John XXIII in “Rubricarum Instructum” (a motu proprio issued on 25 July 1960). A wonderful parish in Australia has posted an English translation (with commentary) by Fr. Patrick Laurence Murphy, who later became a bishop. The rules approved by John XXIII basically reiterate what Pius XII said in 1958:

    * *  PDF Download • CHAPTER 10 — “High & Low Mass” (2 pages)

Update (3 September 2019): I have been rightly castigated by one of our readers, who correctly said I should make it more clear that Chapter 10 is part of the Commentary. This is different than, e.g. Summorum Pontificum, which came with an accompanying papal letter (as did the motu proprio of Pope St. Pius X.) Mea culpa

From the standpoint of tradition, this document is terrible—and was only in effect for a few years. Even worse was yet to come; just a decade later (1972) the United States would issue “Music in Catholic Worship,” which is perhaps the most hideous document ever approved anywhere by any conference of bishops. (“Music in Catholic Worship” finally met its doom in 2008.)

Splitting the Sanctus-Benedictus

Let’s quickly review the history of splitting the Sanctus and Benedictus:

(a) The Sanctus and Benedictus were often split before the time of Pope Pius X.

(b) Under Pius X, the creators of the Editio Vaticana wanted them not to be split, as we see by their September 1904 resolutions.

(c) They won the day, and the official edition in 1905 did not split the Sanctus and Benedictus. At least that was how their actions were interpreted, because you can see how they didn’t leave a double bar before the Benedictus (more examples). Whereas previous editions always made it into a different section (Pustet 1871) or at least left a double bar (Pothier 1883). Even the 1903 Liber Usualis by Mocquereau leaves a double bar.

(d) However, the Cæremoniale Episcoporum still said the Sanctus and Benedictus should be split.

(e) This caused confusion, as you can see by this 1909 article. The author is correct when he says the 1908 rubrics could support either interpretation.

(f) The Sacred Congregation of Rites reversed course on 14 January 1921, by answering a DUBIUM and ordering their response to be added in all future editions of the Graduale. If you can’t read Latin, that document says the Sanctus and Benedictus are always to be sung separately: the Sanctus before the Consecration, the Benedictus afterwards. And that’s how it was done (until 1958) according to priests I have spoken to: even for short versions of the chant, e.g. the Requiem Mass or Mass XVIII. At the time it was published, the St. Gregory Hymnal was correct to print this statement.

(g) Not all publishers obeyed. The 1924 Solesmes edition merely adds a footnote referencing the decision. The 1953 Schwann edition ignores the decision. The 1951 Mechlin edition does it correctly.

(h) The 1958 document issued a few months before the death of Pope Pius XII finally adopted a sensible approach, and this rule is repeated in the “Commentary” by Bishop Murphy.

The end result? For the Extraordinary Form, the Sanctus and Benedictus are split for polyphony, but not for Plainsong.

Below is a transcription of Chapter 10.

Notice the bizarre practices it allows, such as allowing the entire congregation to say all the responses of the server, plus the entire Ordinarium Missae, plus the entire Proprium Missae (including the Gradual and Alleluia), plus the entire Pater Noster, plus hymns:


The Church never tires of reminding us that the solemn or high Mass is the nobler form of the Eucharistic celebration, revealing to us the splendor of the divine mysteries and stimulating the devotion of the faithful.

The congregation may participate in a sung Mass by singing those parts proper to them. These include the short responses to the greetings or invitations of the celebrant, as Amen, Et cum spiritu tuo, and so forth. Certain parts of the Ordinary of the Mass properly belong to the faithful: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus-Benedictus, Agnus Dei; the whole congregation should be encouraged to sing as much of these as possible. For this purpose, the Instruction of 1958 directed that everyone be taught the Gregorian Mass XVI, with the Gloria of Mass XV, together with Credo I or II. The Proper of the Mass, i.e., Introit, Offertory and Communion antiphons, with the Gradual and Alleluia, also belong to the people, but their variable character usually restricts them to a trained choir. The faithful may also say with the celebrant, the triple Domine, non sum dignus before their Communion.

If the Sanctus-Benedictus is sung in the Gregorian melody, it is completed before the Consecration; otherwise the Benedictus is sung after the Consecration. After the Sanctus-Benedictus there should be neither singing nor organ playing up to the Pater noster.

The Communion antiphon is sung during the Communion of the faithful, if there are people for Communion. An appropriate motet may also be added should time remain. If the faithful do not receive Communion, the Communion antiphon is sung during the Communion of the celebrant.


At a low Mass the faithful may say together whatever they may sing in a sung Mass, i.e., the short responses, Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus-Benedictus, Agnus Dei. Furthermore, they may say everything that the server answers, namely the psalm at the foot of the altar and Confiteor, the reply to the Orate, fratres. They may say the triple Domine, non sum dignus before their Communion, and also the Pater noster, including Amen, with the celebrant in Latin. When capable of doing so, the faithful may even say with the celebrant the Proper of the Mass, i.e., Entrance, Offertory and Communion antiphons, the Gradual and Alleluia, and the sequence when it occurs.

It is not necessary that all parts be said by the faithful, and this will be hardly practicable in the beginning.

The congregational singing of English hymns is permissible, provided that they are not literal translations of the liturgical texts and that they are appropriate for the various parts of the Mass. The use of Latin hymns is also allowed, if they are suited to the parts of the Mass. Thus the Kyrie, Sanctus-Benedictus, Agnus Dei may be sung according to some simple melody which will not require their violating the rule about appropriateness because of their length. The Gloria and Credo are not suitable for low Masses, and should not be sung.

The rules for singing at low Mass may be summarised as follows:


i. during those parts proper to the celebrant, i.e., Collect, Preface to the Agnus Dei (except for the short hymn at the Sanctus), Postcommunion;

ii. during the greeting-responses between celebrant and people, i.e., Dominus vobiscum, dialogue before Preface, and so forth.

iii. during the reading of the epistle and gospel, even when they are not read at the same time by a lector;

iv. at the Domine, non sum dignus before the Communion of the faithful.


i. at times corresponding to the singing of the Proper in a sung Mass, i.e., Entrance (including the prayers at the foot of the altar), Offertory (after Oremus to Secret), during the Communion of the faithful (after Domine, non sum dignus), at the Gradual, Alleluia (necessarily brief);

ii. at the Gloria and Creed (provided it is finished before the Dominus vobiscum which follows), at the Sanctus (a short hymn), at the Agnus Dei (to conclude before the Ecce Agnus Dei), after the blessing.

If congregational prayers are recited in English, they are subject to the same rules as hymns during low Mass.

Reading the above, the 1937 Response regarding singing the Ordinary at Low Mass by Very Rev. Gregory Hügle (Prior of Conception Abbey, Missouri) suddenly doesn’t sound so bizarre! Although this document says “no” for the GLORIA and CREDO.

To better understand this document by John XXIII, please read these articles:

    * *  Singing Propers and Ordinary…at Low Mass? (19 August 2013)

    * *  A Remarkable Quote About Low Mass (27 July 2019)

    * *  Catholic Hymns Before Vatican II Will Shock You! (28 February 2016)

    * *  PDF Download • Mass Hymns by Fr. Seed, SJ (1906) (15 November 2018)