ANY BELIEVE the Ordinarium Missae to be more ancient than the Proprium Missae. Nothing could be further from the truth! Most of the Mass Ordinary is quite recent compared to the Proprium, especially the Creed (which to this day is placed in a different section). We have become accustomed to seeing “Mass in honor of Such-And-Such” and the entire setting will match; but this wasn’t how things were done 1,000 years ago. The KYRIE settings were in one place, the AGNUS DEI settings in another, and so forth.
Abbot Pothier and Dr. Peter Wagner made sure to remind those who used the Editio Vaticana that the Mass Settings—Mass I, Mass II, Mass III, and so forth—can be mixed with one another freely, but most people don’t realize this. For example, many believe that only the first Mass Setting can be used for Eastertide. (I once worked for a priest who thought that.) This view is indefensible yet popular. Perusing the ancient manuscripts, we see how freely the Mass settings were mixed, and this was true when the Renaissance composers were creating their masterpieces.
For instance, if you look at Missa de Beata Virgine—for the Blessed Virgin Mary—by Cristóbal de Morales, 1 you’ll see he uses Mass IX for the KYRIE. Mass IX in our current books has the suggestion “In festis B. Mariae Virginis,” and the Gloria was troped with Marian prayers before the Council of Trent. However, Morales uses Mass XVII for the SANCTUS, BENEDICTUS and AGNUS DEI. [The SANCTUS for Mass IX and XVII begin similarly, but there is no doubt Morales was using Sanctus XVII, not Sanctus IX, when you look at the rest of the piece.] Mass XVII is labeled as “Adventus et Quadragesimae.” 2 Francisco Guerrero (d. 1599) uses Mass IV for his “De Beata Virgine” KYRIE. Yet, in another Mass for the Blessed Virgin, Guerrero uses Mass IX for his KYRIE, just like Morales did!
Some Renaissance composers even set the “Deo Gratias” using polyphony. Verdelot’s Mass is an example, as you can see in the upper right corner.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Fr. Morales was a Spanish priest who died in 1553.
2 For the record, the plainsong melodies from Mass XVII are used by Morales in a very clear way that is quite striking. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen another Mass quite like it. It is almost a harmonization of the plainsong!