Medieval Studies Medieval Chant for the Mass Ordinary
Hana Vlhová-Wörner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 April 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0285


The Ordinary of the Mass (Lat.: ordinarium missae) is part of the Roman mass and comprises six chants whose texts remain the same through the year, namely Kyrie eleison, Gloria in excelsis Deo, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and Ite, missa est. An initial repertory of these chants were established by the end of the first millenium, but compositions of new monophonic chants or full cycles along with polyphonic elaborations of older chant repertories continued up to the Early Modern period. While the texts of these chants did not change (although there are some exceptions), interpolations in the form of tropes (newly composed texts with music inserted before and between the phrases of established chants) or prosulas (newly composed texts underlaid to preexistent melodies) were cultivated from the 9th century on. The full scope of the repertory is still unknown; present catalogues count around two thousand melodies, but some of them were used for more than one chant in the group (most typically Sanctus and Agnus Dei or Kyrie eleison and Ite, missa est) or, in particular in the late Middle Ages, adapted from other genres. There was never a unified repertory of chants of the mass ordinary for the whole Western church, but individual regions (Spain, Central Europe, etc.), religious orders (Cistercians), or dioceses developed their own traditions. Melodies of the mass ordinary chants often had their own character, employing, among other elements, repetitions of short melodic formulas or, typically in the late period, moving in the modus mixtus (authentic and plagal range of one mode) and introducing rhythmized sections (cantus fractus).

General Overviews

No monograph in English is dedicated specifically to the development and repertory of the mass ordinary chants in western Europe. Brief summaries are typically included in monographs on medieval music and plainchant, more recently in Dyer 2018, Crocker 2000, Hiley 1993, Crocker and Hiley 1990, or in the entries on the Roman mass and its individual chants in music dictionaries and encyclopedias (Stäblein, et al. 1961; Schlager, et al. 1996). Entries typically approach three topics areas: (1) the historical incorporation of the chants of the ordinary into the liturgical service, (2) their forms, and, less often, (3) their melodies, with regard to individual periods and territories. Relevant sections that describe ordinary chants as components of the liturgy of the mass from a historical and theological point of view may be found in Jungmann 2012.

  • Crocker, Richard L. An Introduction to Gregorian Chant. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000.

    The most recent monograph on Gregorian Chant, with description of the history, forms, liturgy, notation, and performance context. The place of the ordinary chants in the liturgy of the mass and brief descriptions of each are included on pp. 114–118.

  • Crocker, Richard L., and David Hiley. The Early Middle Ages to 1300. New Oxford History of Music 2. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990..

    A standard handbook on medieval music with passages on mass ordinary chants and their tropes on pp. 271–278 (with the main emphasis on Kyrie eleison).

  • Dyer, Joseph. “Sources of Romano-Frankish Liturgy and Music.” In The Cambridge History of Medieval Music. Vol. 1. Edited by Mark Everist and Thomas Forrest Kelly, 92–122. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

    Chapter on the Roman Mass and Office, with focus on its early development. A brief sections on the mass ordinary on pp. 94–104.

  • Hiley, David. Western Plainchant. Oxford: Clarendon, 1993.

    A standard handbook on plainchant with systematic description of its forms, history, individual liturgical traditions, and medieval music theory, with many plates and transcriptions from medieval sources. Sections on the mass ordinary chants (chapters II.17–II.21, pp. 148–171) deal with chant origin, melody types, and late compositions, among other topics.

  • Jungmann, Josef Andreas. The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development (Missarum Sollemnia). Translated by Francis A. Brunner. Notre Dame, IN: Christian Classics, 2012.

    Originally published in German in 1949. So far the most comprehensive description of the Roman mass and its historical development. Individual entries include numerous references to writings of the Church Fathers and secondary historical sources dealing with the medieval performance practice, among other topics. Texts on the mass ordinary are in Vol. 1, pp. 429–461 (Kyrie and Gloria in excelsis), 591–606 (Credo); and Vol. 2, 161–173 (Sanctus), 413–422 (Agnus Dei) and 536–541 (Ite, missa est).

  • Schlager, Karlheinz, Friedrich Blume, Ludwig Finscher, et al. “Messe.” In Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Vol. 6, col. 174–228. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1996.

    A survey of various medieval liturgies (Byzantine, Slavonic, Roman liturgies) and their repertories. Brief sections on the chants of the ordinary deal, in particular, with their position in the mass liturgy and the later melody development marked by tropes and polyphonic settings.

  • Stäblein, Bruno, Friedrich Blume, Ludwig Finscher, et al. “Messe.” In Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Vol. 9, Del Mel–Onslow, col. 147–218. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1961.

    The general overview on the liturgy and repertory of the mass from the early Middle Ages up to the modern period. Section “Die lat[einische] Messe” (col. 148–158, by Bruno Stäblein) deals with the liturgy development, the character of monophonic melodies, and tropes to the mass ordinary and mass proper chants, and it is accompanied by numerous music examples and pictures from medieval manuscripts. Early polyphonic settings of the mass ordinary chants are in the section “Die mehrstimmige Messe. Ia” (col. 170–183, by Paul Kast).

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