THE ORGAN MASS
The Organ Mass is a venerable tradition that is unique to Latin Rite Christianity. It is essentially prayer through improvisation on the chants of the day. Given the relative rarity of this form outside lands with a well-developed tradition of organ improvisation (most especially France), a brief, if cursory, explanation may prove helpful. Each and every day in the Church’s calendar is assigned a set of Propers – that is, five prayers, most often taken directly from the Psalms, that are appointed to be sung or said at various points during the Mass. The Introit is sung for the procession of the priest into the sanctuary. The Gradual is a reflective chant sung after the First Reading. The Alleluia is sung just prior to the reading of the Gospel: not so much an acclamation as a chant of recollection (looking back to the readings we have just heard) and expectation (looking forward to the words of Our Lord in the Gospel). The Offertorium is changed as the priest prepares the altar for the offering of the Body of Christ at the Eucharistic Prayer, and as the faithful prepare to unite their personal intentions with the Sacrifice of the Mass. Finally, the Communio is sung as the priest and the faithful receive Holy Communion. Usually the choir sings these various chants (or, as is the practice today, a suitable motet or hymn in their stead). For Masses without a choir present, however, the organ may assume the choir’s liturgical function. This was often done, for instance, at Lady Masses. These Marian Masses, said only after the celebration of the principal Mass of the day, were celebrated in the Lady Chapel, rather than at the high altar, of major churches. As singing two full Masses back-to-back is rather an exhausting task for most any choir, only a core group would stay to render certain chants at this secondary Mass, while the organ filled in the rest. Medieval sources speak of the organ “singing” – a clear indication of its unique role in the sacred liturgy. The organist “sings,” then, the various chants of the Mass in their respective places. It is hoped that this will aid among the faithful of St. Catharine’s that interior singing which is the soul’s ascent to the heavenly Father.
For the specifications of the Warren/Casavant organ, please click here.