An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

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Low Mass

A simple celebration of the eucharist in which the celebrant was typically assisted by only one server. The entire liturgy was said, not sung. The priest typically read all the lections and led all the prayers. The celebrant thus took over the prior liturgical roles of the deacon, lector, cantor, and choir in the eucharist. The priest alone said certain texts that were previously said with the congregation. Low mass dates from the late middle ages in the western church. All priests were expected to celebrate the Mass daily, and the traditional fullness of celebration was compromised. It became the most frequent celebration of the eucharist in the west. Low mass was never allowed in the east.

The congregation at low mass was relatively passive as the service was done for them by the celebrant. However, this tendency was countered by the Anglican Prayer Book tradition. The eucharistic liturgy of the 1549 Prayer Book was in the vernacular. It included responses that were made by the congregation. The 1789 American Prayer Book encouraged participation of lay readers by using the word "Minister" instead of "Priest" in certain directions. The 1979 BCP calls for lay persons to read the lessons other than the gospel at the eucharist. The eucharistic gospel is to be read by the deacon if a deacon is present. A deacon or lay person is to lead the prayers of the people. Representatives of the congregation are to present the people's offerings of bread and wine, and money or other gifts (BCP, p. 361). Various eucharistic texts are reserved for the congregation, or appointed to be said by the celebrant and congregation together. In these ways the liturgical roles of the eucharist are once again shared by the congregation and ministers other than the celebrant. Although the term "low mass" is obsolete, it is sometimes used loosely to indicate a simple eucharist that is said.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians," Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.