This week we continue our liturgical discussion by answering a question which was placed in the Liturgical Question Box. The question is this: “What is the difference between a normal Mass and a Solemn Mass?”
First of all, we should define what we mean by a Solemn Mass. The term Solemn Mass could be interchangeable with the terms Sung Mass or High Mass. A Solemn Mass could include (but doesn’t have to include) things like the singing of the prayers, the Gospel, the first and second reading, the responsorial psalm, and even the Eucharistic Prayer itself. It may also include incense, the use of more candles and the use of festive vestments. Now certainly not every parish has the resources needed to do all of these things, but every parish certainly has the ability to do some of these things in order for some of their celebrations to take on a more solemn nature.
One thing I would like to clarify is that in some ways a Solemn Mass is indeed the “normal” way of celebrating Mass. In fact, The Solemn/Sung Mass remains the normative (normal) form of Celebrating the Mass, but, sadly, it is not the norm in most parishes. “A liturgical service takes on a nobler aspect when the rites are celebrated with singing,” says the Second Vatican Council. Another post Vatican II Church document refers to the sung or Solemn Mass, saying “For the celebration of the Eucharist with the people, especially on Sundays and feast days, a form of sung Mass is to be preferred as much as possible, even several times on the same day.” (Musicam Sacram).
As we can see from the documents of the Church, the solemn celebration of the Mass is to be preferred. That being the case the Holy Father, both before and after his election to the papacy, as well as Francis Cardinal Arinze, head of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, as well as many other liturgist and theologians recommend that every parish, even those who are small and in remote areas, have at least one Solemn Mass for every Sunday and Holy Day. This will enable the parishioners and priests to offer their very best to God, something that should not be out of the ordinary, but a regular occurrence.
I hope that answers your question sufficiently, and as always, feel free to ask me any questions either in person or through the Liturgical Question Box.