Ordinary (liturgy)

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The ordinary, in Roman Catholic and other Western Christian liturgies, refers to the part of the Eucharist or of the canonical hours[1] that is reasonably constant without regard to the date on which the service is performed. It is contrasted to the proper, which is that part of these liturgies that varies according to the date, either representing an observance within the liturgical year, or of a particular saint or significant event, and to the common, which contains those parts that are common to an entire category of saints, such as apostles or martyrs.

The ordinary of both the Eucharist and the canonical hours does, however, admit minor variations in accordance with the seasons, such as omission of "Alleluia" in Lent and its addition in Eastertide.

These two are the only liturgical celebrations in which a distinction is made between an ordinary and other parts. It is not made in other celebrations of Christian liturgy: administration of sacraments other than the Eucharist, blessings, and other rites.

In connection with liturgy, the term "ordinary" may also refer to Ordinary Time - those parts of the liturgical year that are part neither of the Easter cycle of celebrations (Lent and Eastertide) nor of the Christmas cycle (Advent and Christmastide), periods that were once known as "season after Epiphany" and "season after Pentecost".[2]

In addition the term "ordinary liturgy" is used to refer to regular celebrations of Christian liturgy, excluding exceptional celebrations.[3]


The Mass ordinary, or the Ordinarium parts of the Mass, is the set of texts of the Roman Rite Mass that are generally invariable. This contrasts with the proper (Proprium), which are items of the Mass that change with the feast or following the Liturgical Year. Ordinary of the Mass may refer to the Ordinarium parts of the Mass or to the Order of Mass (which includes the proprium parts).

Ordinarium Proprium
Gradual with Hallelujah or Tract (Sequence)
Sanctus, including Benedictus and Hosanna
Agnus Dei
Ite, missa est or Benedicamus

The ordinarium texts listed below are generally invariable with some exceptions as indicated, for example for Requiem masses. The Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei are part of every Mass. Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus are often sung, by a choir if not by the whole congregation.

The Kyrie eleison is a Greek text (traditionally rendered in Latin script), the others are in Latin, with some words like Hosanna derived from Hebrew. Over time, the use of other languages, once a rare privilege only given to the Slavs of Dalmatia (in present day Croatia) who used Old Church Slavonic written in Glagolitic characters, has become more common than the use of Latin and Greek.

I. Kyrie[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Kyrie § Kyrie as section of the Mass ordinary.

Kyrie eleison ("Lord, have mercy") is the first section of the Mass ordinary. During the Middle Ages, prior to the Council of Trent, the Kyrie was frequently troped: it was common in certain uses of the Roman Rite (such as the Sarum Use) to add tropes to the Kyrie. The tropes were essentially texts particular to a specific feast day interpolated between the lines of the Kyrie. English renaissance composers seem to have regarded the Sarum rite Kyrie as part of the propers and begin their mass settings with the Gloria. The 1970 revision of the Roman Missal has extended the availability of this practice to all Masses (though in a different way).

II. Gloria[edit]

Gloria ("Glory to God in the highest"). The Gloria is reserved for Masses of Sundays, solemnities and feasts, with the exception of Sundays within the penitential season of Lent (to which, before 1970, were added the Ember Days occurring four times a year, and the pre-Lenten season that began with Septuagesima), and the season of Advent (when it is held back as preparation for Christmas). It is omitted at weekday Masses (called Ferias) and memorials, and at requiem and votive Masses, but is generally used also at ritual Masses celebrated on occasions such as the administration of another sacrament, a religious profession or the blessing of a church.

III. Credo[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Credo § Credo as section of the Mass ordinary.

Credo ("I believe in one God"), the Nicene Creed. The Credo is used on all Sundays and solemnities. Until simplified by Pope Pius XII in 1956, the rules (some 400 words in Section XI of the Rubricae generales Missalis) were much more complicated, listing, among other Masses, those of Doctors of the Church, those celebrated during octaves and certain votive Masses.

IV. Sanctus[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Sanctus § Sanctus as section of the Mass ordinary.

Sanctus ("Holy, Holy, Holy"), the second part of which, beginning with the word "Benedictus" ("Blessed is he"), was often sung separately after the consecration, if the setting was long.

It was at one time popular to replace at a Solemn Mass the second half of the Sanctus (the Benedictus) with hymns such as the O Salutaris Hostia, or, at requiems, with a musical setting of the final invocation of the Dies Irae: "Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem."

V. Agnus Dei[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Agnus Dei (liturgy).

Agnus Dei ("Lamb of God"). Until the 1970 revision of the Roman Missal, the Agnus Dei was modified for Requiem Masses, and prayed not miserere nobis (have mercy on us) and dona nobis pacem (grant us peace), but dona eis requiem (grant them rest) and dona eis requiem sempiternam (grant them eternal rest).

VI. Ite, missa est[edit]

The phrase Ite, missa est "Go, it is the dismissal" (referring to the congregation) is the final part of the Ordinarium in the post-Tridentine Mass, but is omitted if another function follows immediately. In the Tridentine Mass, it was followed by a private prayer that the priest said silently for himself, by the final blessing, and by the reading of the Last Gospel (usually John 1:1-14), and in some Masses it was replaced by Benedicamus Domino or Requiescant in pace. These phrases are sung to music given in the Missal, as is the choir's response, Deo gratias or (after Requiescant in pace) Amen. Because of their brevity, the responses have seldom been set to polyphonic music except in early Masses such as the Messe de Nostre Dame by Machaut. The same holds for other short sung responses, such as Et cum spiritu, Gloria tibi, Domine, Habemus ad Dominum, and Dignum et iustum est.

Canonical hours[edit]

The ordinary of the canonical hours consists chiefly of the psalter, an arrangement of the Psalms distributed over a period of a week or a month. To the psalter are added canticles, hymns and other prayers.

Traditionally the canonical hours were chanted by the participating clergy. Some texts of the canonical hours have been set to polyphonic music, in particular the Benedictus, the Magnificat, and the Nunc dimittis.


  1. ^ Ordinary of the Divine Office
  2. ^ Ordinary
  3. ^ "Liturgy in the broad sense covers all that was said or sung or performed in church in the past. However, I speak of liturgy in a more restricted sense of the word, limiting myself to the ordinary liturgy, such as the Liturgy of the Mass, the Rituals and the Liturgy of Hours" (Liturgy and the arts in the Middle Ages, p. 168).