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Lady Mass during Eastertide

Lady Mass during Eastertide at Salisbury Cathedral (May 2011)

During the season of Eastertide the Church celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, his appearances after the resurrection, his ascension to heaven, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is a period of rejoicing most obviously marked by the extensive use of the acclamation Alleluya.

Lady Mass during Eastertide is a variant of Lady Mass per annum, but with greater use of Alleluya as an acclamation, especially at the end of sung items and as a replacement text at the Gradual. There is also a seasonal Gospel and Communion chant.

This particular celebration of Lady Mass during Eastertide took place in Salisbury Cathedral in May 2011. As with Lady Mass per annum (discussed in the section above), this was Lady Mass as celebrated on Saturday at the principal altar.

Video recordings

The whole Lady Mass during Eastertide

Texts used by the participants

You can view, download, print and follow the main ‘performance’ texts used by the participants for this enactment:

Service booklet for clergy and servers (master)
Service booklet for celebrant, deacon and subdeacon
Service booklet for singers
Booklet for congregation

The full sequence of text resources used in the enactment can be found here.

A tabular summary of what happens when and where in the Mass can be found here and a diagrammatic plan identifying the space used in Salisbury Cathedral can be found here.

In the Middle Ages, at a cathedral like Salisbury, such a celebration of Lady Mass on Saturday was attended by the whole cathedral community as the main Mass of the day. That community included the principal dignitaries (dean, precentor, chancellor and treasurer), canons, vicars choral and more junior clergy (including boys) – over 100 persons when everyone was in residence, and probably normally no fewer than 50. All present in the community would have sung the choral plainchant.

Nowadays, the number of clergy is far fewer, and the choir is a specialised body of children and adult singers. On this occasion, the congregation of the cathedral filled the stalls around the choir, taking the place of the medieval canons and ordained vicars choral. Although two rows of medieval stalls made in the 1240s are still there, there is an additional front row of fixed benches with desks that were not present in the Middle Ages. There are also modern chairs east of the stalls, altar rails, and a differently configured sanctuary where the high altar is located. The great stone screen with gallery for proclamation of readings and singing of solo chants – the pulpitum – is also lost, removed at the end of the eighteenth century.

Notwithstanding these differences, the space of the quire and presbytery at Salisbury retains the dimensions and broad layout established in the thirteenth century, and used for the Mass and Office services each day up to the sixteenth-century Reformation. Furthermore, daily sung services still take place in that space; and this enactment of Lady Mass took place as a public sung service at the usual daily time. It was fitted into the busy daily timetable of the cathedral and its choir.

Those participating in the Mass represented the medieval cathedral community, assigned to specific duties:

• clergy in the sanctuary (priest, deacon and subdeacon)
• assisting servers (acolyte, thurifer and candlebearers, who return to their place in the choir when they have no ritual duties)
• the rest of the cathedral community (here represented by the cathedral choir, as a specialist musical body competent to sing polyphony in the early sixteenth century, and the cathedral congregation standing in the place of the canons, vicars choral and other clergy of the medieval cathedral community).

Unlike the medieval forebears whose place they took, the cathedral congregation did not sing the chants formerly sung by the medieval cathedral community, but they did follow the ritual actions, set out in their service booklet. (In the Middle Ages, Lady Mass would have been so familiar that books would not have been used by those singing.)

What of the congregation in medieval times? This Saturday Lady Mass was a service intended for, and conducted by, the cathedral community. Any lay people in the cathedral at the time could have heard the Mass in the distance, but would not have been able to see what was happening within the enclosed space of the quire and presbytery. There would have been other Masses at altars in the nave, aisles and transepts of the cathedral during the morning that they could more readily see and hear – though without the elaborate ceremonial and chanting of the main Mass of the day.