Troped Kyrie: De Angelis

Septuagesima ushers in sombreness in the Liturgy, as we prepare for Lent. As the week begins, let us remind ourselves of what we should be missing: the alleluia, and, soon enough, the angelic hymn. It is therefore a fitting time to look from the vantage point of gravity and soberness upon that Kyrie long ago named in honour of the angels.


Ángel turiferario
Ángel turiferario | Francisco de Zurbarán | c. 1638–9

The Missa de Angelis is a rather interesting grouping of ordinary chants. Contrary to the usual practice of naming ordinaries after the tropes of the Kyrie, Catholic scribes elected to name it after the Mass to which it was traditionally sung, the Votive Mass of Angels. By paleography and musicology standards, the collection is rather young: the Kyrie, from the 15th or 16th century; the Gloria, from the 16th century; the Sanctus from the 12th century; and the Agnus, from the 15th century. There are studies, however, that date it a century earlier.

For very obvious reasons, many hail it as the most performed Mass in the world. Many Traditional communities celebrate their Masses with Missa de Angelis as the ordinary. It probably eventually derived its status as the bread-and-butter setting for the Mass from the historical accident involving the 13th centenary of Saint Gregory the Great in 1904. To celebrate this milestone, Saint Pius X himself chose the Kyrie and the Gloria from the Missa de Angelis to be sung in the solemn High Mass at Saint Peter’s. (Sate your craving for more interesting tidbits about this Mass by reading pp. 375–378 here.)

But its gaiety, its exuberance, sometimes fails to impress the anal-retentive amongst us. Whether the opposition saunters along the line of “familiarity breeds contempt”, or endures provocation by a general distaste for unbridled joy, an unhealthy attachment to a single ordinary setting in the Liber usualis indeed spells the end of an instructive auditory and spiritual experience of the rest of the swag, so to say, in the Latin sacromusical treasury.

Having said this, we now go to our subject: the tropes. The tropes of this Kyrie are rather extraordinary in that they repetitively and metrically modify the melody. Unlike the tropes of Lux et origo or Cunctipotens genitor, Deus, whose words are plugged in directly into the individual notes of the melody, the tropes of De Angelis flourish somehow independently. They appear in the manner below (click on the image to open the file):

Tropes - Kyrie - Mass VIII

Briefly we can hear the third trope here; and tropes 4 to 6, with a snippet of trope 7 here (the fourth item). The whole troped Kyrie is here (which requires access).

O King with everlasting heavenly power!

Troped Kyrie: Cunctipotens Genitor, Deus

We have started singing Mass IV in our Sunday Masses. Like most of the ordinary settings in the chant books of the Roman Rite, this ordinary is soubriqueted with the incipit of the trope traditionally sung to the plainchant Kyrie.

The trope appears in the manner below (click on the image to open the file):

Tropes - Kyrie - Mass IV

In the Middle Ages, this Kyrie occupied the bread-and-butter niche that Missa de Angelis now inhabits amidst many Traditional communities. Troped Kyries were usually sung alternatim in such a way that each Kyrie line was chanted in full before each trope line. Hence, if tropes were still sung in Masses in the usus antiquior nowadays, instead of nine-fold, we would have an eighteen-fold Kyrie.

The tropes in a Kyrie are often arranged such that the first three address the Father; the second, the Son; and the third, the Holy Ghost. This schema is evident in the tropes of this Kyrie. Here are the first tropes for each of the three sets, from the Codex Calixtinus. And here is a sample rendition of some of the tropes.

O almighty Father, God!

Troped Kyrie: Lux et origo

Tropes, in most liturgical chants wherein they had been employed, are introductions, insertions, or additions made on the chanted liturgical text. Before they fell out of use, they have been found to embellish or amplify the chanted liturgical text of the propers and ordinaries of the Mass or the Office. As we are in Eastertide, we bring here the trope of the Kyrie used from the Vigil of Easter until the Fifth Sunday after Easter: Lux et origo.

Trope - Lux et origo

Here is how the trope sounds:

Below we add the translation of the tropes:

Thou Light and the very source of light, God, have mercy.
At Whose will everything hath its being, O merciful One, have mercy.
Who alone canst have mercy on us, have mercy.

O Redeemer of the world, salvation of mankind, merciful King, Christ, have mercy.
On us, redeemed through the cross from everlasting death, O our hope, Christ, have mercy.
Who art the Word of the Father, the Word made flesh, O True Light, Christ, have mercy.

O Adonai, Lord God, just Judge, have mercy.
Who governest the engine of things, O nurturing Father, have mercy.
Whom alone becometh praise and honour, now and always, have mercy.

Where once they were tolerated and at best encouraged, the rubrics of the Traditional Latin Mass as we know today no longer offers a place for the tropes. Incidentally, however, the rubrics of the Ordinary Form do allow tropes to the Kyrie! But we have not seen a widespread return of this practice. For one, Latin has ceased being a language spoken by most ecclesiasts, and has become a province of elite academicians. Also, Gregorian chant, despite the clear instructions of the Second Vatican Council, has become the least of all “genres” of music, in a caste system dominated by the intolerant alius cantus aptus, favoured by the average Catholic parish. Why not take advantage of the permission and rescue the age-old tropes from undeserved oblivion? Let us open this door towards Tradition, inviting it to enrich the Ordinary Form.

O Light and source of supreme light!