Academic journal article Sacred Music

Sung Readings in the Ordinary Form of the Mass

Academic journal article Sacred Music

Sung Readings in the Ordinary Form of the Mass

Article excerpt

The following are detailed instructions on how to sing readings during Mass in the ordinary form, in English, using given formulas from the Liber Usualis. This tutorial is also posted at, where you can listen to the entire tutorial with sung examples.

We keep in mind the differences and particularities of the English language, yet keep a faithfulness to the original tones and melodic formulas.

We will use the readings for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception as our example. Before we begin, let us agree on some terminology:

Title tone--Title of the reading and its appropriate response in the case of the gospel

Flex--Aliterary pause used only in the prophecy tone

Metrum--Aliterary pause used only in the epistle

Full stop--End of sentence, employed in all readings

Interrogation--Aquestion within a reading, often in quotations

Conclusion--The method we use to end the reading

Reciting tone--The tone we always begin with and gravitate toward

Literary accent--natural speaking accent of a syllable



These are the six pitches that will be used throughout.

Other terms will be used an explained in full as we proceed. We begin with the first reading.


Title Tone--The title tone is announced on a pitch that is chosen to be comfortably within our range, deriving from our natural speaking voice. Perhaps we would do well not to use the word chosen, but rather, a tone that is but a natural extension our speaking voice. After all, it has been said that singing is but sustained talking.

We then assign do to be this reciting tone (see pitches above). This will be our gravitational tone in which we will always come back to after melodic ascents and descents.

The title of the first reading (also called the Old Testament, or the prophecy) is announced on this reciting tone. At the end of the title, we melodically descend by a fifth after the final word accent.

do title do ... do-fa

do title do ... do-fa-fa


a read-ing from ... Gen-e-sis.

After a pause, we continue with the reading on the reciting tone (do). As we continue, we will come to punctuation marks, question marks, quotations and other grammatical happenings. The following are melodic tools that we will use.

Flex--The flex is made toward the middle of each sentence, often at a comma or a semicolon. Its function is to provide a melodic break from the reciting tone, so as to help render the text more intelligibly and increase comprehension with the congregation. Therefore, it can freely be omitted at will if the sentence is short. If good sense allows, several flexes may be employed or not employed, as for example in a lengthy sentence with several commas. One should rely on their good artistic judgment. When it is used in the prophecy tone, the voice is lowered by one half step (do-si) on the final word accent (of the phrase being "flexed").




He answered, "I heard you in the gard- den

If the text ends with a strong monosyllable, then the flex is made by descending on that last syllable.


Af-ter the man, A-dam, had ea-ten of the tree,

Full Stop--The full stop is used at the end of a sentence and is accomplished by lowering the voice a fifth, descending after the final accent (do-fa). One will notice instantly the melodic similarity between the title tone and the full stop. (1)


do-fa fa


because I was na-ked so I hid my-self.

Interrogation--The interrogation formula is the same for all sung readings. The final accent of the interrogation is always a podatus, two notes melodically ascending (si-do) on one syllable and is approached by (la-si) each on respective syllables. …

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