ASK FATHER: Missa Sicca – “Dry Mass”

CarthusianFrom a reader…


Father, what are your thoughts about Dry Masses or Missa Sicca? I found a Carthusian Breviary that there is an appendix for it, as well as Michael Lofton of Church Militant derived from it as well for the use of lay Catholics.

This is a devotion that mimics Mass but without a consecration or even elements of bread and wine.   The rest texts of the Mass are read through even with gestures – some things omitted that are proper to the priest.  The “dry Mass” seems to have developed in the Middle Ages as a devotional practice, especially among Carthusians.  The monks would say a “dry Mass” after the conventual Mass.   There would be some substitutions, such as at the Postcommunion (since there wasn’t Communion).  The references to and elements of sacrifice were omitted.

This may still be a practice among the Carthusians, but I’m not sure.

Gernetzke practice MassAlso, in seminaries sometimes the term “dry Mass” is used to describe the practice “Masses” of men in formation.  This was and is more important for men learning to say the Extraordinary Form, of course.  It takes 5-10 minutes to learn to say the Novus Ordo, especially in the vernacular, and perhaps 8-11 minutes with use of the language to learn to say it in Latin.  The older, traditional form takes more effort, coaching, practice even for those who served it for a time.  Mind you, it’s not rocket science.  Lot’s of less than genius priests said Mass well, after all.  Every priest can and should learn it, lest they remain ignorant of their Rite.

What do I think of the Missa sicca?   I strikes me as a little odd and probably not a very good thing for most lay people to attempt, lest they over time run the risk of adding elements that would simulate the celebration of Mass to the point that they committed a sin and incurred a censure.   It would also be harmful were such an activity result in lessening desire to attend true Mass.

That said, review of and meditation on the texts of Holy Mass, Ordinary and Proper, is a very good idea.  I especially like the idea of lay people reviewing the texts of Sunday Mass until midweek and then switching to the texts of the next Sunday’s Mass… adapting for greater Feasts which may intervene.

As I have often written:

We are our rites!

Hence, if we spend time in our rites we – hopefully – are more who we are.   Spending time with, resting in as it were, the texts of Mass can’t be wrong.  I can imagine people mentally going through the whole of the Mass in their heads, visualizing it, trying to hear it.   That would take some discipline.   I do this occasionally as an exercise in preparation for – quod Deus avertat – a time I can imagine in which priests would be hunted, incarcchildren playing at Masserated, impeded.  Perhaps priests would do well to memorize the Ordinary along with at least one Proper and then review from time to time.

In sum, such a devotion could be a fruitful exercise for those who are prevented from attending Holy Mass… or attending a Mass that isn’t riddled with abuses and idiocies from the pulpit.

A related activity might be that of boys “playing Mass”.  It is not a sin for children to “play Mass”.  As a matter of fact, I think it’s great… for boys.

The only problem I can think of is if, as they got older, they would be less than respectful of what they were imitating.  I have written about playing Mass before, by the way. HERE and HERE and HERE.

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  1. Matt R says:

    I thought it developed for those Carthusians who wouldn’t get to Mass daily as they were not priests, for the sons of st. Bruno do not have common worship daily. For the same reason, the Missa Sicca has been adopted by traditionally–minded laity who wish to follow the traditional Mass but cannot attend daily. Naturally, one skips the Offertory and Canon in this exercise.

  2. Ages says:

    For what it’s worth — in the Eastern tradition there is a service called Typika which is sometimes used in place of the Divine Liturgy. It sounds similar to the Missa Sicca. It consists of, basically, the Liturgy of the Word without litanies, a series of verses, the Creed and the Our Father, a few short prayers, and the Hymn to the Mother of God “Axion Estin” from the Liturgy. In some traditions, when a priest is not able to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, a Deacon can lead the Typika service and serve communion from the reserved sacrament. An abbreviated form of Typika is also chanted before Vespers during Lent, as the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated on weekdays.

  3. Animadversor says:

    …lest they over time run the risk of adding elements that would simulate the celebration of Mass to the point that they committed a sin and incurred a censure.

    Having looked at the relevant canon

    Can. 1378
    § 2. In poenam latae sententiae interdicti vel, si sit clericus, suspensionis incurrit:
    qui ad ordinem sacerdotalem non promotus liturgicam eucharistici Sacrificii actionem attentat…

    and wholeheartedly agreeing that “adding elements that would simulate the celebration of Mass” is a bad thing in itself, apart from the intention of the actor, would it not be necessary for someone to have the intention of simulating the Most August Sacrifice of the Eucharist in order to incur a censure?

  4. acardnal says:

    Matt R.
    According to my research, Carthusians do have a conventual Mass daily. HERE Priests say Mass individually, too. They meet together three times per day for Matins and Lauds, Mass and Vespers.

  5. Animadversor says:

    Since, Ages, you mention the Axion Estin, let it be noted that today is the feast that commemorates this hymn’s revelation.

  6. robtbrown says:

    Conventual mass has always been a part of the Carthusian life. They are together in Church for Matins, Lauds followed by Mass, and Vespers/Compline.

    During the consecration those in choir stalls don’t just kneel but lie on their sides. For Matins they break sleep, getting up at about 2:30AM, then go back to bed until Laudes. I visited the Carthusians in 86 before I went to Rome. During the readings at Matins, every light in the church would be turned off, the reader using a hand held light that would confine the light to the book. The light would be out with no reading, and it was dark. Completely dark.

    The Dry Mass has existed for the priests, the idea being that a priest, having already said mass, would unite himself to a mass being said somewhere else.

    A good book to read is the White Paradise by Pieter Van der Meer de Walkeren. It is an account of a visit to La Val Sainte with a companion (prob Jacques Maritain). Everyone I’ve met who has read it did it at one sitting.

  7. acardnal says:

    I have been trying to acquire “The White Paradise” for some time since Thomas Merton recommended it. It is no longer in print and the used copies are very expensive! I think I will try to obtain a copy from a Catholic university library.

  8. Matt R says:

    Ah, I see.

    Nevertheless, the point regarding the laity stands.

  9. Grumpy Beggar says:

    Father John Hardon S.J.’s Modern Catholic Dictionary offered several other insights into what the reasoning would’ve been – according to the prevalent thought of that time, and those rare cases where it survives today:

    A shortened form of the Mass, customary in the Middle Ages, in which the Offertory, Canon, and Communion were omitted. It was used on a variety of occasions, such as when a second Mass on the same day was forbidden; at a pilgrimage; when a priest who was still fasting was not available; on board ship in stormy weather, then called a “naval Mass”; and during hunting expeditions, called a hunter’s Mass. It survives among certain priest-monks who say a Dry Mass of Our Lady, and in the ceremony for the blessing of Palms on Palm Sunday.

  10. marcpuckett says:

    I’ll point out the articles at New Liturgical Movement about the Mass in the charterhouse. My recollection, robtbrown, is that the night office, Mattins and Lauds, begins at midnight and, depending on the rank of the day, ends somewhere between two and three, after which there’s another period of sleep, until six or so.

  11. FranzJosf says:

    I have a book entitled “The History of the Mass,” published in 1880 and written by the Rev. John O’Brien, which gives his view of the Western Mass, together with the Schismatic Oriental Churches, whose Masses he deems valid. Dry Mass: “When neither the consecration nor consumption of either element takes place the Mass is said to be a Dry Mass. In ancient times the word “Nautical” was applied to it, from the fact of its being confined principally to voyages on sea……rolling of the vessel and other causes.”

  12. MrsMacD says:

    I have, on occasion, prayed the Mass, uniting my prayer to the Masses said throughout the world that day… Using the gestures I would usually use as one attending Mass, standing for the gospel, sitting for the epistle etc kneeling and bowing towards the nearest tabernacle for the consecration. Is this the same thing? I’m never in danger of thinking I’m doing any more than praying…

  13. robtbrown says:


    You’re right. It’s been 30 years since I visited–I just should have mentioned that they break sleep. I also made a mistake in the coupling of Offices. The Carthusian website lists the times for liturgy.


    A Catholic library is likely to have it.

  14. gloriainexcelsis says:

    Re: “playing Mass” When I was about 8 years old (girl), my next door neighbor (girl), also 8 and in my class, parochial school, had a 12 year old brother who already knew he wanted to be a priest. Their father built a small altar in his bedroom and supplied altar prayer cards, Mass necessities right down to paten and pall. His sister and I learned how to serve Mass and all the responses in Latin. He would “practice” saying Mass and we served. He did indeed become a fine Dominican priest. This was in about 1939. He was not really playing. He was practicing.

  15. That picture of the young man at the end could have been me in the 1960s. (Is there a 12-step group for men whose vocations were probably formed doing this but were dissuaded from following through, in my case, by the Jesuits at Fordham, in the 70’s? “Hi, I’m Bryan, and I used to play celebrating Mass”). Side benefit, at least for me, was that the Diocese of Trenton was the last in the US (under +Ahr) to allow the existing sanctuaries to be wreckovated…so I had the chance to serve the ’65 Missal ad orientem until 1972, when my parish finally gave in and changed the main sanctuary to the versus populum arrangement. So, I KNEW what was happening and why…

    If it’s true that the domestic church is the core of the visible Church…then, I see NO reason this should be discouraged, but, yes, watched carefully, but encouraged as part of the ‘trying on’ of adult roles proper to the age and gender of the child. I can imagine, in this day and age, such expressions of early religious vocation tendencies, especially in the public school arena, might be viewed as disruptive and call for state intervention.

    Many of the good priests I know of did this…including some of my contemporaries. So, it’s not something to recoil of in horror or laugh at in amusement. The Holy Spirit goes where He pleases…when He pleases.

    We are always only one generation away from having to take to the catacombs.

  16. Southern Rose says:

    Failing (as of yet…) to get back to 2012 in our august host’s archives, the repost is much appreciated! I ought to have refreshed the main page before I sent my very similar question.
    Loving the vestments on the child at the end. We never bothered with much in the way of props in setting up our play Masses, but then, neither did our real priest…

  17. Pingback: MONDAY CATHOLICA EXTRA | Big Pulpit

  18. wolfeken says:

    “Also, in seminaries sometimes the term ‘dry Mass’ is used to describe the practice ‘Masses’ of men in formation. This was and is more important for men learning to say the Extraordinary Form, of course.”

    A fun factoid on this subject — seminarians wear the maniple while doing so, to get used to having the vestment on their arm at the practice altar. This ideally means the seminarian will not be knocking over things on the altar once receiving major orders.

  19. DisturbedMary says:

    My all-time favorite – Thuan celebrates Mass. I think I got this originally from your site.

  20. arga says:

    I’ve been counseled to pray a “dry Mass” on the rare day when I cannot hear Mass, by my spiritual director.

  21. seattle_cdn says:

    If you are in the Vancouver area and want to witness a Typika service come to Richmond Eastern Catholic every Sunday at 11 am!

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