Before the Dialogue Mass that came into use in the 1940s, the responses, propers, and ordinary of Low Mass were said in a low voice by priest and server(s). Thus, unlike the Solemn Mass or the High Mass, the Low Mass was in most cases inaudible by the congregation. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire and in the Catholic states of what is now Germany there arose up the custom of singing hymns throughout Low Mass, by the congregation or choir, in the vernacular. The hymns were essentially texts that paraphrased the particular action of the Mass happening at that time. During the Kyrie eleison (Greek for "Lord have mercy"), for instance, the congregation would sing a hymn asking God for mercy. This type of Mass was frequently used in small parishes that did not have the resources to have a Solemn Mass or a High Mass. It was also used by larger parishes at their Low Masses on greater feasts e.g. Low Mass on Christmas morning; a Solemn Mass would later follow.
The Deutsche Singmesse has fallen into disuse in the parishes of the German Catholics in the United States, not so much due to the liturgical changes ensuing after the Second Vatican Council, but due to the rabid anti-German bigotry following both the first and second World Wars. In fact most of the traditional customs at ethnic German Catholic parishes have been almost stamped out completely. At present, the Deutsche Singmesse can only be found on a very limited basis in Austria.
It is uncertain when this custom arose, but it seems to have come into practice in the 18th century as there is in existence at least one Deutsche Messe composed by W.A. Mozart's father Leopold Mozart. The most famous setting, however, is the Deutsche Messe composed by Franz Schubert. There is also a formerly popular Deutsche Messe composed by Franz Xaver Gruber. These compositions are meant for either a choir or (not uncommon among the Germans and Austrians) a musically proficient congregation.
While this particular custom may seem peculiar to such musically inclined peoples as the Germans and the Austrians, it is not unlike the formerly popular French Organ Mass or the custom of the Irish and Irish-Americans to pray the rosary during Low Mass for that matter. Essentially these customs added to the devotion of the congregation assisting at Low Mass.
- Adolf Adam/Rupert Berger: Pastoralliturgisches Handlexikon. Freiburg: Herder 1990, s.v. Betsingmesse, p. 61f
- Karl Eder: Auf dem Weg zur Teilnahme der Gemeinde am Gottesdienst: Bamberger Gebet- und Gesangbücher von 1575 bis 1824. St. Ottilien: EOS-Verl. 1993 (Dissertation : Theologische Reihe ; Bd. 56, zugl.: Bamberg, Univ., Diss., 1992/93) ISBN 3-88096-446-7
- Barbara Krätschmer: Die deutsche Singmesse der Aufklärung unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Deutschen Hochämter von Johann Michael Haydn. In: Singende Kirche 33 (1986), p. 11-17
- Pius Parsch: Volksliturgie. Klosterneuburg 1940
- Pius Parsch: Klosterneuburger Betsingmesse. 9. Auflage, Wien-Klosterneuburg: Volksliturgischer Verlag 1940