Text, Music, and Liturgy in Johannes Ockeghem’s Masses

Originally published in
Musica Disciplina XLIV (1990), pp. 185-231

In his “Livre de l’Esperance”1 (ca. 1429/30), Alain Chartier developed a favourite topic of the 15th century which became the main topic of the devotio moderna: how possibly could the individual hope for his own salvation from within the inevitable entanglement with sin, given the fact that the institution responsible for this salvation was in a perverted state of simony, involvement in politics, oppression and moral decay. Chartier’s answer is that there is hope in faith itself, represented as “Dame Foi,” and that the Church has driven Dame Foi from the Church. Faith is to be found in an almost mystical meditation on the secrets of grace and divine justice outside the official pronouncements of the Church. Sacrifice (symbolized in the Holy Lamb) being sullied in the Church, the ordinary Christian must turn to private devotion and prayer.2 The turning towards an individual mysticism of grace does not preclude an experience of community of the faithful, but has as its very basis such an experience outside the conventional community of the Church. This new experience of community can also be traced in the “official” sacred compositions of the 15th century. There were hardly any text passages better suited in the Ordinary of the Mass to express sin and pardon than the Gloria and Agnus, asking for redemption.


There is now an excellent translation into Spanish by Raphael Abuchedid:

View Spanish translation