Since MASS is primarily a dramatic stage production, these excerpts can convey at best only a certain limited aspect of its scope and intention. Essentially it is concerned with a celebration of the Roman ritual using the Latin text of the Catholic liturgy; but simultaneously there is a subtext in English reflecting the reactions, doubts, protests, and questionings — positive and negative — of all of us who are attending and perceiving this ritual. By "all of us" I mean to include all who are assembled on stage and, by extension, the audience itself.
The ritual is conducted by a young man of mysterious simplicity (called the Celebrant) who throughout the drama is invested by his acolytes with increasingly ornate robes and symbols which connote both an increase in the superficial formalism of his obligation and of the burden that he bears. There is a parallel increase in the resistance of the Congregants — in the sharpness and bitterness of their reactions — and in the deterioration of his own faith. At the climax of Communion, all ceremony breaks down and the Mass is shattered. It then remains for each individual on the stage to find a new seed of faith within himself through painful meditation, enabling each individual to pass on the embrace of peace (Pax) to his neighbor. This chain of embrace grows and spreads through the entire stage, ultimately into the audience and hopefully into the world outside.
The disposition of forces at the original production was: in the pit, an orchestra of strings only, plus two organs, and a percussion section. All other instrumentalists are on stage in costume and function as members of the cast. These include wind, brass, and percussion players, as well as Rock instrumentalists. There are three choruses: a formal choir seated in pews, a Boys' Choir, and a so-called Street Chorus, many of whom function as vocal or dancing soloists and groups. All these forces perform with, against, or around the Celebrant. At certain moments of extreme tension, the Celebrant tries to control the situation by saying "Let us pray," and it is at these moments that the first two Meditations* are played by the pit orchestra, while the entire company remains motionless in attitudes of prayer, or contemplates ceremonial dance.