Article on Gradual vs. Responsorial Psalm?
  • Mark M.Mark M.
    Posts: 632
    I'm wondering if anyone can point me to a good article (or a Café blog post or even a thread from the forums here) discussing the Gradual and its historical "preference" as compared to the Responsorial Psalm. I've looked in the Sacred Music archives, but didn't see anything; I've also searched a bit here, too, and I've looked at chapter headings in the wonderful new Mahrt book. (I know I've seen something at some point in the past, but I just can't remember where.)

    The inspiration for my query here comes from having thumbed through what seems to be an otherwise nice, brief, and fairly popular new book, A Biblical Walk Through the Mass by Edward Sri. In the part about the Responsorial Psalm, the author explains that in ancient times, the Psalms were sung as such — that is (and pardon my rough paraphrasing here), that the enthusiasm and piety of the faithful was expressed in this sort of "call and response" approach to the psalms, more or less, and that one of the blessings of the post-Vatican II Mass was the "return" of the Psalm to the people.

    I know I've read somewhere that there's a disagreement as to which format is older (i.e., Gradual vs. RP), and that it's been argued that the RP is more properly part of the Office rather than the Mass, and that in any case, the Gradual is the "centerpiece" of the Gregorian repertoire and that it's "interlectionary" place heightens the sense of preparing one to hear the readings.

    Thanks as always.
  • Ted
    Posts: 192
    The idea of a "return" of the Psalm to the people was a bit of a fabrication following Vatican II. Msgr Bugnini was quite big on this during the liturgical reforms even if historically somewhat misleading.
    The Psalm following the Epistle according to Roman usage was originally the Old Testament reading in the fore-Mass. Its selection prefigured the Christ of the New Testament. With its close association to song in both Testaments, it was one of the first parts of the Mass to receive special musical attention, first by the reader, and subsequently by a cantor. The Psalm became, pardon the pun, gradually responsorial between cantor and people by sometime in 4th century which lasted thereafter for a brief period of perhaps 200 years. But even during this time it was not always responsorial. As scholas were formed, they took over the singing entirely thereafter.
    I cannot at the moment recommend an easily accessible up to date article on this, but I would recommend James McKinnon's very well researched book The Advent Project. Quite a few of his comments on the history of the Gradual are scattered throughout the book, but he does have a nice chapter specifically on the Gradual that summarises his research.
  • Apel states the following:

    At an undetermined time it became customary to sing Psalms between the three readings. The first Lesson, from the Old Testament, was followed by a Psalm sung responsorially and later called responsorium graduale or simply Gradual. Another Psalm, sung entirely by a soloist, was inserted between the second and the third readings, the Epistle and Gospel. This is the cantus tractus or Tract, which, in the fifth or sixth century, was largely replaced by the Alleluia. When, during the fifth century, the reading from the Old Testament was suppressed, both the Gradual and the Tract (or the Alleluia) were placed, in immediate succession, between the Epistle and the Gospel. (Willi Apel, Gregorian Chant, pp. 24-25 (footnotes omitted).)

    If that is correct, then (1) the Gradual is not the vestigial trace of an Old Testament reading, and (2) it does not ultimately make sense to speak of an opposition between the Gradual and the Responsorial Psalm, because the the Gradual itself simply was a responsorial Psalm.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Mark M.
  • PMulholland
    Posts: 120
    Would the question be more about the practice of the gradual versus its present practice in the form of the RP?
  • Ted
    Posts: 192
    Apel's research dates from the 1950's. There have a been a lot of new findings in the past 60 years.
    It was the Gallican rite that seems to have had the 3 readings as we know them today: the OT prophecy, the Epistle, and the Gospel. There was no psalm between any of the readings, although there was a hymn of the 3 youths (the Benedicite) before the Gospel.
    It was the Roman rite that had the 3 readings: Epistle, Psalm, and Gospel.
    Thanked by 2PMulholland Mark M.
  • The now discredited idea that in the Roman Rite there was an O.T. reading before the gradual psalm, which in turn preceded the epistle goes back at least as far as Duchesne, so by the time of the consilium, it had been a matter of common belief for several decades. I fault the consilium for a lot, but I give them a pass on this one.

    McKinnon's "The Fourth-Century Origin of the Gradual" is an interesting piece. In it he wrote, "[T]here seems no reason to deny that these many references to a responsorial psalm in the pre-eucharistic service of the late fourth century are our first witnesses to the existence of the gradual psalm."

    While the choice of psalm and response for any given day strikes me as considerable problems in the Nov. Ordo, the general idea of restoring a response to the congregation is among the more felicitous "instaurationes", especially with a view to paragraphs 14 and 30 of Sac. Conc. Moreover, the Responsorial Psalm was a part of the liturgy in the East as well as the west, thus having ecumenical benefit as well. My problems center around the choice or psalms and responses, which I think could have been more in line with the traditional texts for the gradual. For instance, the use of the response "Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini" (the gradual for the mass at dawn) on Christmas could go back to an incredibly early time (see Jeffery's "The Lost Chant Tradition of Early Christian Jerusalem:"); it was used at Jerusalem in the 4th century for the Nativity (Jan. 6). "A light will shine on us" is now used as the response at that mass. What was the benefit?
    Thanked by 1PMulholland
  • mahrt
    Posts: 517
    The evidence from the early church needs to be put into context. For Augustine, there was no introit, no Kyrie, no Gloria, no Credo, most likely a Sanctus, no Agnus, perhaps offertory and communion. Thus the congregation's singing of the refrain to the psalm was one of their only pieces to sing. The present form of the Mass offers the congregation ample opportunity to sing the Ordinary, leaving the singing of the Gradual by the choir a desirable option which does not deprive the congregation of their participation.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen PMulholland