Shouldn't we call it the "Gradual Psalm" ???
  • I've noticed that we call the psalm which follows the first reading the "Responsorial Psalm." But should this not be called the "Gradual Psalm" as this is where the Gradual (Gregorian Chant) is found, according to all the official chant books?

    It may seem like a nit-pick point, but would this not be a more correct naming convention, as the Psalm here does not have to be sung responsorially. In fact, it is entirely legitimate according to the official documents to sing the antiphon once at the start, the entire psalm text through and then the antiphon again at the end.

    Was it to do with the whole "active participation of the faithful" that the responsorial form has become dominant in the English-speaking world?
  • Priestboi
    Posts: 154
    My question would be. If it is possible for an entire congregation to chant the gradual straight through on the psalm tone or recto tono (which it is) - could you do that and would it still be called a gradual psalm?

    I would probably call it based on its function. If sung through, a gradual, if responded to, a responsorial psalm.

    Please correct, me. This is an interesting point :)
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,758
    No. It's the Responsorial Psalm in the GIRM. The Responsorial Gradual from the Graduale may be used in that place.

    "The Responsorial Psalm

    61. After the First Reading follows the Responsorial Psalm, which is an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word and which has great liturgical and pastoral importance, since it fosters meditation on the Word of God.

    The Responsorial Psalm should correspond to each reading and should usually be taken from the Lectionary.

    It is preferable for the Responsorial Psalm to be sung, at least as far as the people’s response is concerned. Hence the psalmist, or cantor of the Psalm, sings the Psalm verses at the ambo or another suitable place, while the whole congregation sits and listens, normally taking part by means of the response, except when the Psalm is sung straight through, that is, without a response. However, in order that the people may be able to sing the Psalm response more easily, texts of some responses and Psalms have been chosen for the different times of the year or for the different categories of Saints. These may be used instead of the text corresponding to the reading whenever the Psalm is sung. If the Psalm cannot be sung, then it should be recited in a way that is particularly suited to fostering meditation on the Word of God.

    In the Dioceses of the United States of America, instead of the Psalm assigned in the Lectionary, there may be sung either the Responsorial Gradual from the Graduale Romanum, or the Responsorial Psalm or the Alleluia Psalm from the Graduale Simplex, as described in these books, or an antiphon and Psalm from another collection of Psalms and antiphons, including Psalms arranged in metrical form, providing that they have been approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop. Songs or hymns may not be used in place of the Responsorial Psalm."
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  • The responsorial psalm is already called the gradual:

    The responsorial psalm, also called the gradual, has great liturgical and pastoral significance because it is an "integral part of the liturgy of the word." (General Introduction to the Lectionary, 19)


    Yes, the responsorial psalm does not have to be sung responsorially, but it is the preferred way of singing the psalm:

    In responsorial singing, which, as far as possible, is to be given preference, the psalmist, or cantor of the psalm, sings the psalm verse and the whole congregation joins in by singing the response. (GIL, 20)


    The responsorial form might have become dominant in the vernacular liturgy, because

    the responsorial Psalm should correspond to each reading and should, as a rule, be taken from the Lectionary. (GIRM, 61)


  • I find GIL 20 and the Simplex format intriguing, where the psalmist sings the verse, then the response is sung by all, etc. It makes it clear that the first two response back and forths are purely practice runs.
  • It is quite possible that the Responsorial Psalm is called such not because it is usually sung in a response-verse-response form, but because it "responds to" the readings. At least in musicological classifications of chant, the Gradual, Alleluia, and Responsory in the Divine Office are all considered responsorial chants, precisely because they respond to readings from the Bible. "Responsorial" is therefore a good way to refer to the psalm that immediately follows the first reading.
  • @KevinAnthony: Bugnini in “The Reform of the Liturgy” states that the texts of the RP were chosen for precisely that purpose: to be themselves a “response”.
    Thanked by 1Kevin Anthony
  • I mean at some point to write an article on this, but my opinion is that the Responsorial Psalm and Lectionary Alleluias are a logistical disaster.

    Here we have a very large body of texts for singing but no actual music in the rite for them. We amplify the people who sing the texts, and usually put them up in the front (indeed, “Built of Living Stones” confirms a preference for the psalm to be sung from the ambo). Because it’s amplified solo singing, we need to use our best singers for these, but the actual music that we set the texts to tends to be simplistic—it has to be since very few places hire professional singers who could learn freshly-composed music each Sunday, let alone the weekdays!

    So, people have extrapolated “cantor” as a separate liturgical function on its own, with this fanciful notion that the manner in which one raises one’s arm and looks invitingly will somehow coax otherwise vocally inert congregants to repent of their voiceless ways and join in the singing. It’s kind of an outrageous idea, if you consider that, decades after that practice started, Catholics still probably have worse congregational singing than most mainline Protestant churches—the ones that bother with hymnody at all, that is.

    So, now we have entire Masses where our best singers sing the congregation’s part into a microphone. Supposedly it encourages the folks in pews to sing, but of course it also covers up the awkwardness when they don’t.

    Because of there being such musical action at the front of the church, we have lots of new churches built with the organ and choir areas in the front. This flies in the face of all good acoustical sense, which necessitates amplifying the choir as well as the “cantor”, and flagrantly puts the music “on display” as well.

    The thing is, if you take the RP and Lectionary Alleluia out of the equation, the strangeness of it all comes into relief: if the “cantor” is just singing the congregation’s part, why the need to rehearse? Use amplification to teach, of course, but if you’re picking music consistently that the people don’t know how to sing, then there is something else wrong that a microphone won’t fix. If no rehearsal, then why bother with the cantor at all?

    When you take these two “problem children” out, then you arrive at a much more musically gainful position where the best singers will join the choir, which will facilitate a strong choral program. With no amplification, you force yourself to plan congregational music conservatively: stuff that’s written well for congregations and that they likely know already. If you’re very lucky, you’ll work for a priest who recognizes his own crucial role in encouraging the singing by singing his own part.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,765
    Since the GIRM uses the term "cantor" (at #104), there seems to be adequate official approval for the idea that it is a liturgical role.

    104. It is fitting that there be a cantor or a choir director to direct and support the people’s singing. Indeed, when there is no choir, it is up to the cantor to direct the different chants, with the people taking the part proper to them.
    Thanked by 1Spriggo
  • Should we call it the Gradual psalm?

    The Psalm, whether sung responsorially or not, may be called the Gradual in a continuum of liturgicalese with the Gradual from the GR. It does serve the same purpose, namely, meditation. It should be borne in mind (and we have covered this territory many times elsewhere) that the Gradual from the GR, consisting of a responsory and a (one vesigial) verse, is what is left of a responsorial psalm, so there is really nothing new here; actually more of a restoration which hasn't borne the fruit it might have because of the awful music so often imposed upon it. The old gradual is, in fact, more properly called the 'gradual responsory', for that is precisely what it is; and, liturgically, the gradual responsory is unique to the Roman rite.

    This psalm, though, is not required to be sung responsorially. It may be sung in directum by all, that is, straight through without a responsory - in which case it obviously is not a 'responsorial' psalm, but The Psalm.
  • One wonders how Protestants ever sang without GIRM 104 telling them how it should be done …

    Snark aside :), consider MS’s three levels of singing:

    1) short responses are easy and don’t need prompting
    2) if people can sing “Happy Birthday”, they can sing most, if not all, of the Ordinary
    3) the Proper is not idiomatic to a congregation, with or without help
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  • I must be missing something. (I'm not being disingenuous -- I really think I'm missing something.) Here's my reaction, Felipe Gasper. Tell me what I've missed.


    if the “cantor” is just singing the congregation’s part, why the need to rehearse? ... If no rehearsal, then why bother with the cantor at all?


    In my parish, for the responsorial psalm, the cantor leads the refrain, but also sings the verses. That's why we bother with a cantor. Isn't that practice quite common? (The cantor also sings the Introit and other propers, which I realize is less common. Only the responsorial psalm is done from the ambo -- everything else from the choir loft.) And what rehearsal are you talking about? Do some parishes rehearse the congregation? If so, I agree, that practice is a bit odd.

    When you take these two “problem children” out, then you arrive at a much more musically gainful position where the best singers will join the choir, which will facilitate a strong choral program. With no amplification, you force yourself to plan congregational music conservatively: stuff that’s written well for congregations and that they likely know already.


    Serving as cantor for the propers of the mass doesn't preclude being a member of the choir. (In our parish the cantor is a member of the choir and sings with the choir during mass, not as 'cantor' but just as a member of the choir, in the choir loft, not from the ambo).

    Also, I'm having trouble seeing the connection between a programming 'conservative' (by which I assume you mean 'easy to learn') congregational music and the responsorial psalm. The melodies that we use for the refrain of the responsorial psalm are very simple -- easy for the congregation to follow after one hearing from the cantor. The other parts that are sung by the congregation during mass are quite familiar to them (not always 'easy', but familiar nonetheless).

    I often cantor for masses for which there is no choir, and yes, at those masses, I sing everything (only the responsorial psalm from the ambo, the rest from the choir loft). My wife, who sits with the congregation, tells me that apart from the bits that I sing alone (propers), and the very beginnings of the ordinaries and hymns, in general I cannot be heard in the church over the singing of the congregation. That's as it should be. I'm there to sing the parts not intended for the congregation, and to get them started (and rarely, when needed, to keep them going) on the parts that are intended for them, which in general they know quite well. I fail to see how doing the responsorial psalm bears on my ability to succeed (or fail) in any of those roles.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • @MichaelDickson: Thank you for your post. I’ve perhaps made my case more “literally” than I intended.

    I don’t mean to say that RPs are disastrous everywhere. It’s that, because they entail logistical requirements foreign to the rest of the parts of the Mass, and are so comparatively short, they tend toward the problematic by encouraging us to find other things in the Mass for these people to do. The fact that there’s then a lot for such people to do encourages singers to hold the role of cantor in high esteem, even if the music is actually of much less challenge than what the choir does.

    … the cantor leads the refrain, but also sings the verses. … And what rehearsal are you talking about?

    Yes, the cantor sings the verses of the psalm and Alleluia, but how much musical material is this? Not much, really, and almost invariably light on the musical “substance” as well. (The rehearsal I mean is that with the cantor, which has been standard fare where I’ve seen.)

    Serving as cantor for the propers of the mass doesn't preclude being a member of the choir.

    Indeed. But the cantor for the Mass propers also has relatively little solo singing to do, unless you’re doing the melismatic chants as solos. Even so, this doesn’t normally require amplification and doesn’t place you in the front to do all of the cueing.

    Also, I'm having trouble seeing the connection between a programming 'conservative' … congregational music and the responsorial psalm.

    It’s not so much that as what seems a natural opposition between idiomatic (i.e., “conservative”) congregational music and amplified songleaders. (Amplified songleaders being the “something else” for a psalmist to do.) In my experience, the songleader stuff tends to push things in the direction of musical interest because musicians who choose badly written congregational music do not see their choices fail as acutely. That’s how “Be Not Afraid”, with its long, sustained melody notes, and its ilk remain widely used. On the other hand, idiomatic congregational music, pretty much by definition, isn’t all that “interesting” musically—or else folks in pews can’t sing it (or just won’t try).

    Your last paragraph really sounds like your parish does a lot of things well—bravo! Maybe if I had more exposure to such places I’d see things differently, but my sense is that you’re in an unusually good situation. At least, I’m not aware of anyplace in my own diocese (one of the U.S.’s largest) where amplified songleaders do not consistently overpower the congregation.

    Let me ask you, though: at Masses without a choir, is there still an organist? What would happen if you weren’t there? Don’t you think the congregation could still “Happy Birthday” their way through the Ordinary and hymns given instrumental accompaniment—especially as this is the practice in other Western Christian ritual traditions?

    Maybe the most “sticking” question is: why is it only Roman Rite Catholics who have the songleaders? (It surely is not because we have the best congregational singing!)
    Thanked by 1MichaelDickson
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,008
    Last Sunday the cantor for the early morning mass became ill and didn't show up. The congregation sang the ICEL chant mass and opening and closing hymns with nothing other than the organ leading them. The RP was read, rather than sung, since my voice departed from the realm of the pleasant some years ago. The congregation sang as well without a cantor as they do with one.
  • ... and that's not even touching the fact that the congregation's principal musical duty is the responses, which I very rarely see needing amplification.
  • Let me ask you, though: at Masses without a choir, is there still an organist? What would happen if you weren’t there? Don’t you think the congregation could still “Happy Birthday” their way through the Ordinary and hymns given instrumental accompaniment—especially as this is the practice in other Western Christian ritual traditions?


    Yes, there is an organist when the choir is absent. And yes, the congregation would do just fine on its parts without the cantor. The only thing I do as cantor for those bits is to start singing, but if I didn't they'd start without me. I do this from the choir loft, so there's no gesturing, etc., and according to my wife, at least, I cannot be heard anyway except maybe at the beginning (congregations -- at least ours! -- tend to be a little late on their entrances...). Really, if the cantor were not there to sing the propers then I doubt we'd even have one, but, being there, yes, I sing the congregational parts as well.

    Maybe the most “sticking” question is: why is it only Roman Rite Catholics who have the songleaders? (It surely is not because we have the best congregational singing!)


    Maybe it's because we have the worst!?! (Or maybe the fact that we have such bad singing in so many parishes is actually partially *caused* by 'song leaders'??)

    But as I said, in our parish at least, the cantor is not a 'song leader' really, but just the person who sings the propers, all of them from the loft except the responsorial psalm from the ambo.
  • And...to answer my own question (with your help) what I was missing is that there are cantors who behave like 'song leaders'. That's really not how we operate. Our congregation is nothing special, musically, but they can sing the songs on their own, certainly.

    To address a different point -- we don't rehearse (unless we ask for it). The DoM sends us the material on Monday, and we are expected to be ready by mass. If we have any questions, we can ask her before or after our regular choir rehearsal, which is Wednesday night.
  • VilyanorVilyanor
    Posts: 363
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the move away from the Graduale in theory supposed to be towards the congregation singing the whole psalm as in the early church?

    Taking that in mind, what if you had the Graduale sung as an antiphon, and then sing the whole psalm to the corresponding psalm tone, alternating between choir and people or between left and right, before repeating the Graduale, as at the LoTH. You could sing only the non-verse part of the Graduale, or the whole thing, or perhaps even the Response at the beginning and the verse at the end.
    Thanked by 1a_f_hawkins
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,390
    Having the whole congregation sing the psalm seems to be one trend in the liturgical movement. Gelineau, Bevenot and Murray were pointing in that direction. But don't the official books explicitly suggest not doing that? There is a tension which has come about with near universal literacy, between allowing the congregation freedom to worship without burying our noses in pieces of paper, and engaging us fully with the texts.
    Personally I would like to sing the verses at least at introit, offertory and communion, and have a cantor (or a choir) sing the response. There is another tension, if you treat the congregation as a schola, you have to direct them I think. That tempts some cantors into self important ostentation.
  • @Vilyanor: My understanding is that the move away from the Graduale had more to do with cultivating the responsorial format envisioned in the Lectionary. Your idea of using the Graduale as an antiphon would seem to make the chant between the first/second readings dwarf everything else in length … ?

    @a_f_hawkins: As far as I know, I’m a bit of a “voice crying in the wilderness” in advocating for singing the RP in directum, i.e., without an intervening congregational response, but with the entire text sung by all. The intro to the Lectionary does stipulate that responsorial recitation of the psalm is to be preferred when possible. (In my own situation it’s not actually very workable.)

    @MichaelDickson: Oh, most congregations can sing perfectly well. Many simply choose not to, perhaps for lack of families/teachers who have taught them that it’s proper to sing in church.
  • johnmann
    Posts: 175
    Antiphons can be shortened by using only a repetendum as subsequent refrains.

    In the history of the Church, did the congregation ever sing in directum?
  • @johnmann: I suppose it depends on what you mean by “congregation”. If you mean the illiterate masses, almost certainly not. In monastic communities, though, and among others who could read, maybe the practice was more common? I couldn’t say for sure.
  • As to the "Cantor" being a new thing, it most certainly is not. The cantors are members of the choir or schola cantorum who sing incipits and also the first part of psalm verses. It was also the case where cantors would sing in alternatum with the rest of choir and/or congregation for longer chants such as the Gloria and Credo.
  • OraLabora
    Posts: 143
    It really shouldn't be called the "Gradual Psalm". The Gregorian piece is known as the Responsorial Gradual or simply Gradual, usually taken from two psalm verses, but not always: sometimes Bible verses are used.

    "Gradual Psalm" already has a different use, it refers to the psalms sometimes called the "Psalms of the Ascents" traditionally believed to be sung by Jewish worshipers on the ascent to Jerusalem; these are psalms 119-133 which traditionally were mostly used at the Minor Hours in the Monastic tradition (119-121 at Terce, 122-124 at Sext, 124-127 at None, 128-132 are used at Vespers split between Monday and Tuesday, and 133 was used at Compline every day). Since psalms other than these are used as responsorial psalms, it wouldn't be accurate to call this part of the liturgy the "Gradual Psalm". I think it is best to call it "the responsorial psalm", or simply, "psalm". On the other hand calling the responsorial psalm "the Gradual" would also be misleading since it's a completely different musical form.

    Of course to be real sticklers we should say "responsorial portion of psalm" because usually, the entire psalm is not used...

    I think everyone will know what we mean if we just say "the psalm" or "the responsorial psalm" ;-)