Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Gradual? Sequence? Hymn? Alleluia? Psalm?

This week I was asked about the use of the term "Gradual."  My answer led to a question on the use of the term "Sequence."   My answer then led to a discussion of "Alleluia" and psalms, and hymns.  It occurred to me that this is highly confusing.  Below is an unraveling of the mystery!

Since you asked.....The Prayer Book (1979) rubric reads: "a psalm, hymn or anthem may follow each Reading" (p.357).  It is common practice in the Episcopal Church to read (or chant) a Psalm after the first reading, and sing a hymn after the second reading.

The hymn after the second reading might take the form of one of the proper “Sequences“ of yore or, more likely in practice, any hymn related to the readings.  When a hymn is used rather than a proper “Sequence,” it is often informally called a “Sequence Hymn” (that is; a hymn in the place of the “Sequence”).

Many sequences were composed in the middle ages, but the Council of Trent (1545-1563) sought to streamline the liturgy and reduced the number of sequences to those for Easter, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, and the Mass for the Dead. The sequence Stabat Mater was reinstated by the Roman Catholic Church in 1727 for the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary, which was celebrated on Sept. 15. The historic sequences for Easter, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, and the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary continue to be used in the Episcopal Church, although the feasts of Corpus Christi and the Seven Sorrows are not included in the Episcopal calendar of the church year. 

Those four sequences in The Hymnal 1982 include: for Easter, Victimae Paschali laudes, "Christians to the Paschal victim" (Hymn 183); for Pentecost, Veni Sancte Spiritus, "Come, thou Holy Spirit bright" (also known as "the Golden Sequence") (Hymn 226); for Corpus Christi, Lauda Sion Salvatorem, "Zion, praise thy Savior, singing" (Hymn 320); and for the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary, Stabat Mater Dolorosa, "At the cross her vigil keeping" (Hymn 159). The Hymnal 1982 also provides a contemporary tune for "Come, thou Holy Spirit bright," Arbor Street (Hymn 227). 

The confusion about labels is seemingly unending and doesn’t end with the term “Sequence.” The “Gradual” (Latin: graduale)  is also referenced at this point in the worship of Episcopal Churches. In the Roman Catholic liturgy of yore it was a responsorial psalm sung after the reading of the Epistle and before the Alleluia, (or, during penitential seasons, when there is no Alleluia, before the Tract). 

Today, In the Episcopal Church, the “Gradual” usually denotes a responsorial setting for the Psalm.  Confusion ensues because, in the common practice of Episcopalians, the Psalm is most often sung or read after the first reading.  So, if you sing a responsorial setting of the Psalm you might call it a “Gradual,” but you would be singing it after the first reading and not after the Epistle.  Sometimes when a hymn is used instead of the psalm that hymn is labeled the “Gradual Hymn.”  Since the psalm is often sung earlier in the service than the “graduale” of yore--the term “Gradual” sometimes refers to a hymn sung after the first reading, but sometimes (more often) it refers to a hymn sung after the second reading (a hymn in the place of the “graduale” of the Tridentine liturgy).

To further complicate matters, “Gradual” can also refer to a book collecting all the musical items of Holy Eucharist.  The official such book for the Catholic Church is the Roman Gradual (in Latin, Graduale Romanum).  Bruce Ford composed responsorial psalms for the Episcopal Church based on the Revised Common Lectionary and sometimes his collection of responsorial psalms is called the “Gradual.”

Therefore, with all these various uses of the term, one can only tell what is intended by the context.  Even context, however, cannot help from time to time.  In such cases, one must simply ask the speaker to clarify.  They will probably think “everyone knows what a gradual is” and that you are an idiot.  Not to worry.  :-)


*NOTE:  In the Tridentine Mass

Between the Epistle and the Gospel two (sometimes three) choir responses are sung or said. Usually these are a Gradual followed by an Alleluia; but between Septuagesima Sunday and Holy Saturday, or in a Requiem Mass or other penitential Mass the Alleluia is replaced by a Tract, and between Easter Sunday and Pentecost the Gradual is replaced by a second Alleluia. On a few exceptional occasions (most notably Easter, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, and in a Requiem Mass), a Sequence follows the Alleluia or Tract.

1 comment:

Sandra Crawford said...

Thanks. This helped clear up some questions.