CHAPTER THE NINTH.
THE GRADUAL, ALLELUIA, TRACT, AND SEQUENCE.
THE Gradual is called from gradus, a step, because it was formerly sung as the deacon ascended the steps
of the ambo to chant the Gospel. The Gradual is also called responsory. The first
part was called responsorium as an answer to the Epistle, the second versus. The
Gradual represents a verse or two of psalms once sung all through. Sometimes the
Gradual is the Church’s own composition and not taken from Scripture, as
in the feast of the Seven Dolours. The first part of the Gradual in Requiem Masses
is also composed by the Church.
The force and meaning of the Gradual is clearly seen when we remember that the Gradual is closely
and intimately connected with three other portions of the Mass, the Introit, Offertory, and Communion. (See the Mass
for the First Sunday in Lent, the Mass for the Holy Innocents and Angel Guardians, the Common for Bishop and Confessor, &c.)
The Introit, Gradual, Offertory, and Communion are variable and were once always sung.
The Gradual is seldom said or sung alone. The Alleluia verse, as it is
called, is generally added to the Gradual throughout the year. This verse consists
of two Alleluias, a verse of Scripture,
and a third Alleluia. From Septuagesima to Holy Saturday Alleluia is not said at Mass. The Gradual is omitted
from the Saturday in Easter Week to the Octave of Pentecost. During this period the Gradual
(except on fast days) gives place to the major Alleluia, which, strictly speaking,
ushers in the Eastertide. The major Alleluia is so called to distinguish it from
the Alleluia verse or minor Alleluia.
The major Alleluia consists of two Alleluias
prefixed to two verses, and Alleluia is added at the end of each verse.
Why, it may be asked, is the Gradual retained in Easter Week? We reply that the Church had a special reason during the first thousand years
of its existence for inserting the Gradual during Easter Week. The Church had before
her mind in her liturgical worship the newly baptized, who on Holy Saturday were born again by Baptism to a higher life. During Easter Week the neophytes continued their instruction in the mysteries of
the faith, and wore white garments, which in some places were laid aside on Saturday in Easter Week and in others on Low Sunday:
hence the titles, Sabbato in Albis, Dominica
Albis, in the Roman Missal. Liturgists tell us that the Gradual lies midway
between the mournful Tract and joyful Alleluia.
It denotes, as we are told, the toilsome journey of the Christian to the Better
Land. The Gradual at Eastertide
was an admonition to the newly baptized that Heaven is gained after a conflict.
Saturday was the octave of Solemn Baptism; and the octave is said to symbolize eternal beatitude, when the newly baptized
reach their home in Heaven and the great end of Baptism is thus obtained. The Gradual ceases on Saturday in Easter Week and the triumphant Alleluia takes its place. (See the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Gihr.
English translation, p. 461.) The ancient baptismal rite on Holy Saturday has long since fallen into disuse, but the Gradual in Easter Week is retained. Another survival of an old
In certain seasons, as from Septuagesima
to Easter, the joyful Alleluia is exchanged for the Tract, which is of a mournful character. The word Tract is derived
from Tractim; Tract meant something
sung Tractim, without break or interruption of other voices as in responsories
and antiphony. The Tract is usually taken from Scripture, very often from the Psalms.
Its character or tone sometimes resembles the Gradual (see for example the Gradual and Tract in the Votive Mass of the Holy Ghost after Septuagesima,
and in Requiem Masses).
The Sequence, sometimes called the Prose, from the irregularity of its
metre, derived its name from the last vowel of the Alleluia which followed on through
a series of notes without words. Different notes on one syllable without words may easily be difficult even to correct singers.
In the tenth century words were put to these notes and this is the origin of what is now called a Sequence (a following on).
Five are said or sung in church, the Victimae Paschali at Easter, the Veni Sancte Spivitus at Whitsuntide, the Lauda Sion for Corpus Christi; the Stabat Mater and the Dies Irae.