Fr. Gavin - The Sacrifice of the Mass - Gradual, Alleluia, Tract, Sequence
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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

in 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 custom.

The Tract.

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.

  • CHAPTER THE FIRST. The Doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass 
  • CHAPTER THE SECOND. The Essence of the Mass 
  • CHAPTER THE THIRD. The Consecration of the Altar 
  • CHAPTER THE FOURTH. The Vestments 
  • CHAPTER THE FIFTH. The Asperges
  • CHAPTER THE SIXTH. The Ordinary of the Mass. Part the First: From the Beginning to the Offertory                                    
  • CHAPTER THE SEVENTH. The Introit, Kyrie, and Gloria in excelsis
  • CHAPTER THE EIGHTH. The Dominus vobiscum, Collect, Epistle                                   
  • CHAPTER THE NINTH. The Gradual, Alleluia, Tract, and Sequence   
  • CHAPTER THE TENTH. The Gospel and the Creed                               
  • CHAPTER THE ELEVENTH. Part the Second: The Offertory to the Canon                                   
  • CHAPTER THE TWELFTH. Part the Third: The Canon of the Mass                                   
  • CHAPTER THE THIRTEENTH. Part the Fourth: From the Pater Noster to the end of Mass                                    
  • CHAPTER THE FOURTEENTH. The Ceremonies of High Mass                                   
  • CHAPTER THE FIFTEENTH. Mass for the Dead                                    
  • APPENDIX: The Language of the Mass