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A History Of The Mass And Its Ceremonies In The Eastern And Western Church -Rev John O'Brien A.M.

After the Epistle comes the Gradual, so called not, as some suppose, from the steps of the altar—for it was never read from these—but rather from the steps of the ambo, which was the place always assigned it. The Roman Ordo is very explicit on this point. After the lesson has been finished,” it says, “let those who are going to sing the Gradual and Alleluia stand on the lower step by the pulpit” (i.e., the ambo). The remarks of Cassander regarding this are to the same effect. “The responsory,” says he, “which is said at Mass is called, in contradistinction to the others, the Gradual, because this is sung on the steps, the others wherever the clergy please” (Bona, p. 325). It is called a responsory from the fact that it is a kind of reply to the Epistle, after which it is sung to stir up the hearts of the people to the salutary truths the latter contains (Kozma, p. 178).

The principal literal reason for introducing singing at this place was to keep the attention of the people from flagging in the interval that elapsed while the procession for the chanting of the Gospel was forming (ibid., and Romsee, iv. 105).

The Gradual is made up of two verses taken from the Psalms or some other part of Holy Scripture, followed by an Alleluia repeated twice, to which is added another verse with one Alleluia at the end of it.

Alleluia.—Alleluia is a Hebrew word translated generally by “praise the Lord.” Its precise derivation is “allelu,” to praise with jubilation, and “Jah,” one of the names of the Almighty. This sacred word was held in so much esteem by the early Christians that it was only pronounced on very solemn occasions. St. Jerome tells us in his twenty-seventh Epistle that in a convent founded at Jerusalem by the pious St. Paula it used to be the signal for assembling all the nuns to their exercises of devotion. To this end it used to be chanted along the corridors several times in a loud tone of voice.

St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109, held a strange opinion regarding the origin of this word. According to him, it belonged to no language upon earth, and could not be properly rendered into any one, but was altogether angelic in its formation. Cardinal Bona, wondering at this strange deception, humorously writes (Divina Psalmodia, p. 511): “Omnis homo aliquid humanum patitur, et quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus”—that is, “Every man has a little of the frailty of human nature in him; even the good Homer sometimes nods.”

During the penitential seasons and on occasions of mourning Alleluia is not said, according to the Roman Rite, but in the Mozarabic it is always said even in Masses for the dead; and this is the rule, too, in the Greek Church.

The Tract.—When the Alleluia is not said, what is known as the Tract is added to the Gradual in its place. This Tract, which is made up of three or four verses taken from the Psalms—though sometimes the entire psalm is recited, as on Palm Sunday and Good Friday—derives its name from the Latin trahere, to draw, agreeably to which liturgical writers inform us that in ancient times it used to be drawn out in a slow, measured tone without any interruption whatever on the part of the choir (Romsee, iv. 105; Durandus, Rationale, book iv. chap. xxi.)








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