Gradual [Responsorium graduale](i)
- James W. McKinnon
Chant following the Epistle in the Roman Mass.
The gradual, a chant of great melodic elaboration, is so named because it was sung on one of the higher steps – gradus – of the ambo (the same step on which the subdeacon read the Epistle, one below that on which the deacon read the Gospel). It was sung at every Mass throughout the year except during Paschal Time (the Sunday after Easter to the Saturday after Pentecost), when it was replaced by an Alleluia (two alleluias were sung then rather than the more typical gradual and alleluia, the arrangement for the rest of the year; on penitential occasions the alleluia was omitted entirely).
The gradual is a responsorial chant, that is, it bears some resemblance in its manner of performance to a responsorial psalm, where the psalm verses are chanted by a soloist and answered by a choral response. The medieval gradual consisted of a response and single verse. In the later Middle Ages the response was intoned by a cantor until its final phrase, which was sung by the chorus. This is apparently not the original arrangement. It is widely believed that at first a fourfold pattern was observed: the singing of the response by a cantor; its repetition by the chorus; the singing of the verse by a cantor; and a final choral repetition of the reponse. Such a format is plausible in view of the exigencies of oral transmission and the workings of responsorial psalmody, but it is not given explicit support (neither is it denied) in the sources. The following passage from ...