VOLUME 2, NUMBER 25, MAY 15, 2011
Graduals, Sequences, Alleluias, Tracts and the Victimae Paschali
The Gradual (probably named for the gradus—the step—from which it was led) is an appointed Psalm that follows the First (usually Old Testament) Lesson. It changed over the years, becoming shorter (usually just a few verses with responses), but was always tied to Psalms. In the Prayer Book the Psalms appointed are included in the Lectionary (BCP 888ff). A Gradual (usually sung) after the First Lesson was included in the liturgy as early as the mid-fourth century. It was lost for a time in Anglican (and other) liturgies, but restored in the 1979 Prayer Book and we read it most Sundays. At some point in the near future, we will return to the original practice (and the practice intended by those who put the current Prayer Book together) of singing the Gradual (psalm means "song" after all). A side note: Because the Gradual, as a Psalm, is not only a song, but also Holy Scripture, this is the only place in the liturgy where a song is sung for its own sake. All other singing in the liturgy is to cover some action.
The Sequence has a more complicated history. Today we often hear of something called the "sequence hymn" in the place between the Second Lesson and the Gospel, but this is a very recent invention and in some ways the term confuses whats really going on. As early as the third century, Alleluias have greeted the reading of the gospel (which is a better way of thinking about music in this place than it following the Second Lesson). These were originally chants that were relatively simply sung by the whole congregation, or responsively with the cantor or choir introducing the Alleluia and the congregation responding, the cantor or choir singing either a Psalm (or portion of a Psalm), other verses of scripture or even non-scriptural texts, and the congregation responding again with an Alleluia (the usual pattern at Grace Church).
These Alleluias were sung to greet the gospel except in the West during Lent when Alleluias were suppressed (as they are still in the Western Church). During Lent (and pre-Lent) the Alleluias were replaced by Tracts—Psalm verses or verses of scripture, or extra-scriptural verses, but all without Alleluias. (Alleluias are not suppressed during Lent in the Eastern Church and are in fact increased at certain points and so Tracts were never part of the Eastern liturgical tradition).
Over the years the chants for the Alleluias became more complicated, with many notes for each syllable of the Alleluia, so its singing became more difficult—in large part because it was difficult to remember all the notes. Those of you who have experienced the Great Vigil of Easter have heard and sung the Great Alleluia in which the second syllable (le) is sung over five notes and the last syllable (ia) is sung over eight notes (thanks to Kathryn for helping me count those out correctly) and so have at least a small taste of what Im describing.
Sometime around the second half of the ninth century a monk named Nektor found that it was easier to remember the notes of the chants if there were a syllable for each note and began to write texts for the chants that reflected that insight. These texts were called Sequences. A great many of these Sequences were written over the years, each assigned to a different Mass in the Western liturgical tradition. Around the sixteenth century the Roman rite was simplified under Pius V and most of the appointed Sequences were suppressed. They were also largely dropped by the churches of the Reformation. Only four remained in use in the Roman rite—the Victimae Paschali Laudes (for Easter—Hymn 183), the Veni Sancte Spiritus (for Pentecost—Hymn 226), Lauda Sion (for Corpus Christi—Hymn 320) and Dies Irae (for requiems, though this has been suppressed since Vatican II and is not included in the Hymnal 1982).
The Easter Sequence, Victimae Paschali Laudes, has been the basis for many other pieces of music, including Lutheran chorales like Christ ist erstanden (12th century) and Martin Luthers Christ lag in Todesbanden. On Easter Sunday our choir sang the first chorus for Bachs cantata based on Christ lag in Todesbanden and on the Fifth Sunday in Easter (May 22) we will hear the bass solo verse and final chorale. During the Easter Season Kathryn plays several organ pieces based on this tune and a few based on Christ ist erstanden and she almost always plays one of the Bach settings of Christ lag at the end of requiem Masses. Finally, on the Sundays in Easter we have been singing and will continue to sing the traditional Easter Sequence, Victimae Paschali Laudes, itself in its original setting before the Gospel.
The Fifty Days of Easter continue. Happy Easter!
THANK YOU TO ALL WALK-IN-DINNER PARTICIPANTS... On Thursday, May 5, Grace Church served 93 dinners of chili over rice, salad, bread, cookies, and beverage at the county Housing, Health and Human Service Center in Hackensack . The number includes take outs and a few seconds. Thank you to all who prepared food, contributed items, or went down to Hackensack to serve the meal. By providing this food with no questions asked, Grace Church has witnessed again to what grace means. Our next Walk-In-Dinner is scheduled for Thursday, July 7, 2011. It is never too early to volunteer. Those who want to participate should speak to Jim Freeman during Coffee Hour or call him. The main menu item for July is barbecued chicken.
WESTWOOD HERITAGE DAY... Grace Church will be participating in Westwood Heritage Day next Sunday May 22nd. This is a great opportunity to introduce ourselves to the community. WE NEED VOLUNTEERS. Please talk to Debbi about volunteering for set-up, clean-up, and/or manning the table for some period of time. WE ALSO NEED DONATIONS. Please bring new items we can sell at the table to raise money. You can bring your donations in at any time from now until May 21st and give them to Debbi. Any questions please email or call Debbi. THANKS!!!
"THE MANY FACES OF OPERA"... The Palisades Opera Company will present "The Many Faces of Opera" on Friday evening, May 27 at 7 PM here at Grace Church. Featured will be pieces from "La Boheme", "Tosca", "Carmen" and more. Tickets are $15, seniors $10.
FOOD FOR FRIENDS, AN EASTER THOUGHT... Easter is the greatest feast of the Christian year, and the Easter season lasts for 50 days. During that time, we can surely reach out to include needy persons in our continuing celebration, especially by donating to the Food for Friends food barrel on Sundays through Pentecost, June 12 this year. During these times of unemployment and underemployment, the need is great. The Food Pantry especially welcomes high protein items, such as beans and canned meats. Otherwise, their wish list asks specifically for tuna, cereal, peanut butter, rice, coffee, and pasta. Alternatively checks may be drawn in favor of St. Paul's CDC and marked Food Pantry. Please send checks directly to St. Paul’s at 451 Van Houten Street, Paterson, NJ 07501. Thank you.
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