Switching from the Responsorial Psalm to the Gradual could be deemed controversial in many parishes. Despite the stipulation that the chant of the Graduale should be the first choice in the Novus Ordo, and the Responsorial Psalm is the second, our liturgical books give the Responsorial Psalm as the only option.
UPDATE – I should add that we already sing the Gradual. Sometimes in full in Latin, depending on rehearsal time, or using an English polyphonic setting and sometimes I set it to a psalm tone in English based on the Rossini psalm tones. I always worry though that members of the congregation may be confused by the absence of the Responsorial Psalm, and it is something we maybe need to address.
In this book Mahrt looks in detail at the historical place of the Gradual versus the Responsorial Psalm. He analyses historical documentation from the early centuries to try and uncover clues about the use of music in the liturgy citing St Augustine’s sermons and St John Chrysostom who both refer to the singing of psalm refrains. He concludes there is no record for the introduction of the Gradual but refers to the Ordines, the books with specific rubrics for the services, written from the end of the sixth century, which document the singing of the Gradual.
He continues to explore the myth of the Responsorial Psalm and its place in the history of the liturgy.
The practice of the early church is held up as a model of popular participation, and the singing of the gradual chants by the choir as as a corrupt, late practice, which robs the people of their rightful share in the singing of the Mass. Yet the telling of teh whole story casts a different light upon the matter. The simple fact is that at the time when the popular participation in the responsorial psalm is documented, the Mass commenced with the first reading. There was no introit, Kyrie. or Gloria. All that the people had to sing was one paltry response at the psalm! A Gregorian Mass today, in which the people sing the ordinary and the choir and soloists sing the propers, favours the people much more. What the people sing is more substantial, is conducive to a more stable practice, and can make use of much finer music.
There is no getting away from the fact that the sung Gradual can seem odd sandwiched between two readings in the ordinary form, but then so can a sung Responsorial Psalm. In the extraordinary form, along with the Alleluia it serves a purpose to accompany the liturgical action on the altar as we head towards the high point of the Gospel. In the ordinary form, it accompanies no action, and a long Gradual with lots of drawn out melismatic phrases could seem unnecessary to some in the congregation. At the same time, a Gradual sung to a simple psalm tone can seem inadequate in that it does not serve as a “musical complement to the lessons which precede and follow…”
With all that in mind, this Sunday, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time B, the gradual is Timebunt Gentes.
If you do not want to sing the Rossini Psalm tones then Corpus Christi Watershed now has a fantastic resource of simplified graduals from Richard Rice and from the Chants Abreges editions from both 1926 and 1956.
There is also the English polyphonic setting from gradual 3rd sun although you will have to contend with dubious translations. Heathen – gentes etc.