CCORDING TO THE RUBRICS for the chant of the Mass, there are two ways of singing the full gradual chant: “Two [cantors] sing the Verse of the Gradual, and, after the final asterisk, the full choir finishes it; or else, if the responsorial method is preferred, the full choir repeats the first part of the Responsory after the Verse is finished by the cantors or cantor.” The first of these two methods is more prevalent by far. In The Chants of the Vatican Gradual, Dom Dominic Johner writes the following regarding the gradual for the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist:
1. The Lord put forth his hand, 2. and touched my mouth, 3. and said to me. At the end of the third phrase we are prompted to ask the question: What did God say? A colon was formerly placed after the words “said to me,” and the Alleluia with its verse was then considered their logical continuation. The fact is, however, that Gradual and Alleluia do not combine to form one whole; they are each assigned to a different mode, at least in the present case. Moreover, the words of Zachary as contained in the Alleluia-verse could hardly be ascribed to our Lord to whom the words of the Gradual refer. The term “Gradual responsory” implies what the answer to the above question will embody. After dixit mihi, the text Priúsquam . . . sanctificávi te of the Gradual should be repeated. Needless to say, this sequence was alien to the mind of the prophet Jeremias. (p. 394)
In Gregorian Chant according to the Manuscripts, Dom Gregory Murray notes the following:
The Gradual, as such, is responsorial in form. That is to say, after the solo verse has been sung, the first section (the respond) should be repeated. Although this is not the current practice, it is permitted, and there are some Graduals in which the words lose all meaning unless the repeat is made. For example, the Gradual Priusquam (for the Birthday of St John the Baptist) has a verse which ends ‘et dixit mihi’ (and he said to me). Without the repeat of the respond this hardly makes sense. (p. 47)
The following note is printed in the third edition of the Saint Edmund Campion Missal:
The choir always has the option to repeat the Gradual’s refrain section—as Abbat Pothier made clear in 1908 when the Editio Vaticana was published under Pope Saint Pius X—although this repeat in seldom taken, even in monasteries. For this particular Gradual, taking the repeat is recommended to complete the phrase “and said to me.” (p. 410)
The Newer Books • In the Graduale Novum, the opening text is Prius quam, not Priúsquam. The stress is on the first syllable, not the second.
This revision is consistent not only with many ancient sources, but also with the neumes, as the isolated note coincides with an unstressed syllable rather than the accented syllable. I was pleased to see a rubric included immediately after this chant in the 1974 Graduale Romanum that says, “Repetitur Priúsquam usque ad versum” (Priúsquam is repeated up to the verse), which echoes the Ordo Cantus Missae: “GR. Priusquam reincipitur post versum” (The gradual Priusquam is begun again after the verse). Although we who sing for the traditional Latin Mass are certainly not bound by these rubrics, they are perfectly sensible. Singing straight through may fulfill the letter of the law, but the older responsorial method is more in accord with a right understanding of this text. Let us sing with the spirit and also with understanding! (1 Corinthians 14:15)