An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church


A psalm, hymn, or anthem that is sung or read between the OT reading and the epistle at the eucharist. The term comes from the Latin gradus, “step,” on which cantors stood. The gradual serves as a meditation or response to the reading, and the gradual psalm has sometimes been called the “responsorial psalm.” Although the gradual is optional in the Episcopal Church, it is considered by many to be an essential part of the liturgy of the word. It dates from the mid-fourth century, representing the oldest regular liturgical use of psalmody in the eucharistic liturgy. It may be a chant setting of the psalm appointed for the day. The choir or a cantor may sing the psalm to an elaborate chant, or the choir may sing an anthem based on the psalm, or all may sing the psalm to a simple chant. It may also be a metrical setting or hymn based on the appointed psalm. In the early church, a cantor sang the psalm from a lectern or ambo, and the congregation sang a refrain after each verse or group of verses while seated. The gradual was at times sung between the epistle and the gospel after the OT lesson was dropped from certain rites. Traditionally, the gradual is not concluded with a doxology. Many musical settings are available, including a plainchant version published by Church Publishing Incorporated.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.