Notes to Offertories in Modes 1, 2, & 7

Track 1–14: first mode
Tracks 15–29: second mode
Tracks 30–31: seventh mode


The melodies of Offertories can be found in the “Vatican Graduale,” Graduale sacrosanctae romanae ecclesiae de tempore et de sanctis SS. D. N. Pii X. pontificis maximi jussu restitutum et editum (Romae: Typis vaticanis 1908); and in the Graduale triplex, seu Graduale romanum Pauli PP.VI cura recognitum & rhythmicis signis a Solesmensibus monachis ornatum neumis Laudunensibus (cod. 239) et Sangallensibus (codicum San Gallensis 359 et Einsidelensis 121) nunc auctum. (Solesmes 1979). 

Offertory verses are edited in Offertoriale triplex, (Solesmes, 1985). 

Liturgical assignments are as in Réné-Jean Hesbert, Antiphonale missarum sextuplex  (Brussels 1935); reference is to the number of the Mass formulary, preceded by “M.” 

The “signs of nuance” can be studied in the facsimiles of the chant books “Laon 239” (“L”), published in Paléographie musicale X (1909); “St. Gall 359” (“C”) in Paléographie musicale IIe série, II (1924); Einsiedeln     Cod. 121, (“E,”) ed. Odo Lang (Weinheim 1991) and most conveniently in the Graduale triplex, where the notation from L, C, and E has been entered by hand by Marie-Claire Billecocq and Rupert Fischer. Here, references are given to the Graduale triplex (“GT”). 

The standard work on the Gregorian chant repertory, including relevant bibliography, is by David Hiley, Western Plainchant, A Handbook (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1993). The Offertories are discussed on               pp. 121–130. See also The Early Middle Ages to 1300, in The New Oxford History of Music, Vol.II (new edition, Oxford 1990), ed. R. Crocker and D. Hiley, pp. 143–145, 190–196. 

The Offertories are discussed by Willi Apel in Gregorian Chant (Indiana University Press, 1958), pp. 363–375.

In James McKinnon, The Advent Project. The later seventh-century creation of the Roman Mass Proper (University of California Press 2000), the Offertories are discussed on pp. 298–325.

On various aspects of the Offertories, see the following. 

Ruth Steiner, “Some Questions about the Gregorian Offertories and their Verses,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 19 (1966), pp. 162–181.

Bonifazio Baroffio and Ruth Steiner, “Offertory,” New Grove 1980.

Joseph Dyer, “The Offertory Chant of the Roman Liturgy and its Musical Form,” Studi musicali 11 (1982), pp. 3–30.

Kenneth Levy, Gregorian Chant and the Carolingians (Princeton University Press 1998), pp. 31–81; also “Gregorian Chant and the Romans,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 56 (2003), pp. 5–41.


The nuance notation is discussed in Eugene Cardine, Gregorian Semiology (Solesmes 1982), trans. by R. Fowels from “Sémiologie grégorienne,” Etudes grégoriennes 11 (1970), pp. 1–158. 

Modal finals and terminal descents are discussed by Jean Claire in “Les Répertoires liturgiques latins avant l’octoéchos. L’Office férial Romano-Franc,” Etudes grégoriennes 15 (1975), pp. 5–192. 

See also Richard L. Crocker, Introduction to Gregorian Chant (Yale University Press 2001).

For further resources, see the About the Archive.

Gregorian Chant at the Offertory

 The Antiphonale missarum sextuplex of Réné-Jean Hesbert provides for just over one hundred sets of words to be sung at the Offertory of the Roman Mass. The Archive includes ninety-nine of these, sung from the notated versions transcribed in the Graduale triplex from Laon Bibl. Mun. Cod. 239 (L), and Einsiedeln Stiftsbibl. Cod. 121 (E).

 These ninety-nine are distributed among the eight modes as listed here.

First mode: 14
Second mode: 15
Third mode: 10
Fourth mode: 17
Fifth mode: 8
Sixth mode: 10
Seventh mode: 2
Eighth mode: 23

These appear in the Archive in three groups, as listed here.

Offertories in first, second, and seventh modes
Offertories in fourth, sixth, and third modes
Offertories in fifth mode and eighth modes 

The Sextuplex lists six more Offertories that are not included in the Archive for cause, as listed here. 

Benedictus es Deus, M172bis (GT 375 Benedictus sit Deus, melody = Constitues eos, third mode) for the Mass formulary “De Trinitate,” a Carolingian formulary which need not be counted part of the archetype

Memor sit, (M171 Common of Pontiffs); melodies for this formulary, scantily represented in the MSS of the Sextuplex, have been lacking from the tradition, but recently discovered and edited by Adreas Pfisterer

Audi Israel, M0 (Rheinau)

Exaudi orationem, M76 (Rheinau, Blandin)

Ingressus est, M119 (Blandin)

Factus est repente, M106 (B

(melodies of the last four are not in Graduale triplex)

In the Archive performances, preference is given primarily to the notation from L, secondarily to that from C or E as needed and as available in the Graduale triplex. As mentioned in the About the Archive, when the versions from L, C, or E indicate a melodic detail clearly different from the Vatican version printed in the Graduale triplex, this variant is performed in the Archive. There are certainly other variants in the manuscript tradition that will eventually be taken into account in a new edition of the Mass Propers.

David Hiley called attention to a particular class of variant in connection with Offertory melodies; he showed some of the problems associated with the use of b-flat as a possible sign of transposition of a specific phrase. This is an important possibility, one that may well affect the eventual shape of certain Offertories, as well as other types of Gregorian. But unlike the kind of variant discussed in the Introduction, this kind is not visible in L, C, or E, and cannot be used in the Archive. As the Vatican version is used here as a base text, to be modified to bring it into accord with sources under study (such as L, C, or E), so too with other sources, such as Montpellier H 159. From discussions such as those by Hiley and others, as well as from other factors (some of which will be mentioned here), it might appear that Offertory melodies are in general less stable in the manuscript tradition than Introits or Graduals; or it might be that Offertories have received a kind of research attention not yet bestowed upon other kinds of chant, which may in their turn show similar instability. 

As discussed in the About the Archive, the performances in the Archive try to follow the readings (including the signs of nuance) of the MS Laon 239, as transcribed in the Graduale triplex

Plan and nature of melody

Compared to Introits and Graduals, Offertories appear in the Vatican edition and in the Graduale triplexin the simple form of a single stich set to melody, without complementary stichs such as the Psalm verse at the Introit, or the verse at the Gradual responsory. Still, these Offertories show a wide range of dimensions, melodic style, and character.

Since the later Middle Ages, Offertories have often been classed as antiphonal chant; that is, the stich is called an antiphon, and it assumed that at one time it was used in conjunction with verses sung to a psalm tone, just as is documented for Introits and Communions.

Contra, it has always been known that early sources of the ninth to twelfth century provided a comprehensive series of verses for Offertories; these verses, whose words were selected from Psalms or other sources and written out in some of the MSS of the Sextuplex, were provided with extraordinarily elaborate melodies in the early notated MSS such as L and E. Usually two or three such verses (but sometimes four, or only one) were indicated to be sung for each Offertory. The latter part of the Offertory was indicated to be used as a partial respond after each verse. All of this indicates a responsorial performance, not an antiphonal one. From a close study of various kinds of documents relating to Offertories, Joseph Dyer showed that they were more probably to be considered as responsorial chant. 

In general, Offertories use the same degree of intrasyllabic melodic extension as is found in Introits and in the responds of Graduals; that is, few syllables have only one or two pitches, while most syllables have three or four pitches, or more, up to a dozen. This continual stream of extensions, always varied in number of pitches and in melodic direction, moves in ways characteristic of the whole Gregorian repertory of Mass Propers, using for the most part a similar store of idioms. In Offertories, melismas of a dozen or more pitches are prominent but infrequent. 

There are, however, certain anomalies among Offertory melodies. That most frequently observed involves the repetition of the opening phrase of an Offertory, using the same words and the same or slightly varied melody. Such repetition, very familiar in later European vocal music, is unknown in the rest of the Gregorian repertory. The most prominent examples (Iubilate Deo omnis terra, fifth mode andIubilate Deo universa, first mode) have long elicited a variety of explanations; there are a few other instances. 

Other anomalies in the musical style of Offertories mainly involve various non-psalmic sources for the words, to be mentioned briefly further on.

Offertory verses

In the early Middle Ages Offertories were sung with verses: each Offertory was provided with two or three verses, with their own individual melodies, many of which were in an extremely elaborate musical          style—more elaborate than the Offertories themselves, or than any other kind of Gregorian chant. Words for these verses were supplied in at least some of the six manuscripts of the Sextuplex, as listed here. 

MS “Monza”—no Offertories

MS “Rheinau”—full verbal text for a smaller number of Offertories (feasts, but not all of Lent,                 and few saints’ days)

MS “Blandin”—extensive series of Offertories, with verses, often just as cues

MS “Compiègne”—full verbal text of Offertories and of verses

MS “Corbie”—verbal text of Offertories only

MS “Senlis”—cues for Offertories and for verses         

These verses were supplied with melodies in chant books of the tenth to the twelfth centuries; after that time the verses dropped out of use. They were not included in the Vatican edition of 1908, nor in the subsequent editions of the Mass Propers by Solesmes. 

In 1935 Karl Ott made an edition of the repertory of Offertories with verses, using the early sources Laon 239, St. Gall 339, Einsiedelen 121, Montpellier H 159 and a twelfth- century source from Trier, Codex Bohn (Stadtbibl. 2254). Ott’s edition followed the Vatican edition closely in format and in the melodic versions of the Offertories, using the same type faces and editing procedures for the verses. This encouraged the idea of a repertory uniform in musical style, but at the same time showed the startling increase in length and melodic elaboration in many of the verses, relative to the Offertory melodies themselves. 

In 1985 Ott’s Offertoriale was supplied by Rupert Fischer with hand-copied transcriptions from Laon 239 and Einsiedeln 121, in the same format as used in the Graduale triplex of 1979. Fischer reports the extensive erasure that was imposed on Laon; and Fischer’s transcription, taken together with the critical notes from Ott’s original edition, shows the several kinds of difficulty in establishing a text for musical performance. These difficulties prevent the inclusion of the verses in the Archive at the present time; perhaps by the time the Communion antiphons, Tracts, and Alleluias are recorded for the Archive there will be an opportunity to record these verses too, assuming (and hoping) for progress in establishing a musical text for performance. 

There is, however, a more important issue concerning the position of the Offertory verses in the stylistic spectrum of Gregorian chant. Their position in the archetype (as represented by the Sextuplex) is as secure as that of the Tracts or the Alleluia verses. But it seems clear that their position in the repertory has to be qualified not only by their tendency toward great length and musical elaboration, but also by their artistic quality. While the melodies of the verses show a thorough acquaintance with the style of the Offertories, also of the Introits and Graduals, as well as great skill in using the idioms characteristic of these chants, these verses frequently show a less refined musical judgment in the use of repetition and development of these idioms. Certain cases of extravagant repetition of a short phrase for rhetorical effect have long been known, and wondered at. Such extravagance could be understood as an over-extension of the style by the next generation of singers; as such, the verses might be better treated as a supplement to the Archive. At any rate, they have been so treated in the publication of official chant books of the twentieth century.

Sources of words

As with Introits and Graduals, the words of most Offertories are taken from the Book of Psalms. But recent research, especially by McKinnon and Levy, has increasingly called attention to what was always obvious, yet not sufficiently remarked, that the words were selected from the Psalter not in cursu or any systematic way, but rather according to a particular sentiment that needed to be expressed. The need, of course, was liturgical, not personal; still, the selection was individual, and ad hoc. And while discussion of each melody can be referred to its words, individually as well as all together, still the selection of each set of words can also be referred to the needs of phrasing and syntax—needs of general importance in sets of words destined to be sung. 

The words of these psalmic Offertories tend to be laid out in a way similar to that normal for Introits; that is, there may be three clauses, the third longer with a subdivision. When such a plan is associated, as it usually is, with characteristic Gregorian phrases of melody in moderate intrasyllabic extension, it results in the most usual style of Gregorian expression as found in Introit antiphons, and also in the responds of many Graduals. 

While the majority of Offertories are psalmic, some are not, but instead have words taken from elsewhere in the Old or New Testament. This happens, of course, with Introits and Graduals too, especially in the prominent cases of chants assigned to the five feasts. The non-psalmic Offertories, however, have attracted more attention, for two reasons. First, the non-psalmic Offertory texts have a striking rhetorical character, and some are long. Several of these texts were selected from the Old Testament as exemplary orationes by figures such as Moses, Daniel, Job, Esther, David. Second, some of these same chants turn out to have interesting concordances in the repertories of Spanish and Milanese chant. Working with a list of eighteen non-psalmic Offertories, Kenneth Levy explored various kinds of concordances with Spanish and Milanese sources, significantly expanding the context in which such chants should be considered—a context other than “Roman,” and increasingly suggestive of “Gallican.” Commenting on Levy’s concordances, David Hiley observed that the melodies with strong non-Roman connections did not seem significantly different in style from those traditionally considered to be Roman. That observation can lead in a quite non-traditional direction, a possibility Levy pursued in a later article.

In the case of four Offertories on Levy’s list, however, there does seem to be a stylistic difference,  resulting in the identification of at least some of these four as Gallican, meaning, in practical terms, northern, perhaps Frankish.

 Angelus (=Posuisti), eighth mode
Ave Maria, eighth mode
Stetit angelus (=Viri Galilei), first mode
Elegerunt, eighth mode

The last listed, Elegerunt apostoli, for Stephen (26 December) has a very marginal representation in the Sextuplex (only in Senlis, and not for its proper occasion); these might be grounds for excluding it from the archetype, or at any rate for emphasizing its northern provenance. It is included in the Archive because of its great musical interest, and because such a good piece could hardly be omitted.

Distribution in modal classes

The distribution of Offertories among the eight modes is uneven, as with all kinds of Gregorian chant, but perhaps less so than in other kinds. Also as with other kinds, the profile of distribution is specific to the category. Modes 8, 4, 2, and 1 have from twenty-two down to fourteen items each; modes 6, 3, and 5 have ten down to eight items each; mode 7 has only two items.

 More interesting than this gross distribution is the assignment within each mode to festal, dominical, ferial occasions, and to saints’ days, especially when these assignments within each mode are compared to each other. Most striking is the assignment of fourth mode Offertories to three of the five feasts (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost). On the other hand no Offertory from eighth mode is assigned to a feast, but four are assigned to prominent Sundays.

Most of the modal groups contribute substantially to the dominical-ferial layer, especially in items that do double duty for Lenten ferias and Sundays after Pentecost. The assignments from first and second modes to saints’ days include items that serve for a number of different saints. Sixth mode, while providing for four saints’ days, has only one dominical assignment, two minimal and problematic items for Lenten ferias, and two other substantial but problematic melodies. The details of these comparisons have to be pursued within each modal class.

Offertories in first mode

The Archive includes (on tracks 1–14) fourteen Offertories in first mode. One of these, Ascendit Deus, is for the feast of the Ascension. No less than six are for Sundays; two of those also for ferias in Lent, and there are two more for ferias only. Five are for saints’ days, some of them for a half-dozen or more of different saints. This is a remarkably even distribution around the possible kinds of assignment. But one, Stetit angelus, is proper only to the Dedication of St. Michael’s basilica (in Rome); its melody is usually thought to be Gallican.

Throughout the Notes, I use the medieval chant scale of pitch letters:
            A B C D E F G a b c [“middle C”] d e f g
Hence, the four finals of the modes are
            D (modes 1, 2), E (3, 4), F (5, 6) G (7, 8).

Pitch Set

The usual pitch set for these Offertories is from C below the final D up to the octave above the final. This range is extended down to the A a fourth below the final, and to f in the upper octave, in both cases only for special purpose.

There is a strong reference pitch on a at the fifth above the final D; the whole subset D E F G a is a central locus in these Offertories. There are two other distinct but overlapping subsets, a lower one C D E F, and a higher one F G a b (natural or flat) c. The lower one has a strong reference pitch on F, supported by the fourth below. The upper subset has a very strong reference pitch on c, supported by the fifth and third below, so that F, a, c is a prominent frame—just as prominent if not more so than the frame D, F, a associated with the final. And the subset F G a b (flat or natural) c seems just as much a central locus as the lower one D E F G a. Melodic movement through these three subsets is fluid, even within short phrases. Movement by the interval of a third is frequent, by fourths and fifths occasional. b-flat alternates with b-natural in several melodic contexts, perhaps most frequently in conjunction with F a fourth below.

Although no model melody presents itself in this modal class, most of the fourteen make use of a well-defined family of idioms. But there is one pair in contrafacture, Stetit angelus = Viri Galilei, and this melody stands apart from the idiomatic family. There are other anomalies. Iubilate Deo, famous for what is perhaps the most brilliant melisma in the whole Gregorian repertory, achieves its brilliance with its own melodic turns of phrase. In die solemnitatis, while using at least some idioms of this modal class, includes some from the fourth mode as well; problems of transposition may be involved, although the version in the Graduale triplex (performed in the Archive) sits well enough in first mode. Gloria et honore also sits acceptably in first mode, but its idioms are rather those of the sixth mode, and it closes in first mode only by virtue of the last note, in an unusual cadence.

Offertories in second mode

The Archive includes (on tracks 15–29) fifteen Offertories in second mode, of which eleven are for the temporale and four are for saints’ days. None is for one of the five feasts; the eleven are assigned to a mixture of dominical and ferial occasions (and one for the sanctorale), a mixture that resists attempts at description in general terms. 

This is in spite of the fact that most of the selections from the Psalter used for these second-mode Offertories seem chosen for their broadly evocative nature, capable of application to a wide variety of liturgical occasions. Indeed, some of them are so applied, their dominical use being only one application and not necessarily the most distinctive. Dextera Domini, for example, is assigned by Sextuplex sources to the Third Sunday after Epiphany, feria iii in the Third Week of Lent, feria v of Holy Week, and the Finding of the Holy Cross (3 May). But De profundis, equally broad in its applicability, seems to have been used for an Offertory in a way comprehensible only within the specific and final development of the liturgical calendar—to mark the descent to the end of the temporale and the yearning for the re-commencement of the story of salvation with the start of the Advent season. And Meditabor in mandatis tuis, with the broadest possible religious meaning, is used (in the Sextuplex ) only for three of the four Ember Wednesday formulas).

In the assignments to the sanctorale, three of the four Offertories are used each for several occasions, while the fourth, In omnem terram, used elsewhere in the Mass Propers as a “common text” for apostles, is used only for an Offertory for Saints Simon and Jude (28 October).

Vir erat has no specifically calendric application; it is one of the orationes, from the Book of Job. The Offertory itself, however (that is, the respond) contains none of Job’s own words, consisting rather of the introductory narrative. Job’s words appear in the four verses, concluding with what has been described as the most extreme instance of verbal repetition in the repertory, expressed in the kind of impassioned melodic idioms often encountered in the verses (but the musical text printed in the Offertoriale seems problematic in its modal relationship with the respond).

Second-mode Offertories are notated in the Graduale triplex with final either on D or on a. These are both medieval positions. Whether these two positions were used to indicate a higher or lower pitch level seems questionable. The theoretical function would be to facilitate the use of a major third below the final, but that function seems not to be regularly invoked.

The pitch set used for second mode Offertories is the most restricted of the modal classes. The central locus—the only locus—extends from C a fifth up to G, or, at the other pitch position, from G up to d. Below C is used the A and, on occasion, the G below that (the scale is gapped, with no B). Above G is used the a, but not as frequently as might be expected; and the b-flat above is very infrequent. Analogous restrictions apply to the position on the a final, but there the scale is not gapped, the major third below the final being used, rarely but to great effect. Occasionally a phrase of melody includes both the extension below the central locus and that above, resulting in a striking ascent through an octave, quite uncharacteristic of the usual contour.

Within the restricted locus the melodies seem to use only a limited family of idioms, compared to Offertories in some of the other modal groups. The melodies are not routine, however, showing great care in the disposition of detail, especially with relation to the diction.

Inveni David, assigned in the Vatican edition to the eighth mode, seems on the basis of idiom to belong unquestionably to the second-mode group. In the Archive performance the four notes on the two syllables of the last word have been sung one step higher than printed in the Graduale triplex.

Offertories in seventh mode

There are only two Offertories in seventh mode, recorded in the Archive on tracks 30 and 31 of this group. One is for a Lenten feria, the other for saints’ days. Both make use of the high, brilliant melodic excursions found in other kinds of seventh-mode chants. In the case of Confitebuntur caeli this use might be due to a mood of intense expression sometimes associated with martyrs. In Eripe me the application of seventh-mode idioms has been made to one of the agonized cries from the Psalter assigned to Passiontide, cries which the early Church seems to have understood as coming from the mouth of the crucified Christ.

The pitch set of both these Offertories extends upward from the G final (there seems to be only one case of the F below the final) to the f a seventh above, with two cases of ascent to the g and even the a above that. The central locus, however, is G a b c, with c the upper reference pitch. Above that, the melody seems to be in continuous animated movement, reiterating f and d without establishing them as alternate reference pitches of a higher locus.