Notes on Offertories in Modes 4, 6, 3

Tracks 1—17: fourth mode
Tracks 18—27: sixth mode
Tracks 28—37: third 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 Andreas 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 and Iubilate 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.

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).

Offertories in fourth mode

The pitch set used for fourth-mode Offertories, as for some of the other types in fourth mode, seems the most complex of all the modal classes. In many of these fourth-mode Offertories there is a central locus     D E F G a, marked by a triad D, F, a, the uppermost a being a strong reference pitch. Occasionally there is another locus above that, G a b c, with c a reference pitch. There is a d above that, but this upper register is more frequently used in conjunction with the low C, giving an octave for expressive ascents and descents. This low C can also be used as the lower reference pitch for a brief but firm subset reaching up a fifth to the G. One or two idioms used for internal cadences move up and down through b-flat, in connection with F but also with E. While the closing cadence on the final E makes use of well-defined idioms and is well prepared, the preparation is not obvious, and the ending can seem incidental to the overall melodic motion and to the structure of the pitch set.

The fourth-mode class is distinguished by providing three Offertories for the festal layer (Nativity, Resurrection, Pentecost). Ten are assigned to the dominical-ferial layer, several to multiple occasions. Four are for saints’ days.

Oravi Deum is taken from a prayer of Daniel; it is one of the orationes, with connections to the Mozarabic repertory.

Offertories in sixth mode

The ten Offertories in sixth mode include a homogeneous group of four for saints’ days, and a mixed group mostly for ferias. As a whole this seems to be a marginal contribution to the archetype; but the four for saints’ days show a remarkable uniformity of idiom, perhaps the most consistent use of a small family of idioms. 

The six Offertories for occasions in the temporale need to be considered singly. 

Iustitiae Domini (dominical) is very close to the family of idioms used for the saints’ days, but ends on E with a fourth-mode idiom. This anomaly might be due to some melodic function involving a verse; or to a singer’s independent option that got taken up in the tradition; or to a mistake that should be emended.

Confitebor Domino (ferial) shows the reverse anomaly: the ending is clearly in sixth mode, but the body of the piece is in first mode, sharing its first phrase with Confitebor tibi.

Domine in auxilium, Domine ad adiuvandum, Domine convertere, while all using idioms at least compatibile with the sixth-mode family so well represented in the saints’ days items, are short, simple pieces that fulfil their liturgical function without much artistry, setting them apart from the others. The musical text of Domine ad adiuvandum is not satisfactory as represented in the Graduale triplex.

Erit vobis, on the other hand, uses a wide range of idioms that sound sometimes like eighth mode, sometimes like fifth mode, but still ending (at least in the version of the Graduale triplex) in sixth mode. It is a large, impressive piece. 

Speaking, then, primarily of the Offertories for saints’ days, the pitch set is extremely focused on the final F, so much so that it appears as the main reference pitch, located near the center of the overall pitch set. There is an important locus above, F G a b (flat or natural) c, and while the pitches c and a clearly delineate the motion in the upper locus, forming with the final a frame F, a, c, they seem not to perform the function of upper reference pitches as in other modes. There is another locus below, C D E F, in which the low C can provide a firm base; or, alternatively, only the D may be touched upon in the manner of a gapped scale. 

In the manuscript versions using a staff, the b-flat is regularly indicated in patterns in the upper locus descending to the F; it is not so regularly indicated, however, for motion up to and around the c above. In virtute is notated a fifth higher with final on c to provide for a whole step below the final (notated b-flat) in an introductory phrase. 

 Offertories in third mode

The ten Offertories in third mode are distributed evenly around the temporale with apparent attention to the seasonal programs. There are two for Advent (one of which is dominical), two for Quinquagesima (one dominical), one for Passiontide and two for Holy Week. There are three important contributions to the sanctorale.

The pitch set for Offertories in third mode, as for other types in third mode, is marked by a very clear central locus G a b c, with a prominent reference pitch c. There is a d (and even an e) above, used as an upper neighbor. There is a D below (infrequently a C). Within this set the final cadence on E seems—in terms of tonal function—incidental, an excellent example of Dom Claire’s “terminal descent.” That is, the piece could be understood as being in eighth mode, with a reference pitch on c and a final on G, but trailing off to a mysterious close on E a minor third lower. This same close can be used for an internal cadence. There is a stronger cadence on D, used as an internal half-cadence, typically for a penultimate pause. There is a b-flat used at the top of an idiom that recurves downward, sometimes to F. Independent of that idiom, there is also an internal cadence on F.

Eripe me ends on b a fifth above the final, using a cadential idiom more characteristic of fourth mode. The fact that this idiomatic cadence on b occurs here twice in succession (at the end of the penultimate phrase, then of the final phrase) suggests that an emendation might be desirable. Still, this piece seems to end convincingly.

Domine exaudi , in the version in the Graduale triplex, includes what is given in the Offertoriale as a first verse; this is omitted from the Archive.

One of the three Offertories for saints’ days, Filiae regum, while conforming to the third mode tonal plan, seems to draw on a different set of idioms.