Oakeley, Sir Herbert (Stanley)

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Mass chants in the Ambrosian rite, corresponding to the Roman offertories. See Ambrosian chant, §7(i), and Offertory, §3.


See Uffererii, Giovanni Damasceni.

Offertory [offertorium, offerenda].

A chant of the Western Mass rites sung while bread and wine are prepared for eucharistic consecration. It is also the post-medieval name for the complex of priestly prayers and ritual actions (mixing of wine and water, incensation, washing of the hands) that took place during this part of the Mass. In its full medieval form the offertory chant consisted of a choral refrain in richly neumatic style with two or three neumatic–melismatic verses sung by a soloist. The latter part of the refrain (known as the repetendum) was repeated after each verse. Related to the offertory of the Roman Mass are the Ambrosian offerenda, the Mozarabic sacrificium and the Gallican sonus.

1. Origin and early history.

2. Offertories of Old Roman and Gregorian chant.

3. Other rites.

4. Post-medieval developments.




1. Origin and early history.

The earliest descriptions of the Mass (Justin Martyr, Hippolytus) do not single out the placing of bread and wine on the altar as an important ritual event surrounded by prayers and singing. Although nothing is known about the origins of the offertory, it was presumably introduced into the Mass after the gradual, communion and introit chants. The widespread view that Augustine’s allusion (c400) to a Carthaginian practice of singing ‘hymni ad altare … ante oblationem’ refers to singing at the offertory can no longer be maintained. Augustine defended the practice in a lost tract Contra Hilarem, but its exact nature cannot now be ascertained. The earliest reference to singing at this point in the liturgy might be a statement (before 620) by Isidore of Seville about ‘Offertoria quae in sacrificiorum honore canuntur’ (De ecclesiasticis officiis, i.14; PL lxxxiii, 751, cf lxxxiii, 896), if this is not actually a reference to music during Jewish Temple sacrifices. Some medieval commentators on the liturgy viewed such Jewish ritual music as prefiguring the Christian offertory chant, although Walafrid Strabo (c831) believed that the early Christians made their offerings in silence (Liber de exordiis et incrementis, xxiii).

The earliest reference to singing at this point during the Roman Mass occurs in Ordo Romanus I, a description of the papal Mass at about the turn of the 8th century. By this time an elaborate ritual already surrounded the reception of bread and wine from members of the Roman aristocracy by the pope and his retinue. It is not entirely clear whether ordinary members of the congregation participated. The offertory chant (offertorium) is mentioned only when the pope gives the Schola Cantorum a signal that it should be brought to a conclusion (Ordo I, 85; Andrieu, ii, 95). (Ordo Romanus I also calls the veil used to hold the handles of the large chalice into which offerings of wine were poured an ‘offertorium’.) Nothing can be known about the form or musical style of the offertory chant at this period, save that its length could be adjusted to cover the time it took to gather the offerings. Before the end of the 8th century a visitor to Rome who made random observations about the Lenten liturgy thought the verse(s) worthy of mention (Ordo XXII, 21; Andrieu, iii, 262), something he would not have done were these set to a simple psalm tone. Three of the earliest unnotated gradualia from the 9th century (Mont-Blandin, Compiègne, Senlis) contain two or three verses for most offertories, and the Gallicanized episcopal Mass described in Ordo Romanus V (late 9th century) notes specifically that during the people’s offering ‘cantores cantant offertorium cum versibus’.

It has been claimed that the offertory was originally an antiphonal chant associated with psalmody, like the other ‘processional’ chants of the Mass – the introit and communion. This analogy rests in part on the assumption that a lay procession to the sanctuary for the presentation of bread and wine (and possibly other offerings) constituted an original element of the ceremony. Early evidence for a procession of this type at Rome is non-existent. It might have been a Carolingian contribution to the liturgy, but the extent to which the laity customarily made a solemn liturgical presentation of their offerings at Mass during the Middle Ages has yet to be clarified. Certain lavish donations to the church (precious sacred vessels or property) might have been carried in procession and placed on the altar during the offertory of the Mass.

Those who defend the theory of an antiphonal origin claim that the offertory chant later became a responsorial chant with melodically developed refrain and verses. In an attempt to determine when this might have happened, Apel noted that Aurelian of Réôme claimed that ‘the verses of the offertories are inserted in them per tonos’ (Musica disciplina, x.12; ed. L. Gushee, CSM, xxi, 1975, p.87). Apel construed Aurelian’s statement to mean that the verses were sung to standard ‘offertory tones’ in the mid-9th century, and he concluded that their absence in the tonary compiled by Regino of Prüm (915) was proof that the ‘tones’ had been discarded in favour of freely composed verses. Even though the offertories are listed in Aurelian’s ‘deuterologium tonorum’, this is merely for the sake of an inclusiveness typical of the ‘theoretical’ tonaries. Neither the theorists of the Middle Ages nor any of the anonymous tonaries or medieval liturgical manuscripts consider the offertories anything other than responsorial chants. An antiphonal origin seems out of the question.


2. Offertories of Old Roman and Gregorian chant.

The period during which new offertories were composed at Rome may have ended as early as the 8th century. When the Thursdays of Lent, hitherto deprived of Mass liturgies, were given their own Mass formularies by Pope Gregory III (715–31), pre-existing chants supplied all of the needed offertories. Ad te levavi, assigned to the Thursday after Ash Wednesday, is sung on Wednesday in the second week of Lent, on the tenth Sunday after Pentecost and on the first Sunday of Advent. In addition, about two dozen other medieval offertories are sung on more than one occasion. Feasts of saints of the same category (martyr, bishop) often share a common offertory. In a few cases offertory melodies have been adapted to different texts: Viri Galilei was reused for the offertories Stetit angelus, Iustorum anime and Erue me. The verses might not have been sung everywhere or necessarily in the same order; they fell out of general use by the 13th century. Not infrequently, they were transmitted in separate collections along with tropes and prosulas (see Sources, MS, §II, 3).

Most offertories in the Old Roman and Gregorian repertories draw their texts from the Book of Psalms (see Psalter, liturgical). In a study of the 107 offertory texts contained in the Antiphonale missarum sextuplex Hucke (1970) demonstrated the prevalence of two text types: (1) both refrain and verses freely selected from psalm verses not in the order of the Psalter; (2) the refrain selected from an interior psalm verse and the verses of the offertory from the beginning of the psalm. According to Hucke, these text types presuppose a responsorial, not an antiphonal, manner of performance. 18 Gregorian offertories have non-psalmic texts, 12 of which occur in Old Roman chant as well. Levy (1984) described these texts as ‘librettos’ specifically designed for a florid musical setting, and, on the basis of textual and musical parallels, he pointed towards Gaul as the source of the texts and possibly of aspects of their musical settings in the Mozarabic, Gregorian and Ambrosian repertories. The existence of these relationships would push the history of the offertory back to about 700.

Frequently, the texts of the Old Roman and Gregorian offertories were chosen for their close connection with the Gospel pericope or the introit of the day. Iustitie Domini for the third Sunday in Lent (see ex.1) has a refrain pieced together from parts of three verses of Psalm xviii (xix), verses 9a, 11b, and 12a. The Gospel of the day concludes with Jesus’s proclamation that they are blessed who hear the word of God and keep it (‘et custodiunt illud’). The offertory refrain closes with a similar phrase: ‘for your servant keeps them’ (‘nam et servus tuus custodiet ea’). (The neuter plural ‘ea’ refers to the words ‘iudicia eius’, omitted by the compiler of the offertory text. The Cistercian and Dominican revisers of the chant inserted these words before ‘dulciora’ and supplied music for them.) The words ‘illuminans oculos’ (‘illuminating the eyes’) in the first verse of the offertory allude to the first words of the introit for this Sunday, Oculi mei semper ad Dominum.

Although the Gregorian offertory repertory is distinctive because each chant is unique, Iustitie Domini (ex.1) may serve as an adequate representation. The asterisk at the beginning of the second line of the refrain indicates the beginning of the repetendum. This phrase makes good textual sense following the first verse but links less satisfactorily with the second. The range of the refrain (ca) and its concentration on f is entirely consistent with chants in mode 4, to which this piece was assigned by the Graduale romanum, although some medieval traditions assigned it to mode 6 with a final cadence on F. Verse 1 initiates the curve of intensification characteristic of the offertory chants. It breaks away from f and moves to the upper third, ac' returning to f as a focal point in the last phrase, thus forming a smooth link with the repetendum. The first phrase of verse 2 explodes into the expansive lyricism encountered frequently in the Gregorian offertory verses. The insistence on a single pitch (here, c') in the long final melisma also represents a distinctive feature of the repertory. Some melismas have repetition patterns (aab, abb), and the final melisma could be provided with a Prosula.

The Old Roman offertories (transcribed by Landwehr-Melnicki) have generally the same textual basis as their Gregorian counterparts. From a structural point of view, however, they differ significantly. They make extensive use of the repetition and artful recombination of phrases, long and short, and approximately two thirds of the repertory (59 of 94 offertories) makes greater or lesser use of two formulae (Dyer, 1998). The first of these (ex.2a, formula A, a formula with four elements that is most often associated with E-mode offertories and verses, has as its most prominent feature a torculus (bc'–a) that can be repeated several times to accommodate texts of varying lengths. The second formula consists of seven elements (ex.2b, formula B). Though found most frequently with F-mode offertories, it pervades a larger part of the offertory repertory than does the first formula. Allusions to this formula in the Old Roman offertory Iustitie Domini (ex.3) are indicated by brackets above the stave.

Certainly the most peculiar, and hitherto inexplicable, aspect of the Old Roman and Gregorian offertories is the presence of text repetition, found in 14 Old Roman and 13 Gregorian offertories. This can take two forms: (1) the immediate repetition of a text phrase, either with the same or slightly altered music (AA), or (2) the return of the first phrase of the refrain at its end (ABA). None of the various explanations proposed to account for this practice, unique to the offertory, has found general acceptance. The most extraordinary instance of repetition in the Old Roman and Gregorian offertories occurs in verse 4 of Vir erat (ex.4, transcribed by Ruth Steiner from the clefless but diastematic manuscript F-Pn lat.776), a text from the book of Job. In it ‘ut videat/videam bona’ is repeated nine times, although not all manuscript sources agree on the number of repetitions. As in Iustitie Domini, a gradual increase of tension may be observed in Vir erat: the first line hovers around d; the second group of repetitions moves a fifth higher to a; and the climax is reached with the last three anguished cries of the distressed Job. Each group of phrases closes with a melodically expanded variation of the first two sub-phrases.


3. Other rites.

A large number of Mozarabic sacrificia are preserved, but only in staffless neumes that cannot be transcribed. Most of the texts are non-psalmic, though drawn from the Hebrew scriptures or the gospels (listed with sources in Randel, 457–71). Many of the texts refer to offering and sacrifice. Like the Old Roman and Gregorian offertory, the Mozarabic sacrificium consists of a refrain followed by several verses separated from each other by a repetendum. The musical style is prevailingly florid, thus making it regrettable that the corpus of what one authority has called ‘the most prodigious chant in the old Spanish liturgy’ cannot be recovered.

Evidence for the Gallican sonus, if this chant was indeed the equivalent of the Roman offertory, is far more tenuous. The account of the Gallican liturgy attributed to St Germanus (d 576), but probably written in Burgundy in the early 8th century, describes a solemn procession during which members of the clergy transfer bread and wine from the sacristy to the altar. The singing of the sonus, concluded by a triple alleluia, accompanied this procession. Ordo Romanus XV describes a similar ceremony accompanied by the singing of the antiphon Laudate Dominum de celis, to which a response is made. The author then continues: ‘after this the clergy at once sing the offerenda, which the Franks call “sonus”’ (Ordo XV, 134–44; Andrieu, iii, 122–3). With the possible exception of a few texts (see above) the Gallican repertory has been lost.

Many of the Milanese (Ambrosian) offertories (offerendae) are related to Gregorian offertories but there are fewer verses present in the repertory. Most of the texts are psalmic, although a number of Ambrosian offertories share the non-psalmic ‘libretto’ texts that might have a Gallican origin. The Ambrosian offertory refrains manifest about the same level of melodic elaboration as their Gregorian equivalents. They have notable melismas, sometimes even at the beginning of the refrain, as in Haec dicit Dominus.


4. Post-medieval developments.

As the sense of liturgical integrity weakened, the singing of the proper chant offertories declined. Polyphonic settings of the offertory were neglected during the Renaissance, possibly because the florid melodies of the chant offertories did not lend themselves to cantus firmus treatment (see Lipphardt). The 68 offertories for five voices in Palestrina’s superb collection, Offertoria totius anni (1593), make use of freely invented motifs. Lassus had earlier published polyphonic offertories in two collections entitled Sacrae cantiones (1582 and 1585).

During the 17th and 18th centuries settings of the offertory texts were adapted to current modes of musical expression, although stile antico polyphony was not entirely abandoned. In Germany the offertory took on the aspect of an orchestrally accompanied cantata with recitatives, arias and instrumental movements, and the traditional offertory texts sometimes yielded to newly composed poetry. Symphonic movements also found a place at the offertory. French organ masses included an offertoire, a form that reached grand proportions in François Couperin’s Pièces d’orgue consistantes en deux messes (1690). Italian organ composers wrote spirited offertori for this point in the liturgy.

The musical treatment of the offertory (‘offering’) in contemporary Christian churches varies widely. If a choir is present, an anthem with a text relating to the prescribed liturgy of the day or theme of the service can be performed, a role that might also be filled by a vocal soloist. Organ or instrumental music, or a hymn sung by the congregation, are other alternatives. When the offerings have been gathered, they (along with bread and wine, if the Eucharist is to be celebrated) are brought forward with a certain degree of ceremony. The congregation then sings an appropriate brief sentence or a stanza of a hymn. ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow’, sung to the tune ‘Old Hundredth’, serves this purpose in many Protestant churches of the English-speaking world. Some service books provide other musical options, such as ‘What shall I render’ and ‘Let the vineyards be fruitful’ in the American Lutheran Book of Worship.

See also Old Roman chant; Gallian chant; Ambrosian chant; and Mozarabic chant



MGG1 (A. Scharnagl)

J. Pothier: ‘Exemples d’offertoires empruntés à d’anciens versets’, Revue du chant grégorien, iv (1895–6), 161–5

P. Wagner: Einführung in die gregorianischen Melodien: ein Handbuch der Choralwissenschaft, i:Ursprung und Entwicklung der liturgischen Gesangsformen bis zum Ausgang des Mittelalters (Leipzig, 3/1911/R), 107–13; iii: Gregorianische Formenlehre: eine choralische Stilkunde (Leipzig, 1921/R), 418–34

M. Andrieu, ed.: Les Ordines romani du haut Moyen-Age (Leuven, 1931–61)

P. Ferretti: Estetica gregoriana, ossia trattato delle forme musicali del canto gregoriano, i (Rome, 1934/R); (Fr. trans., 1938), 191–203

L. David: ‘Les versets d’offertoire’, Revue du chant grégorien, xxxix (1935), 97–104, 175–9

K. Ott: Offertoriale, sive Versus offertorium cantus gregoriani (Paris, 1935, rev. 2/1985 by R. Fischer as Offertoriale triplex cum versiculis)

F. Cabrol: ‘Offertoire’, Dictionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. F. Cabrol and H. Leclercq, xii/2 (Paris, 1936), 1946–62

O. Heiming: ‘Vorgregorianische römische Offertorien in der mailändischen Liturgie’, Liturgisches Leben, v (1938), 72–9

H. Sidler: Studien zu den alten Offertorien mit ihren Versen (Fribourg, 1939)

D. Johner: Wort und Ton im Choral: ein Beitrag zur Aesthetik des gregorianischen Gesanges (Leipzig, 1940), 362–84

S. Hilpisch: ‘Der Opfergang in den Benediktinerklöster des Mittelalters’, Studien und Mitteilungen zur Geschichte des Benediktiner-Ordens und seiner Zweige, lix (1942), 86–95

C. Callewaert: ‘De offerenda et oblatione in missa’, Periodica de re morali canonica liturgica, xxxiii (1944), 61–94

G.J. Booth: The Offertory Rite in the Ordo Romanus Primus (Washington DC, 1948)

J.A. Jungmann: Missarum sollemnia: eine genetische Erklärung der römischen Messe (Vienna, 1948, 5/1962); (Eng. trans., 1951–5/R as The Mass of the Roman Rite), ii, 3–125

A. Clark: ‘The Function of the Offertory Rite’, Ephemerides liturgicae, lxiv (1950), 309–44

W. Lipphardt: Die Geschichte des mehrstimmigen Proprium Missae (Heidelberg, 1950)

W. Apel: Gregorian Chant (Bloomington, IN, 1958, 2/1990)

A.A. King: Liturgies of the Past (London, 1959)

R.-J. Hesbert: ‘Un antique offertoire de la Pentecôte Factus est repente’, Organicae voces: Festschrift Joseph Smits van Waesberghe angeboten anlässlich seines 60. Geburtstag, ed. P. Fischer (Amsterdam, 1963), 59–69

J.B. Molin: ‘Depuis quand le mot offertoire sert-il à désigner une partie de la messe?’, Ephemerides liturgicae, lxxvii (1963), 357–80

G.B. Baroffio: Die Offertorien der ambrosianischen Kirche: Vorstudie zur kritischen Ausgabe der mailändischen Gesänge (Cologne, 1964)

R. Steiner: ‘Some Questions about the Gregorian Offertories and their Verses’, JAMS, xix (1966), 162–81

B. Baroffio: ‘Die mailändische Überlieferung des Offertoriums Sanctificavit’, Festschrift Bruno Stäblein zum 70. Geburtstag, ed. M. Ruhnke (Kassel, 1967), 1–8

H. Hucke: ‘Die Texte der Offertorien’, Speculum musicae artis: Festgabe für Heinrich Husmann, ed. H. Becker and R. Gerlach (Munich, 1970), 193–203

M. Landwehr-Melnicki, ed.: Die Gesänge des altrömischen Graduale Vat. lat. 5319, MMMA, ii (1970), 255–415

G. Anderson: ‘A Troped Offertorium-Conductus Of the 13th Century’, JAMS, xxiv (1971), 96–100

I. Kähmer: Die Offertoriums-Überlieferung in Rom Vat. lat. 5319 (diss., U. of Aachen, 1971)

G.B. Baroffio: ‘Osservazioni sui versetti degli offertori ambrosiani’, Archivio ambrosiano, xxiii (1972), 54–8

D.M. Randel: An Index to the Chant of the Mozarabic Rite (Princeton, NJ, 1973)

H. Hucke: ‘Die Aufzeichnung der altrömischen Offertorien’, Ut mens concordet voci: Festschrift Eugène Cardine, ed. J.B. Göschl (St Ottilien, 1980), 296–312

J. Dyer: ‘Augustine and the Hymni ante oblationem: the Earliest Offertory Chants?’, Revue des études augustiniennes, xxvii (1981), 85–99

G. Björkvall and R. Steiner: ‘Some Prosulas for Offertory Antiphons’, JPMMS, v (1982), 13–35

J. Dyer: ‘The Offertory Chant of the Roman Liturgy and its Musical Form’, Studi musicali, xi (1982), 3–30

H.S. Powers: ‘Modal Representation in Polyphonic Offertories’, EMH, ii (1982), 43–86

J. Johnstone: The Offertory Trope: Origins, Transmission, and Function (diss., Ohio State U., 1984)

K. Levy: ‘Toledo, Rome, and the Legacy of Gaul’, EMH, iv (1984), 49–99

J. Pinell i Pons: ‘Repertorio del sacrificium: canto ofertorial del rito hispanico para el ciclo dominical de quotidiano’, Ecclesia orans, i (1984), 57–111

K. Levy: ‘Charlemagne’s Archetype of Gregorian Chant’, JAMS, xl (1987), 1–30

S. Žak: ‘Sollemnis oblatio: Studien zum Offertorium im Mittelalter’, KJb, lxxii (1988), 27–51

K. Gamber: ‘Fragen zur Processio oblationis im altgallikanischen Ritus’, Studia patristica, lxxx (1989), 375–8

G. Björkvall: ‘The Continuity of a Genre: Offertory Prosulas in Cambrai B.M. 172 (167) from the Twelfth Century’, Cantus planus IV: Pécs 1990, 359–70

J. Dyer: ‘Tropis semper variantibus: Melodic Design in the Offertories of Old Roman Chant’, EMH, xvii (1998), 1–60

G. Björkvall: Corpus troporum, ix: Prosules de l’offertoire (Stockholm, forthcoming)

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