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Nederlands Latine

Canticle and Tract, chants of Lent

Author: Mr. Jean-Pierre Exter

Gospel reading on Laetare SundayDuring the Lenten season the Tract (Latin: Tractus) replaces the Alleluia with verse in the Gregorian Mass. Lent ends on the Saturday before Easter and during the Easter Vigil celebration there are a number of songs, seven now, four before, that carried the name Canticles (Latin: Cantica) but that actually are Tracts. In the Graduale Romanum before 1974 they were called Tract, not Canticle because Easter Vigil belongs to the time of Lent.

According to some authors there should be a hundred of them, I only found 54 and in the Graduale Romanum after 1974 there are only 25 (Canticles and Tracts all together). Where does the big difference stem from? The reason is that back in those days there were a lot more fasting days than now, just think of Septuagesima, this was Pre-Lent. Also there were certain fixed days of penance just before the Solemnities.

The Tract is called Cantus in Directum, which means sing in one piece and this means the verses are sung consecutively without an Antiphon. In other Gregorian chants the verses do not always follow each other according to incrementing number, but not so in the Tract. For instance in the Graduale Romanum page 73 Psalm 90 Qui habitat from verse 1 to 7 and from 11 to 16, as well as page 144 Psalm 21 Deus, Deus meus from verse 2 to 9 followed by verse 18, 19, 22, 24 and 32.

Why have some verses been taken away? Presumably the Tract was originally prayed or sung in a recitative way and that goes smoothly. When the melody got more elaborate, verses could have been omitted in a liturgically justified way to make its duration smaller.

  • Church mode II: fundamental and ending tone is D (re) and tenor or reciting tone is F (fa).
  • Church mode VIII: fundamental and ending tone is G (sol) and tenor or reciting tone is C (do).

These are the only two church modes used for the Tract. Mode II is mostly long or very long but with lots of formulae (these are similar melodies). Mode II is used on special days in Lent, for instance at Palm Sunday. Mode VIII is a bit shorter but rather difficult to sing. The Tracts are sung at Ash Wednesday and the Sundays of the Lenten season, but not on weekdays.

And of course during the Easter Vigil, but then the name changes to... Cantica!

Lenten season 2019

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Our commentators:

  Mr. Jean-Pierre Exter
  Mrs. Myriam Van Lerberghe-Thibaut

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