A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Offertorium

OFFERTORIUM (Fr. Ofertoire). A portion of a Psalm, or Verse from some other part of Holy Scripture, sung by the Choir, at High Mass, immediately after the Credo, during the time occupied by the Priest in making ready the Oblations, and offering them upon the Altar.

A proper Offertorium is appointed for every Festival and Feria in the year, except Good Friday and the Saturday in Holy Week; and the Plain Chaunt Melodies adapted to the entire series are contained in the Gradual. As these Melodies are rarely long enough to fill up the interval which must necessarily elapse before the priest is ready to begin the Sursum Corda, they are usually supplemented, either by a Motet—as in the Pontifical Chapel—or by a grand Voluntary on the Organ. Palestrina provided for this contingency by setting the special forms for all the Sundays and most of the principal Festivals in the year in the Motet style, for five Voices, and publishing them in the year 1593 in two books, entitled 'Offertoria totius [1]anni.' But when the appointed words have already been sung in Plain Chaunt, it is not at all de rigueur that they should be repeated in the Motet which follows, provided this be an appropriate one for the Festival. It is, indeed, in this part of the Mass that the Motet, properly so called, finds its strongest raison d'étre; and a rich store of compositions, well adapted to the end in view, has been bequeathed to us by the Great Masters of the 15th and 16th centuries. [See Motet.]

Among the so-called Motets of the modern school, a few are specially entitled Offertories; but these differ in no respect from the ordinary 'Motet' with Instrumental Accompaniment. Many very popular Offertoires, in the form of Organ Voluntaries, will be found among the works of modern French Composers. Among the best are those of Lefebure Wely, Batiste, and Mons. Widor, the talented organist of S. Sulpice.

The Sentences appointed to be used at the Offertory, in the Book of Common Prayer, were printed by John Marbeck in his 'Booke of Common-Praier, noted' in 1550, with Plain Chaunt Melodies, evidently adapted from antient sources; but the best English Composers of the Polyphonic School do not seem to have thought it desirable to harmonise them.

[ W. S. R. ]

  1. They form the 5th vol. of Alfieri's edition and the 9th of Breitkopf's. Burney has printed one of them—'Exaltabo te Domine,' the Offertory for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost—in vol. iii. p. 191.