6 Aug 2015

Liturgical reform and the Psalter

Benedict Constable is not keen on what he sees as the violence done to the Catholic liturgy in the 1960s and '70s: The Omission of “Difficult” Psalms and the Spreading-Thin of the Psalter.
In addition to the unprecedented novelty of praying the Psalter over four weeks rather than in the course of a single week, there was the equally unprecedented novelty of skipping verses that had been deemed "difficult" or problematic for modern Christians.
No, yes and no. No, there is nothing novel about praying the Psalms on a monthly rather than a weekly basis. Already in the 16th century the Book of Common Prayer prescribed the singing or reciting of the Psalter over a 30-day period. This is a practice I have followed for quite some time now.

But, yes, the abridgement and censoring of the Psalms is definitely problematic. Whereas the 1962 Canadian BCP does this with reckless abandon, the 1985 Book of Alternative Services subsequently restored this lost integrity to the Psalter.

But once again, no, abridging the Psalms is hardly unprecedented. In the eastern churches the singing of a full psalm in the course of the liturgy was gradually replaced by an excerpt, or prokeimenon (προκείμενον), of the psalm. In the west this became known as the gradual. And even in the Reformed churches, where the congregation sings metrical psalmody, they are likely to sing only a few stanzas at a time, particularly if the Psalm is a lengthy one.

Nevertheless, Constable's basic point is well taken. Where the Psalter is abridged and where even the possibility of singing through it in its entirety has been withdrawn, the faith of the people is likely to degenerate into mere sentimentality.

No comments: