For three millennia psalmody has been at the heart of godly worship. King David is honored as the great psalmist in the Hebrew tradition, but many of the 150 Psalms are products of later centuries, and at least one is purported to be much older – a product of the hand of Moses. Synagogue worship perhaps codified the chanting of psalms in a standard liturgy, inherited by the Early Church and preserved in both cathedral and monastic traditions.
In the Rule of Saint Benedict, after a rough outline of how all 150 Psalms are to be ordered throughout the week, Benedict observes “our holy forefathers promptly fulfilled in one day what we lukewarm monks should, please God, perform at least in a week.” The rigors of the Desert Fathers, praying all the psalms daily, and of Benedictine Monasticism, praying all the psalms weekly, were simplified by Archbishop Cranmer into a 30-day cycle, which endures in the Prayer Book tradition to this day, although most 20th century Prayer Books have offered even lighter orders for daily Psalmody.
The text of the Prayer Book Psalter is the translation of Miles Coverdale’s 16th century English Bible, remaining in Prayer Book use despite the several revisions of the Bible leading to the Authorized Version under King James I. With minor changes to spelling and vocabulary, the Coverdale Psalter endured until a new translation was provided for the 1979 Prayer Book. Some elements of the 1979 Psalter have been retained in the 2019 Book, most notably in the Suffrages of Morning and Evening Prayer, but the text of our Psalter itself has been rolled back to a modernized version of Coverdale’s translation rather than an entirely new version.
In Benedictine and Roman tradition, the psalms were said with antiphons, but the Prayer Book tradition has not retained them. It has, however, retained the tradition of reciting the Gloria Patri after each Psalm. This helps the worshiper “Christianize” the Psalms, recognizing that we are praising the triune God revealed in all of Scripture, not simply repeating the songs of ancient Israel. The first American Prayer Book in 1790 rendered the Gloria Patri optional, provided it was said at least at the end of the Psalms Appointed. In the 1979 Book the rubrics indicated the Gloria Patri was to be said once only at the end of the Psalms, which remains the default in the 2019 Book, although a rubric on page 734 permits the Gloria Patri to be said at the end of each Psalm if desired.