The many roles of Psalm 51

Psalm 51 is one of the most famous psalms in the Bible, I think it’s safe to say.  Known in Latin by its opening words, Miserere mei, Deus, it has been rendered into one of the most beautiful pieces of chorale music known to man.  And this Psalm pops up, in whole and in part, all over Christian liturgy.  Since it’s one of the Morning Psalms Appointed for today (the 10th day of the month), this is an excellent day to visit the many roles of Psalm 51.

Holy Communion

In the 2019 Prayer Book, you can find this Psalm appointed for the Communion service on a few different occasions.  In mid-September of Year C (Proper 19) verses 1-17 are appointed; on the first Sunday in Lent of Year A verses 1-13 are appointed (with the option of using the whole psalm); and on the Fifth Sunday in Lent of Year B verses 11-16  are appointed (again with the option of using the whole psalm).  So this means that there is always one Sunday every year that uses some or all of Psalm 51.

In Lent

Perhaps the most famous use of Psalm 51 is its place in the penitential office for Ash Wednesday.  In the 2019 Prayer Book it is sung or said after the imposition of ashes, though it could also be sung by a choir during the imposition of ashes.  In the historic Prayer Books it appears in an analogous position, after the curses and exhortation in the Commination (or Penitential Office), also leading up to the prayers that follow.

Versicles & Responses

Various bits and pieces of Psalm 51 show up in other liturgies.  Here are a few examples:

  • Verse 7 “You shall purge me with hyssop…” is the basis of a prayer used by some priests at the washing of hands before celebrating Communion.  It is also a verse used in the asperges – that is, the sprinkling of holy water, usually upon the congregation.
  • Verses 10-12 “Create in me a clean heart…” are the foundation of a few popular songs, contemporary and traditional.  They’re also used in the Morning service of the 2019 book’s mini-Office of Family Prayer.  Two lines from these verses are also found at the end of the Suffrage in the regular Daily Office.
  • Verse 15 “O Lord, open my lips…” is a mainstay of the Daily Office (historically just Morning Prayer, but in modern texts also Evening Prayer), near the start of the service.  Although there are sentences and a confession before it, these words are often considered the “real” start of the Daily Office, and everything before it as merely preparatory.  In monastic tradition, from what I understand, these words are literally the first words spoken at the beginning of the day’s round of worship.

This is quite a bit of mileage for just one Psalm!  Where else can you find its echoes and quotations showing up?

Longing for God, in Psalm 27

We just prayed Psalm 27 the other day in the Daily Office and we’re going to hear it again at the Sunday Communion in another couple days, according to the lectionary in the 2019 Prayer Book.  So let’s take a quick look at this Psalm.

There are many different ways you can go about analyzing this Psalm and breaking it down into sections.  One reasonable method is to break it in half, noting that the first 8 verses speak about God, and the remaining 9 speak to God.  (This is using the Prayer Book’s versification, by the way.)  The first half is like the warm-up, preparing the way for the direct prayers of the second.

Another way of looking at this Psalm is to identify three cycles that each culminate with an expression of the longing for God.

  1. “Whom shall I fear?” we ask, and find sanctuary in God.
    Dwell with God and see his face (verses 4 & 5).
    This is an expression of trust.
  2. “Praise God who exalts me!” we proclaim, then prompt him to answer in return.
    Seek his face and be permitted to find him (verses 10 & 11).
    This is a picture of pro-active trust.
  3. False accusations come before us, and so we wait upon the Lord.
    See God’s goodness and be comforted (verses 16 & 17).
    These accusers are a picture of the opposite of trust.

Although there is a lot of material in this Psalm that puts it in the “Trust” and “Lament” categories, it gives ample opportunity for pure adoration.  If you’re of a pentecostal bent, this business about desiring “the fair beauty of the Lord” may be more natural to you; but if you tend to “hide” yourself in the liturgy, this sort of emotionalism may be tougher to swallow.  That is why the Psalter – and thus all good liturgy – is so important for a healthily balanced spirituality!  The corporate and individual expressions of piety are showcased together here so vividly.  This is a courage-filled prayer for help, and we must realize that at the ground of such courage we must find (or nurture) a deep and hearty and personal love for God.

Different personalities, and different traditions, often tend to gravitate toward one sort of spirituality and prayer style over others.  At its best, liturgy keeps us far better balanced than we ever would be, left to our own devices.  You may be the sort who “longs for God” in a personally-emotive kind of way – you yearn to be united with the lover of your soul.  In that case, Psalm 27 will have moments of brightness and beauty that you will quickly cherish.  But you may be the sort who “longs for God” in more abstract ways, like wanting see his justice prevail in a particular area in our culture, or desiring his truth to be made more fully known in your understanding of the Bible, or in the minds of nonbelievers that they may be saved.  In that case, Psalm 27 may strike you as awkwardly personal, maybe even exaggerated.  If that’s you, this is one of those psalms that will help you grow.

So pay special attention to this on Sunday morning, when it comes up, and see what more you can get out of it than you got the other day!  Or, if you’re in a parish that uses the traditional calendar, take the time to look up Psalm 27 on your own again.  The desire of all creation is to belong, and this should be all the more true for us as Christians, desiring to be with and behold our Lord God.

Learning the Daily Office – part 3 of 12

So you’ve heard about the Daily Office, specifically the Anglican tradition of daily prayer and scripture reading, and you want to enter into this beautiful and formative tradition?  Great, grab a prayer book and go!  Except, maybe someone already said that and you don’t know where to start… or worse, you did try it and it was just too much?  The length of the Office was overwhelming and the contents too complicated to navigate when you’ve got no experience with liturgy.  We understand, we’ve all been at that place before!  Some just don’t remember it as well as others.

Diving into the full Prayer Book life of worship doesn’t work for everyone; sometimes you have to work your way up toward that discipline, adding one piece at a time as you grow comfortable with each feature and learn how to “do” them all.  This post series is basically a twelve-step program to help you advance in the life of disciplined prayer from zero to super-Anglican.  The pace is up to you – the goal of this sort of spiritual discipline is consistency, not “how much” you do.

Step One: Pray a Psalm followed by the Lord’s Prayer.
Step Two: Add a Scripture Reading

Step Three: Add more Psalms and Lessons

If all’s going well, your twice-daily round of praying a psalm and reading a scripture lesson has increased your appetite for both.  Individuals may well find more comfort and affinity with one of those over the other, but as you grow into the Daily Office tradition there’s still more of both to add.  When you’re consistently covering one Psalm and Lesson each morning and evening, it’s time to add a second Lesson and additional Psalms to each Office.  You will be reading all the Lessons in the Daily Office Lectionary, and it’s probably time also to upgrade from the 60-day Psalter to the Anglican standard monthly psalter.

The monthly psalter is outlined in a table that is provided on page 735, just before the Daily Office Lectionary begins, but the Psalms themselves are also in the Prayer Book, on starting on page 270.  If you weren’t before, it’s time to start using the Prayer Book Psalter.  Even though you’re reading from a Bible, there are a few reasons to prefer the Prayer Book for the Psalms:

  1. The Prayer Book Psalter clearly marks out where the psalms for each Office begin (every morning and evening for each day of the month, read sequentially).
  2. The Prayer Book Psalter translation is intentionally poetic and beautiful, which cannot be said about any mainstream Bible translation.  The ESV or NASB may be the best translations for study, but we’re here to pray the psalms, not analyze them.  (Not that you can’t study the psalms of course, it’s just that the Office is time of prayer.)
  3. Using the Prayer Book is a useful skill that you will be developing bit by bit from here on.

Logistically, what you probably want to do at this point is different from how the Office in its full form will work.  Ultimately, all these Psalms will be prayed in a row before the Lessons, and there will be different things after each reading.  But for now, start in the psalms for the morning and evening and save the last one or two to pray between the two Lessons, or perhaps after both Lessons.

The point of interspersing the Psalms with the Lessons is to provide a little distance between the two readings.  In the Daily Office Lectionary the readings are just moving sequentially through the Bible independently of one another, so by stopping to pray a Psalm after the first lesson you “clear your mind” a little bit before reading the next lesson.  You don’t want to conflate them in your head and attempt to link them together artifically; that’s not how a Daily lectionary works.  Taking a moment to pray a Psalm after each Lesson also helps keep your reading in a context of prayer, cutting down on the “study” mentality and enhancing the “worship” mentality.  Again, this is not to say that studying the Bible is bad, but that such should not interrupt the course of worship.  At most, make a highlight or note in your Bible or on a book mark so you can return to it when the prayer time is concluded.

Summary

Your Morning & Evening Offices are now looking like this:

  1. Psalm(s) to pray
  2. Old Testament Lesson (occasionally the first lesson is from the NT instead)
  3. Psalm to pray
  4. New Testament Lesson
  5. Psalm to pray (maybe)
  6. The Lord’s Prayer

The length of time to do all this is probably about five minutes, maybe as many as ten if the readings are particularly long and you’re reading them out loud.   Same with the Psalms – praying them means reading them aloud – and sometimes they can be a little lengthy too.

Learning the Daily Office – part 1 of 12

So you’ve heard about the Daily Office, specifically the Anglican tradition of daily prayer and scripture reading, and you want to enter into this beautiful and formative tradition?  Great, grab a prayer book and go!  Except, maybe someone already said that and you don’t know where to start… or worse, you did try it and it was just too much?  The length of the Office was overwhelming and the contents too complicated to navigate when you’ve got no experience with liturgy.  We understand, we’ve all been at that place before!  Some just don’t remember it as well as others.

Diving into the full Prayer Book life of worship doesn’t work for everyone; sometimes you have to work your way up toward that discipline, adding one piece at a time as you grow comfortable with each feature and learn how to “do” them all.  This post series is basically a twelve-step program to help you advance in the life of disciplined prayer from zero to super-Anglican.  The pace is up to you – the goal of this sort of spiritual discipline is consistency, not “how much” you do.

Step One: Pray a Psalm followed by the Lord’s Prayer.

Every morning and evening do two things: pray one Psalm (or perhaps part of one, if it’s really long), and follow it up with the Lord’s Prayer.  If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you’ve probably memorized the latter, but if you haven’t, use it in the 2019 Prayer Book on page 21.  The Lord’s Prayer was taught by Jesus (hence the name the Lord’s prayer), and is a pretty straight-forward thing to pray.  There is much about it that can be studied deeply, analyzing its words and structure, just like any other biblical text, but it’s also just readily understandable and easy to pray as your own prayer.

What may be more challenging is praying the psalms.  While this is a basic spiritual practice going back thousands of years, it is a tragically lost art for many (if not most) Protestant Christians today.  People “know” that the psalms are song-prayers, but actually praying them is a foreign concept.  If we are to be faithful to the Scriptures, though, we must pray the psalms, rather than simply read or study them. They were written to be prayed, individually and corporately, so failure to do so is failure to receive the authoritative scriptures in their fullness.

So how does one learn to pray the psalms?

  1. Read the Psalm(s) out loud.
  2. Once you’re used to the content of the Psalm(s) in question, imagine you and Jesus are reading them together.
  3. Imagine you and Jesus are reading them together to God the Father.
  4. Imagine you and Jesus and the entire Church are reading them together to God the Father.

The key realizations that will click over time (not necessarily in this order) are:

  1. that sometimes the content of the psalm will give voice to the cry of your own heart and sometimes it will not
  2. that there are many “voices” in the Psalms, and if it isn’t yours personally it may be those of Jesus, or of the Church, or of the martyrs, etc.
  3. that the psalms are incredibly influential in the writing of many other prayers, collects, suffrages, litanies, and so forth.

Perhaps even your own extemporaneous prayers will start to use psalm-like language; but remember the goal is not memorization. If some of that happens along the way, that’s awesome. But the goal is to be familiar with the psalms so they can work through your heart as you read them, not just process their information like in a bible study.

As for which psalms to pray, it may be best to start out with following the “60 Day Psalter” provided in our Daily Office Lectionary on pages 738-763.  For sake of getting used to this practice, I’d recommend you invest in using the Prayer Book’s psalter, but we’ll revisit that subject later.

Summary

So if you’re learning the Daily Office from scratch, start by praying a Psalm (out loud!) every morning and evening, followed by the Lord’s Prayer.  Then, if you have other requests or thanksgivings to offer to God, add them in your own words.

It may take a while to get used to praying the psalms, so make sure you’re comfortable with this before moving on to Step Two.

Book Review: The American Psalter

A couple years ago I jumped on a rare offer: someone was selling a pile of old and out-of-print books of liturgical music and I managed to procure a nice stack.  The downside with them is that they are keyed to the traditional lectionary and calendar, so very little of it is stuff that I can use in my own church without careful adaptation and re-purposing.  But if I do end up in a 1928 Prayer Book parish some day, or start up a traditional service, this vintage materials could be super handy.

The book I’ve ended up using the most, in my own devotions, is The American Psalter, published by The H. W.  Gray Company in 1930, for the Protestant Episcopal Church.

The Preface provides a quick history of Anglican Chant, noting John Merbecke and dwelling particularly on Thomas Tallis, both from the first century of the English Reformation.  Some people accuse Anglican Chant of being an Anglo-Catholic invention of the 19th century; historical information like this helps bust that myth.  The method of “pointing”, that is, matching the text to the chant tune, is outlined, noting its diverse methods over the years since, and works its way toward explaining how the present volume works, and how to sing its contents.

The American Psalter contains chants for the “Choral Service” (that is, the main prayers and responses of the Daily Office), Anglican Chant tunes for the various Canticles of Morning and Evening Prayer, and all 150 Psalms.  A handful of other anthems are provided after, and every chant tune is indexed in the end.  Of course, the text of all these canticles and psalms match the 1928 Prayer Book, but now that we have the New Coverdale Psalter in the 2019 Prayer Book, with verbiage that closely resembles the original Prayer Book Psalter, it is pleasantly easy to line up this 90-year-old book with our brand-new Prayer Book.  I used it pretty frequently this past summer, as I began to settle into the 2019 BCP and got into a chanting mood for a while.

Now, this book is probably hard to find these days, so in a sense writing about it today, in 2020, seems a bit silly.  How are you, the reader, going to benefit from this?  I’ll share an example of an insight from this book that may spark creativity from my fellow modern-day chanters.  Several Psalms are quite long, and using the same chant for fifteen minutes could get monotonous.  What The American Psalter does is break up a long psalm into multiple chants.Psalm 107This isn’t the whole of Psalm 107, but you can get the idea.  It begins (on the previous page) with a cheerful Single Chant in D Major for three verses “O Give thanks unto the Lord…” followed by a somber Single Chant in D Minor for verses 4 & 5 “They went astray in the wilderness…”  Then, on the pages shown in the picture above, the Psalm switches between about three different-but-related chants reflecting the different voices and moods as the narrative of Psalm 107 unfolds.

This is probably the most complex example; other long psalms receive more simple treatment.  Psalm 109 spends verses 1-4 in a pleasant C Major Double Chant, changes to an A Minor Double Chant with a similar melodic contour for verses 5-19, and switches back to the original chant for verses 20-30.  Even simpler is Psalm 44, wherein verses 1-9 are sung with a Double Chant in G Major, and verses 10-26 sung in the exact same chant tune transposed to G Minor.

The underlying lesson here is that chanting does not have to be boring or unimaginative.  The wealth of chant tunes, and the ease with which one can edit them, opens up a world of musical possibilities.  Opting for Anglican Chant in your church does not have to mean that your skilled musicians are out of a job!  Yes, chanting is extremely simple, and you don’t need particularly talented musicians to make it happen (which is kind of the point of chant, really, being something simple for all voices to join in), but there is still room for talent, creativity, and skill to step in.

Anyway, don’t go out of your way to track down a copy of this book unless you’re particularly trying to build a church music resource library.  Instead, keep your eye on the ACNA committee for music’s Psalter Page.  They’re still pretty early in their work of compiling chant psalters for the 2019 Prayer Book, so if you’ve got ideas, encouragements, or questions, now’s your chance to make a difference!

Christmas Psalms

If you, like me, are partial to the traditional 30-day cycle of Psalms, this is one of the few days of the year you should feel free to step away from it.  The classical Prayer Books appointed special psalms for Morning and Evening Prayer on Christmas Day: 19, 45, and 85 in the Morning, and in the Evening, 89, 110, and 132.

However, if you want to opt for a shorter version of this, the 60-day psalter in the 2019 Prayer Book does appoint holiday-appropriate psalms for several days in the year, including Christmas Day.  The entries there are 19 or 45 in the Morning, and in the Evening 85 and 110.  As you can see, these are drawn from the original Prayer Book psalms for Christmas Day, just pared down a bit.  Psalm 89 is pretty long, for example.  So take advantage of the freedom afforded in this prayer book and enjoy some traditional Christmas Psalms today, whether it is the longer list of olden times or the shorter list in the new.

And, of course, have a merry Christmas.

The Incarnate Word

Happy Christmas Eve!

Here’s a brief homily for Evening Prayer today, looking primarily at the Psalm appointed (the beginning of 119).  I hope you enjoy the holidays ahead!

Book Review: The Lutheran Service Book

Welcome to Saturday Book Review time!  On most of the Saturdays this year we’re looking at a liturgy-related book noting (as applicable) its accessibility, devotional usefulness, and reference value.  Or, how easy it is to read, the prayer life it engenders, and how much it can teach you.

It’s been a couple weeks but we left off with a couple non-Anglican liturgical books, and today we’re picking that trend back up again with The Lutheran Service Book (2006), which is basically the official liturgical text for the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS).

This book is basically a Prayer Book and Hymnal in one, which is super handy.  What’s strange about it, from an Anglican perspective, is the ordering of its contents.

Introductory Contents:
Church Year, Sunday & Holy Day lectionaries, Dates of Easter, Glossary, instructions for chanting psalms

Most of this makes sense to us, the only oddity is that the Sunday / Holy Day lectionaries are placed up front with the calendar – historically that’s where we would have the Daily Office Lectionary, though the 2019 BCP has all its lectionaries toward the back instead.

Interestingly, this book includes two choices for the Calendar and Sunday lectionary: one is their version of the 3-year Revised Common Lectionary (essentially the same as ours, only minor differences), and the other is the traditional one-year calendar and lectionary (essentially the same as in the classical Prayer Books).  Although I’m not surprised the 2019 Prayer Book didn’t provide both calendar & lectionary options, I kind of wish it had.

The chanting instructions make sense here because the first primary section of this book is:

The Psalms

Yes, all 150 are here, and they’re even pointed for chant!  For example, from Psalm 15:

O Lord, who shall sojourn | in your tent? *
Who shall dwell on your | holy hill?

He who walks blamelessly and does | what is right *
and speaks truth | in his heart.

So that’s pretty useful.  The chant style is very similar to Simplified Anglican Chant, which is great.  Functionally it’s strange that the psalter should be put first like this: this means that you “have to know” where the right worship service starts in the book, increasing the necessary page-flipping.  But in another sense, giving the Psalms place of preference is a theological statement: this is where our worship begins.  Virtually every worship service in the liturgical tradition utilizes the psalms, and biblically they are our greatest model for faithful prayer.

The Divine Service

The next nearly-60 pages are taken up with five “Settings” of the Divine Service, or Holy Communion.  “They have five different eucharistic texts!?” you ask.  Yes.  But they are all extremely similar to one another.

The primary difference between the order of service here and in the 2019 Prayer Book is that this starts with a confession and absolution, rather than placing it after the Prayers of the People.  Setting One’s confession prayer in particular is clearly based upon our confession in the Daily Office.  For the Creed, both the Nicene and Apostles’ are offered.  Two sequences of Communion Prayers are typically offered, one placing the Words of Institution before the Lord’s Prayer, and the other after.  In general, the style and wording of the prayers – particularly the Communion prayers – progress from traditional to contemporary as you look through from Setting One to Setting Five; the last of which sounds the most like the 1979 Prayer Book.

Another fascinating, and consistent, feature of the Lutheran liturgy is the use of the Canticle Nunc dimittis as a Post-Communion praise, just like how the classical Prayer Books employed the Gloria in excelsis.  This has prompted and encouraged me to explore different Canticle options after the administration of Holy Communion in my own church’s worship services, rather than always simply employing a Communion Hymn.

Another curiosity, perhaps marking the most obvious distinction between the five Settings, is the music.  Settings One through Four each have a particular collection of Service Music printed right into them.  This is useful for those who desire to use them, though a bit odd from my observing perspective, as it ties you to particular combinations of musical settings with the variations of prayers.  I assume it’s permissible for them to mix and match text and music, but it just seems an odd way of printing it.  Whateverso, the range of styles are interesting: different forms of chant (some like plainchant, some like Anglican Chant, including the Old Scottish Chant of the Gloria in Setting Three).  Setting Five has no music printed in it, though, preferring the simplicity of spoken liturgy, and indicating a few hymns to sing in place of the standard Kyrie and GloriaSanctus and Agnus Dei.

The Daily Offices

Where the Daily Offices hold pride of place in Anglican Prayer Books, the Lutheran Service Book starts them on page 219, after the Communion settings.  These, too, include musical settings of various Canticles and Psalms right in the text, as well as other chanted parts for the dialogues and blessings and whatnot.  Five Offices are provided: Matins, Vespers, Morning Prayer, Evening Payer, and Compline.  Again this is a “huh?” moment for Anglicans, as Matins & Vespers are the Morning & Evening Offices.

As it turns out, Matins and Morning Prayer are very similar in this book, containing largely the same elements.  Like the Communion Settings, the music and chant is the most obvious difference between the two,   Matins is the most like the Prayer Books’ Morning Prayer; the Morning Prayer in this book lacks the Te Deum and rearranges the prayers after the Canticle.

None of these offices include Confessions or the Apostles’ Creed, which is another difference between this book and our tradition.

Vespers and Evening Prayer are similar to one another, but start markedly different: Vespers more resembling the Prayer Book tradition, and Evening Prayer starting off with that curious “Service of Lights” thing in the 1979 Prayer Book.

Compline is very similar to as it is found in modern Anglican Prayer Books.  I assume, since it was not taken up in most Protestant liturgical books during the Reformation, that it saw the least amount of editing and change in unofficial use, such that when it started to reappear in the late 20th century it had undergone the least amount of denominational divergence.

Other Services and Resources

From here the book includes a collection of other liturgies that a Prayer Book would be expected to have: Holy Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Matrimony, Funeral Service, Responsive Prayers, a Litany, Corporate and Private Confessions & Absolution, Daily Prayer for Families, a Daily Lectionary, table of Psalms for the Offices (though not covering the whole psalter or the whole year), Occasional Prayers, the Athanasian Creed, and Luther’s Small Catechism.  All this is comparable to what one would expect in an Anglican Prayer Book, and much of its contents are recognizably similar to our own.

The first “Other Service”, however, does not have an Anglican counterpart (unless you delve into England’s controversial Common Worship).  It’s called Service of Prayer and Preaching, and it seems to be a what-to-do-on-a-Sunday-morning-when-the-ordained-minister-is-away sort of service.  Opening Verses, an Old Testament Canticle (known to us as #8 Ecce Deus), Scripture readings, dialogued responses, a congregational reading from part of the catechism, Sermon or Catechetical Instruction, (Offertory) Hymn, several Prayers, a New Testament Canticle (known to us as the Pascha Nostrum), and a closing Blessing.

The Hymns

636 hymns follow, arranged by Church Season, Person & Work of Christ, the Christian Church, the Christian Life, other Times and Seasons, additional Service Music, and National Songs.  Naturally there are quite a lot more German Chorales here than in a typical Anglican hymnal (though the 2017 hymnal has quite a few!), and several hymns well-known to us with different arrangements – occasionally entirely different tune settings.  For example Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face is set to FARLEY CASTLE instead of PENITENTIA, and At the Lamb’s high feast we sing is set to SONNE DER GERECHTIGKEIT instead of SALZBURG (ALLE MENSCHEN).

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 3/5
Page-flipping within a particular worship service (especially the Sunday Communion) is minimal.  The main challenge is making sure you know what service you’re actually doing (five Communion rites, remember).  If you’re trying to use this for the Daily Office then things are rather more complex as you have to hunt for the lectionary and psalms with rather more vigor than a typical Anglican Prayer Book.

Devotional Usefulness: 3/5
This book is not the sum total the LCMS expression of Lutheran worship, but all the basics are here.  As Anglicans we could use this book and find a faithful approximation of our own liturgical tradition.  The Communion Prayers are all significantly shorter than ours (even shorter than what’s in the 1662 Prayer Book), but on the whole theologically compatible with ours.  The lack of clarity regarding daily psalmody would be a loss, however.  This book also has a nice collection of hymns that could supplement our own hymnals.  And to be fair, if I was a Lutheran, I’d rate this as either a or a 5, depending upon what I’d thereby know of the historic liturgies before this book.

Reference Value: 2/5
It’s hard to rate this score.  For most of us, we have no reason to pick up the liturgical text of a different tradition, even one so closely-related as the Lutherans.  The similarities of English-language Lutheran worship with Prayer Book worship also makes it clear that they have taken several queues from us.  As such, this Lutheran Service Book is probably best understood as an expression of historic Lutheran worship using the Anglican Prayer Book as a useful filter from time to time.  If you really want to explore historic Lutheran liturgy, you probably have to pick up the Book of Concord or something to that effect.  But I haven’t done that yet.

Singing Psalm 121

We all know that the Psalms were originally meant to be sung.  There is, wonderfully, a new movement these days, mostly grassroots, to put music to the Psalms and put them into the hands of the congregations.  I’ve jumped on that bandwagon a little, providing an explanation of Simplified Anglican Chant, and I know others others on YouTube and even in the ACNA have made resources to encourage and enable to chant the psalms.

The wonderful thing about chant is that it provides you with some very simple music that you can then apply to any set of lyrics.  You don’t have to “learn a whole song”, just memorize a few notes and get a feel for where in each half-verse to move from note to note, and you’re good to go.  What makes Anglican Chant different from historic Plainchant is that 1, the chant tunes are written in more recent times and are rarely “tied down” to any particular Psalm or Canticle, and 2, ours come with classical four-part harmonies allowing a choir (or at least a keyboardist) to beautify the music.

What I thought would be fun to try today is providing a set of examples of how one short Psalm can be done in different styles of chant.  This will, I think, help clarify how the more “complicated” forms of chant work, by working our way up to them through some simpler forms.

Here’s the text as used:

1 I will lift up my eyes un|to the | hills; *
from | whence | comes my | help?
2 My help comes | from the | Lord, *
who | has made | heaven and | earth.
3 He will not let your | foot be | moved, *
and he who | keeps you | will not | sleep.
4 Behold, he who keeps | Israel *
shall | neither | slumber nor | sleep.
5 The Lord himself | is your | keeper; *
The Lord is your defense | upon | your right | hand,
6 So that the sun shall not burn |you by | day, *
nei|ther the | moon by | night.
7 The Lord shall preserve you| from all | evil; *
indeed, it is he | who shall | keep your | soul.
8 The Lord shall preserve your going out and your | coming | in, *
from this time | forth for|ever|more.

– Sample 1 –

Omitting the usual Gloria Patri at the end of the Psalm, here it simply read aloud with the musical rhythm of the ending of each verse in mind.  Always make sure you can read the Psalm comfortably before you sing or chant it!

 

– Sample 2 –

Now let’s use Fr. Ben Jeffries’ Simplified Plainchant.

 

– Sample 3 –

Next let’s move up to Simplified Anglican Chant. This and the following images are from the hymnal, Book of Common Praise 2017.

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– Sample 4 –

Now we’re ready for a fully-fledged Anglican Chant.  First let’s go for a Single Chant, which means each verse gets the same tune.

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– Sample 5 –

Last of all, here’s a Double Chant, meaning the repeated tune spans two verses.

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Long Psalm 89

Evening Prayer today, the 17th day of the month, is occupied in its psalmody solely with Psalm 89.  This psalm is quite lengthy, and one of the big challenges with long psalms is keeping the attention span alive, and the comprehension alive, all the way through.

In short, Psalm 89 is a celebration and lament in a single package.  God has given a covenant to the house of David, promising the eternal kingship to his servants.  Yet God has allowed Israel, in their unfaithfulness, to fall into misfortune at the hands of their enemies.  Which mood wins out?  Let’s look at a little outline of its verses:

  • vv1-2 Introduction
  • vv3-4 Summary of the Davidic Covenant
  • v5-19 Hymn to God the Creator
  • 20-36 Celebrating the promise to David
  • 37-44 Lamentation for the fall of David
  • 45-50 Reproaches
  • v 51 Benediction

So there’s a logical, or even sort of chronological, order to the main body of the psalm: from verse 5 through 44 we have a movement from God’s lordship over creation, God’s covenant-making, and God’s withdrawal of the blessings of that covenant.  The “Reproaches” at the end are similar to the Lamentations, bewailing the loss Israel has suffered, beseeching God for mercy, and expressing glimmers of hope that His faithfulness will pull them through.

Plus, if you take the promises seriously in the celebratory part of the psalm, the language of “forever” is pretty strong – even if curse and calamity should befall God’s people, it must only be for a season – God’s covenant promises carry eternal weight.  This is especially true from the New Covenant perspective we have as Christians, since the Davidic Covenant is fulfilled in the kingship of Christ Jesus.  It is unsurprising, therefore, that Psalm 89 is featured on holy days like St. Joseph‘s and Christmas Day.  This reality transforms the lament and reproaches even more for us: now when we see the Church suffering on earth, we know all the more undeterred that our Lord and King stands firm, victorious even over death and the grave.

So, as usual, keep the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in mind as you’re praying through this long psalm.  Perhaps the verse groupings listed above can give you places to pause for breathe and recollect your attentions, too.