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.

simplifiedchant740

 

– 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.

singlechant653

 

– Sample 5 –

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

doublechant660

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.

Praying Psalm 110 with Jesus

The first of this morning’s psalms, Psalm 110, is one of those psalms that confuses a lot of readers who don’t regularly pray the psalms.  Well heck, for all I know Psalm 110 might also confuse some of you, too.  I honestly don’t know the level of erudition among my readership here.  A bunch of you are clergymen, a bunch aren’t, but are astute readers of Scripture, so who knows.  If you already know this then pat yourself on your back and move on with your day happy in the knowledge that you Know The Thing!

Anyway, the Psalm begins with a bit of odd wordplay in the very first verse.

The Lord said unto my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, *
until I make your enemies your footstool.

Who is speaking?  Who are the two Lords?  Unless we figure that out, none of the rest of this will have any context, or make any sense.  I once asked a Bible Study group who those two lords are, and got some interesting tentative theories and guesses, but I don’t recall if anyone figured it out.  Perhaps one person did.  Honestly it is a tricky one on its own.  But if you read the Gospels, you’ll find the answer.  From the end of Matthew 22:

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.”  He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’?  If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”  And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

So, according to our Lord, Psalm 110 is prayed in the voice of King David, who begins by speaking of the Lord (God the Father) addressing the Lord (God the Son) to sit at his right hand until victory is complete.  Reading on through the Psalm, the Father invites the Son to “rule in the midst of your enemies” which is certainly seen in the persistence of the Church throughout the world and history.  The offerings described in verse 3 are the fruit of our lips, the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and most especially the celebration of Holy Communion – our most great thanksgiving (hence ‘eucharist’).  In verse 4 God the Father confirms the priesthood of Jesus, which the epistle to the Hebrews expounds throughout its middle chapters.  Jesus, at the right hand of the Father, will also judge, smite kings, and slay the wicked, as the remaining verses describe.

Psalm 110, therefore, is a celebration of Jesus as priest and king.  Around him is gathered his royal priesthood, the Church, who join him in prayer, worship, suffering, and glory.  So when you take up your Prayer Book this morning and pray or chant this psalm, consider the journey with Christ it takes you on as you celebrate, with all prayer-book-users, our glorious Lord and Savior.

Singing Simplified Anglican Chant

Ideally, both according to Prayer Book tradition as well as the general history Christian worship, the Psalms are most appropriate sung, not simply read aloud.  And when people talk about singing, that universally means chanting (until, say, the 14th century when modern European music began to emerge out of the Greco-Roman chant tradition).  Among the early Anglican Reformers, chant did get a new lease on life in the English language thanks to composers like John Merbecke, but for the most part among Anglicans the chant tradition went into hibernation in the 17th and 18th centuries, finally to re-emerge in 19th century as “Anglican Chant.”

Anglican Chant is distinct from plainchant or Gregorian chant in that it has contemporary harmonizations – a choir or congregation can chant together in four-part harmony.  Thus it utilizes the melodic simplicity of plainchant and the harmonic beauty of English hymnody.  Anglican Chant also stands distinct from ancient plainchant in that it has very little over-arching regulation on matching tunes to texts.  So there is much more room for freedom of expression, new chant tunes and combinations, and even in pointing the text (meaning, lining up the text with the notes).

Why Anglican Chant?  The singing of “metric psalms” enjoyed pride of place for those couple centuries when chant was in remission.  Metric psalms are perhaps easier for us to sing because they use familiar tunes and styles.  The downside of metric psalms, however, is that the Psalms are not written in English poetic rhythms or rhyme schemes, necessitating an entirely new translation.  This means neglect of the beautiful Psalter in our Prayer Books, less standardization of the actual translation (so the formation value is less prominent), and a much looser translation overall in order to force thousands-of-years-old poems into modern poetic styles.  If you use plainchant, or Anglican chant, you don’t have to re-translate the Psalms, but sing the text as it stands.  And to those of us who care deeply about the Word of God, that should be a very important consideration indeed!

There are videos on YouTube such as this one which can help you learn Anglican Chant.  There are also books and hymnals that have detailed written explanations.  But what I’d like to introduce you to here is Simplified Anglican Chant.  As the name suggests, this is a simpler version of the Anglican Chant you’ll hear and see in the videos and books above.

Simplified Anglican Chant is notated as four measures of music with two sets of notes each.  Each measure equals one half-verse of Psalm text.  Thus one full line of Simplified Anglican Chant equals two verses in the text of the Psalm.*  The majority of the half-verse is sung on the first note; the last ‘strong’ syllable is where you switch to the second note.

If you have the Book of Common Praise 2017, you’ll find an excellent explanation of this, complete with pictures, at “hymn” #738a.  Hymns #739-750 are twelve different Simplified Anglican Chant tunes.

Whether you have that book or not, however, you can take a look at this video I put together a little while ago.  In it, I go over some of the basics described above, and then demonstrate a few verses of Psalm 96 (which is among this morning’s appointed psalms, by the way).

The sample tune I used is not one of the twelve in the hymnal; it’s just one I vaguely remembered from when I was in a church choir nearly nine years ago.

simplified anglican chant

* From the 2017 hymnal: “But what if a psalm contains an odd number of verses rather than an even number?  Rather than finish the chant formula halfway through, which would be musically unfulfilling, the congregation can repeat the second half of the chant formula (measures 3 and 4) for the last verse of the psalm.

Psalm 67 in Evening Prayer

Since at least the 1662 Prayer Book, Psalm 67 has been an alternative option to the Nunc dimittis – the second canticle in Evening Prayer.  When Thomas Cranmer first compiled the Prayer Book, he telescoped the 7-fold daily monastic office into two: Morning and Evening, so that anyone could pray them.  The service of Evening Prayer thus ended up with the traditional Vespers (evening) canticle: the Magnificat, and the traditional Compline (night) canticle: the Nunc Dimittis.  He then appointed a psalm as an alternative to each canticle, usually with the express purpose of standing in for the canticle when the text of the canticle is found in one the day’s lessons.

Modern Prayer Books, however, following popular Anglican devotion since the beginning, bring Compline back as a minor office, and the Nunc dimittis is therefore a dual resident: it lives both in Evening Prayer and in Compline.  If you regularly pray both Evening Prayer and Compline most days, then it may be a good idea to substitute the Nunc for a different canticle, as I’ve suggested before here.

However, today may not be the day to do that.  Psalm 67 is the typical replacement for the Nunc through the majority of the year, but tonight Psalm 67 is one of the regular psalms at Evening Prayer.  So unless you want to say Psalm 67 twice in the same office tonight, perhaps it’s best you don’t use it as a canticle today!

Two Historical Psalms

Depending upon your perspective and state of mind, this might be a difficult time of month: there is only Psalm appointed both for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, but it’s a long one.  Psalms 102 through 109 are among the longest in the psalter, and unless you’re using an easier (or “watered-down” as some would say) psalter, you have to plow through the whole thing in one go.

Today it’s Psalm 105 in the morning and 106 in the evening.  Something that makes the length of these two a bit easier to manage is the fact that they’re both historical, or story-telling, psalms.  And to some degree 106 is a continuation of 105.

Psalm 105’s first 11 verses set the tone: let us give thanks to God and rejoice for his promises to (and covenant with) Abraham.

Verses 12-23 summarizing some of the patriarchal history, wandering in Canaan, through to the arrival of Joseph in Egypt, and the movement of the Israelite clans there after him.

Verses 24-37 tell of the oppression in Egypt, the call of Moses, and the exodus.

Verses 38-44 conclude the Psalm with God’s subsequent provision and guidance in the wilderness.  The overall tone of Psalm 105 is positive: it celebrates what God had done for his people, and calls us to rejoice in this memory.

Psalm 106 takes a rather different mood.  Its introductory six verses, while beginning with a call to give thanks to God, highlights God’s mercy as the reason for our thankfulness, because “We have sinned like our Fathers, * we have done wrong and dealt wickedly.

Verses 7-12 repeat the exodus story, noting the unfaithfulness of God’s people, and how they didn’t really trust him until the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea.

Verses 13-31 tell of a few episodes of further unfaithfulness, as they “forgot his works” and continually complained and rebelled against Moses and their God.  A couple instances of divine judgment are poured out, culminating with the plague which was stayed by the righteous action of Phineas (cf. Numbers 25).  It’s especially fascinating to note that the phrase “it was reckoned to him as righteousness” appears twice in the Old Testament: once here, and once for Abraham’s faith.

Verses 32-46 conclude with more instances of unfaithfulness and disobedience, but God “remembered his covenant and pitied them, according to the multitude of his mercies.”  We pray, in this Psalm, that God would likewise deliver us from all our troubles, and remind ourselves to praise him forever and ever.

A regular pray-er of the Psalms is therefore well-rehearsed in these Old Testament stories, and has a ready-made application for them: exhortations to repent, to trust, to follow God.  There are other history psalms besides these two, but these are the biggest, and occupy our attentions in the Daily Offices of the 20th day of the month.  Hopefully these reflections will help you push through them if you find their length daunting!

Book Review: The Bay Psalm 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.

Today we’re stepping outside the Anglican tradition and looking at a gem of American history.  The first book ever published and printed in North America was The Bay Psalm Book in 1640, a mere twenty years after the pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts.  It has gone through many re-printings since then, and probably has some more legible successors in recent times, but I happened upon a facsimile print of the first edition, complete with blocky type and funny 17th century spelling.  On its own, it’s a cool historical curiosity.  But its actual contents have proven useful to me, and even found their way into my church’s worship from time to time.

The Bay Psalms Book is basically a psalter: all the psalms are re-translated such that they conform to common poetic meters in English such that they can be set to hymn tunes.  This book does not assign any tunes, it’s simply the text of the metric psalms.  What I have done, then, is take up some of a psalm from this book, fix up the spelling (and modernize the grammar a little if possible) and pick a tune that my congregation will know.

Psalm 67, for example (odd spelling and italics included), reads thus:

God gracious be to us & give
his blessing us unto,
let him upon us make to shine
his countenance alſo.*

That there may be the knowledg of
thy way the earth upon,
and alſo of thy ſaving health
in every nation. **

O God let thee the people prayſe,
let all people prayſe thee.
O let the nations** rejoyce,
and let them joyfull bee:

For thou ſhalt give judgement unto
the people righteouſly,
alſo the nations upon earth
thou ſhalt them lead ſafely.

O God let thee the people prayſe
let all people prayſe thee.
Her fruitfull increaſe by the earth
ſhall then forth yeilded bee:

God ev’n our owne God ſhall us bleſſe.
God I ſay bleſſe us ſhall,
and of the earth the utmoſt coaſts
they ſhall him reverence all.

* The “long s” – ſ – looks like an lowercase f, but if you look carefully it doesn’t have the horizontal line through the center.  There was a general rule when to use ſ or s, but it doesn’t seem to be strictly followed in this book.

** Twice in this psalm you have to pronounce “nations” with three syllables: na-ti-ons.  This kind of thing happens with similar words throughout the book, making it rather difficult for the modern reader to pick up on.

Now try singing that to the hymn tune AZMON (popular with the song “O for a thousand tongues to sing“).

Pretty cool, huh?  What you can do with a book like this is look up the Psalm for the Communion service on a given Sunday, check if its verses are readable and singable for your congregation, and then bring them into the worship service set to a tune they know… then they’ll both read/pray the Psalm and sing a paraphrase of it!

A note on Psalm-singing: in liturgical worship, Anglican or otherwise, the text of the liturgy is very important.  It matters what we say, and why we say it.  To mess around with the wording or translation, therefore, is not good practice.  So I would never recommend metric psalms as a replacement for the Psalmody in the Daily Office or Communion services.  Let the official psalter translation do its work.  Metric versions such as in The Bay Psalms Book can be refreshing and interesting and even beneficial at times, but should never replace the actual text of our liturgy.

The ratings in short…

Accessibility: 5/5
This book is nice and simple; there’s an explanatory introduction, the text of 150 psalms, and nothing else.  The header tells you what psalm(s) are on the page below, so you can thumb through the book quickly and easily as you search for the one your want.

Devotional Usefulness: 3/5
You have to supply the music.  You have to be able to read the imperfect print (if you get a facsimile edition) and ignore the funny spellings.  You have to figure out how to pronounce some of the words like a 17th century British colonist.  It can be done, and it can be beneficial, but much of this book just “won’t do it” for worshipers in the 21st century.  Whenever I’ve used it in my church, it’s always been limited in scope and edited for clarity of language.

Reference Value: 3/5
There are modern metric psalm translations out there, so you don’t really need to seek this one out.  This is great if you like colonial American history, or the history of bible/psalm translation, or the history of Christian worship.  The introduction provides a little insight into puritan theology of worship, too.

Learning from the Liturgy: Ascension Day

Happy Ascension Day, everyone!
Here’s what I wrote for my congregation last year about this holy day:

Leorningcnihtes boc

Ascension Day is perhaps the most under-celebrated important holiday in the calendar.  Representing one of the lines of the Creeds (“he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father”), this holiday marks a significant turning point in the Gospel story and sets the stage for how the Christian’s relationship with God is defined.  We often think of it as an awkward point between the Resurrection of Jesus (Easter) and the Descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost), but even in itself the Ascension is a major event.  What I’m setting out to do in this post is draw from the various Scriptural and traditional resources of the Church’s liturgy to explore some of the basic teachings and implications of this great and underappreciated day in the year.

The Event of the Ascension

Christ’s ascension is described in three books: Mark, Luke, and Acts.

In Mark’s Gospel…

View original post 2,092 more words

Psalm 118 Flashback

It’s the 24th day of the month, and that means Psalm 118 is on the docket for the rounds of daily prayer today.  With Eastertide well in progress this psalm may give you a bit of a flashback, as Psalm 118 plays prominent roles in Holy Week and Easter.

14 The Lord is my strength and my song, * and has become my salvation.
15 The voice of joy and deliverance is in the dwellings of the righteous; * the right hand of the Lord brings mighty things to pass.
16 The right hand of the Lord is exalted; * the right hand of the Lord brings mighty things to pass.
17 I shall not die, but live, * and declare the works of the Lord.
18 The Lord has chastened and corrected me, * but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open unto me the gates of righteousness, * that I may go into them, and give thanks unto the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord; * the righteous shall enter into it.
21 I will thank you, for you have heard me, * and have become my salvation.
22 The same stone which the builders refused * has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing, * and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made; * we will rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Help me now, O Lord; * O Lord, send us now prosperity.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord; * we bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 God is the Lord, who has shown us light; * bind the sacrifice with cords, even to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will thank you; * you are my God, and I will exalt you.
29 O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is gracious; *  his mercy endures for ever.

The verses in blue are the parts of this Psalm appointed for Easter Day.  The verses in red are the parts appointed for Palm Sunday.  The verses in purple are appointed for both.  (Easter Saturday also repeats much of this part of the psalm too.)

The Palm Sunday (Liturgy of the Palms) portion, verses 19-29, are pretty explicit in their attribution to Palm Sunday.  “Open to me the gates” invokes the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem, Jesus is “the righteous” who “shall enter” through “the gate of the Lord.”  The crowd’s cry of “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” is found here, as is the prophetic line “bind the sacrifice with cords, even to the horns of the altar”, which is what Palm Sunday goes on to observe – the crucifixion of Jesus.

Easter Day captures the more ‘positive’ verses of this psalm.  That is the day we celebrate that the Lord “has become my salvation,” that Jesus “shall not die, but live.”  Verses 22-24, which are shared on both days, proclaim a truth Jesus attributed to himself: I am the “stone which the builders refused” (Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17), which St. Peter remembered well in his life thereafter (Acts 4:11, 1 Peter 2:7).  That, above all others, is “the day that the Lord has made” in which we are to “rejoice and be glad in it.”

Of course, when we’re praying this Psalm in its entirety on its own, outside the context of Palm Sunday or Easter Day, we need not let those liturgical usages of the psalm dictate the fullness of its interpretation.  But its allusions to the death and resurrection of Christ are inescapable, and the Christian must always see and acknowledge the echoes both of Calvary and the empty tomb sounding back through centuries into the words of this psalm, rebounding again to us as we pray, chant, and sing these words.