The Renewed Coverdale Psalter!

Great news, everyone, the committees have finished updating the classic Prayer Book psalter, translated by Miles Coverdale, into contemporary English!  If you’re not up to speed with what this is all about….

  • The latest report from the Liturgy Task Force (top of page 2) summarizes the background of this particular project.
  • The Texts for Common Prayer page now has a pdf and Word document form of the Psalter.

Let’s grab a sampling from this evening’s psalms – Psalm 22.  Here are verses 6-8 in three translations, for comparison.

Original Coverdale:

6 But as for me, I am a worm, and no man; * a very scorn of men, and the outcast of the people.
7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn; * they shoot out their lips, and shake their heads, saying,
8 He trusted in the Lord, that he would deliver him; * let him deliver him, if he will have him.

Renewed Coverdale:

6 But as for me, I am a worm, and no man, * scorned by all, and the outcast of the people.
7 All those who see me laugh me to scorn; * they curl their lips, and shake their heads, saying,
8 “He trusted in God, that he would deliver him; * let him deliver him, if he will have him.”

English Standard Version (ESV)

6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Beauty and taste are fickle things, easily subject to individual whim and preference, so I’m not going to hazard any sweeping statements here.  But what I can observe is that,

  1. The Renewed Coverdale looks like it’s doing a good job of sticking closely to the vocabulary and sentence structure of the original, modernizing it only gently.
  2. The ESV has a tendency to be too literal, so to speak, in the Psalms.  “they make mouths at me” is probably a more precise rendition of the Hebrew than “they curl/shoot out their lips”, but the latter is actually something the reader can visualize and understand.
  3. Modern translations use quotation marks in the Psalms when a different voice chimes in, and it will be helpful to have them brought into our Psalter, as this example demonstrates.

I have already printed out the Psalter and begun to use them in the Daily Office.  I’m hoping the excitement of trying out this newly-completed draft will help me keep up with the offices more regularly this season, and I heartily encourage all of you to do the same.  One of the beautiful treasures of our Prayer Book tradition is our classic Coverdale Psalter, and this re-translation of them is making them easily accessible to the modern reader.  I suspect this will be one of the best features of the 2019 Prayer Book.

Who shall dwell in thy tabernacle?

On the 3rd Morning of the month, the first Psalm is Psalm 15:

Lord, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle? or who shall rest upon thy holy hill?
Even he that leadeth an uncorrupt life, and doeth the thing which is right, and speaketh the truth from his heart.

Whoso doeth these things shall never fall.

One of the many, many advantages to praying the entirety of the Psalter each month is that we have innumerable opportunities to hear the same psalms juxtaposed against various and sundry contexts.  With All Saints’ Day, and its usual transferred Sunday, awaiting us tomorrow, one might find this an opportune Psalm to reflect upon the universal call to sainthood upon all God’s people.  The opening question – who gets to live in God’s house – is asking point blank for the qualifications of a Saint.  What does holiness look like?  What kind of person gets to live in God’s new heaven and earth?

Verses 2 through 6 describe a litany of virtue – doing good, speaking the truth, humbly refraining from exalting oneself, respecting those who fear the Lord, who keeps his word and lends even at personal loss.  Of course, this is not a complete theological statement; we know that righteousness purely by works and deeds is impossible for us sinners.  But this Psalm shows us two things: it depicts the Righteous One (Jesus) and the end state of righteousness to which he has called us.  We are all invited to receive the Way, Truth, and Life; we are all invited to practice righteousness and to grow in grace.

Psalm 15 shows us where we’re going.  Let that sink in as you pray it in Morning Prayer today.

Halfway through the month…

We’re about halfway through the month now.  How are you keeping up with the monthly Psalter?  Now that it’s the 15th, we’re at Psalms 75-77 this morning and the massive Psalm 78 this evening.

If you’re making a special point of praying all the Psalms this month and catching up on the backlog if you miss an Office, consider making use of Midday Prayer and Compline.  Although they have their own recommended Psalms, there’s no shame in swapping out those for the Morning & Evening Psalms that you missed!  You could even plan ahead – if you know you’ll be out and busy one evening, you could shift over some of those evening Psalms into the Midday Office and perhaps save some for Compline at bedtime.

This evening, though, you’ve got Psalm 78 to contend with – the longest Psalm that is read in one go.  If you feel the need to break it up, the first 39 verses comprise a decent unit of the Psalm, and verse 40 to the end is a good second “half.”  It’s an historical psalm, to a large extent, so the overlapping stories of those two halves are mutually informative, so it doesn’t “ruin” the experience of Psalm 78 if you divide it in two that way.  Like any other portion of Scripture, there is merit both in experiencing it in smaller pieces as well as in its entirety.

In a rush?

In a rush today?  Not sure you’ve “got time” for the Daily Office?

One unconventional way you could shorten the Office, without sacrificing too much of its mainstay ingredients, is to shift some of the daily Psalms into the position of the Canticles.  For example, this morning you would pray Psalm 38, read the OT lesson, then pray Psalm 39 as the 1st Canticle; then read the NT lesson, then pray Psalm 40 as the 2nd Canticle.  In the evening you’d pray Psalm 41 before the lessons, and Psalms 42 and 43 as the Canticles.

The benefits of this little cheat are that that you keep up with the monthly Psalms and retain the rhythm of “read, respond; read, respond” that characterizes the center of the liturgy in the Anglican tradition.  Obviously, the downside is that you lose the usual canticles.  But if you’re praying the Office in full more often than not, then the loss of those relatively-static features is not as great as missing some of the month’s Psalms.

Don’t forget, also, in the rubrics of Texts for Common Prayer, we are permitted to skip the Confession and the Apostles’ Creed, provided they are said once per day!  So if your morning gets out of hand, take advantage of the new book’s leniency and give yourself a break in the morning; just be sure to put all the pieces back together at Evening Prayer 😉

Beginning of the month

It’s the 1st of October, the beginning of a new month!  The traditional pattern in the Prayer Books before the 20th century is to pray through the Psalms in 30 days, beginning on the 1st of each month.  In the 1928 and 1979 American Prayer Books, new cycles were introduced for those who wanted a shorter Daily Office by praying fewer Psalms at a time.  The 2019 Prayer Book is also drafted to present a 60-day Psalter option.

If you don’t normally, consider taking this month to rise to the challenge of the original plan of Psalm prayer.  This is really the bread & butter of the Daily Office, and was once the backbone of Western spirituality, especially before the proliferation of hymns and songs a couple centuries after the Reformation.

At Morning Prayer today pray Psalms 1-5, and at Evening Prayer pray Psalms 6-8.
Tomorrow it’ll be Psalms 9-11 in the morning and Psalms 12-14 in the evening.
Wednesday’s Psalms are 15-17 in the morning, and Psalm 18 in the evening.

The full 30-day table of Psalms is here.

Whatever you undertake, endeavor to stick to it until you’ve gotten through the whole cycle.  And be sure to pray them out loud, pausing at the line breaks, so you have time to take in what you’re saying!