PSALMODY & SING TO THE LORD
Wendy Silhavy We are reminded in Sing to the Lord that “Te Psalter is the basic songbook of the Liturgy” (STL 115b); and as musicians, it is the basic songbook of our life in Christ and in community. Even a brief study of the psalms reminds us that every circumstance in life, every emotion we experience individually and collectively, is contained in this songbook. It is the musical framework of our lives as Christians.
Te psalms are found throughout the Eucharistic Liturgy, most prominently as a part of the Liturgy of the Word. Te Responsorial Psalm “holds great liturgical and pastoral importance, because it fosters meditation on the word of God.” (GIRM, #61) Te Responsorial Psalm, led by the psalmist, invites the assembly into active response to the Word of God.
WITH THE VOICE OF A PSALM
REFLECTIONS ON PSALM 118
Alan J. Hommerding “Tis is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad.” (Psalm 118:24, NABRE)
As I write this (late November 2019), I’ve recently completed my annual step up Mount Chronos, which has led me to reflect on old men who repeat stories. Here’s one of my favorites to repeat:
It was a hot mid-July day; I was sitting with my mother in the kitchen of her house. We had just returned from a very difficult visit to see my father at the nursing home. He hadn’t known us at all, and when we’d been out in the garden area he showed no interest in anything, not even the flowers and birds that usually fascinated him. Mom and I didn’t speak it aloud, but we knew the
next life awaited him—soon. Looking out the kitchen window, tears in her eyes, my mother sang, with a catch in her throat, “Tis is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad.”
I knew the psalm refrain from Easter Sunday, and had even written a musical setting of it. How much more deeply I came to know it in that quietly remarkable moment, a moment very much in need of Easter. Years later, I would share this story during my Mom’s funeral Mass, at which we’d sung my setting of “Tis is the day.” Te day of her death, I reminded myself and everyone present, was also made by the Lord.
Responsorial psalm refrains are the primary lens that the Lectionary gives us to view the psalms, with the selection of verses for particular Sundays being a secondary lens. A reading of all of Psalm 118 reveals that nearly one third of it refers to adversity, trials, and dangers. Our Easter Sunday and Second
Sunday of Easter verses preserve little of this—it is Easter, after all—but the stone rejected and the looming presence of our mortality and death are still present. “Tis is the day,” then, becomes a prayer of hope and obedience.
Easter, of course, is likewise the lens through which followers of Christ view all of life; in this Easter refrain, therefore, joy and gladness have the last word. Yet we remember that scripture tells us the wounds of Christ are still visible in their eternal glory.
I make myself recall regularly in my music ministry that every day is made by the Lord: the day that the assembly blew the walls out with their singing; the day that the choir piled error upon error in rehearsal; the day that I’m not particularly in the mood to minister; the day that someone complains to me; the day that someone compliments me.
Tis is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad! •
Te roles of psalmist and cantor, clearly defined in Sing to the Lord, are often in reality held by one person. However, it’s worth separating the roles, at least in our own minds, so that each role is focused on the essentials of that particular ministry. Te Psalmist, as a part of the Liturgy of the Word, should think of themselves as a lector, proclaiming the Word of God in the midst of the assembly. Just as well-prepared lectors study and pray with scripture regularly, a well-formed psalmist should make the psalms a regular part of their prayer life, study, and spiritual reading. Te psalmist should be so well rehearsed that the notes on the page and the technique of singing come automatically, keeping the emphasis on proclaiming the psalm with “clarity, conviction, and sensitivity to the text, the musical setting, and those who are listening.” (STL 35) Tese principles should be kept in mind by those who choose the musical settings of the psalms, so that the Psalmist can be most effective in leading the assembly deeper into their understanding of sacred scripture.
Sing to the Lord reminds us that there are many different options for selecting
the setting of the Responsorial Psalm: the proper or seasonal Psalm in the Lectionary, the Latin gradual (noting that the vernacular text should be provided for the assembly), or an antiphon and psalm from another collection, including psalm paraphrases and metrical psalms. Te point to be considered above all in sorting through these options is encouraging the participation of the assembly. Te Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass is very clear when speaking about the Responsorial Psalm: “To foster the congregation’s singing, every means available in each individual culture is to be employed.” (LFM, 21)
In addition to the Responsorial Psalm, antiphons and psalms can be sung as the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion chants. Psalm settings, with their flexible antiphon-verse form, lend themselves especially well to these processions in our liturgy.
Te Psalms are an essential part of both our personal prayer and our public ministry. Let us take up our songbook and renew our commitment to “Sing a new song to the Lord!” (Ps 98) •
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