A Note From Fr. Jeremy
WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH THE SINGING PSALM?
Brothers and Sisters,
I love that Mass has lots of singing – it ought to have lots of singing. I myself appreciate when priests chant their parts of the Mass, including the collects (opening/closing prayers), the preface at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, and more as well. I also appreciate when all of us sing together. We can sing much more than just the hymns – we can chant the Our Father together, for example.
I wonder if you ever asked the question about singing the Psalm. The Liturgy of the Word is a lot of Bible readings:
a first reading (most often from the Old Testament),
a Psalm (normally sung, and – on some rare occasions – is from another book in the Bible),
a second reading (from one of the epistles of the New Testament), and
a Gospel reading (with a chanted Alleluia beforehand)
That is four readings from the Bible at a Sunday and Holy Day Mass. Why is only the Psalm chanted? Why not sing the First Reading? Why not have the deacon or priest chant the Gospel reading? What makes the Psalm so special that it gets sung rather than simply read?
As you might have guessed, there are multiple reasons and a long history to it as well.
Firstly, the Psalms themselves were always intended to be sung. When David and Solomon (and many others) were writing the Psalms, they were set to the ancient instruments and prayed aloud, in groups, and with musical accompaniment. If you would study the Psalms in their original Ancient Hebrew language, you would find that they are not written in simple, normal sentences. The Psalms are written as poetry and – even more than that – with a sense of rhythm. The Church, in following the original purpose of the Psalms, insists that the Psalms are to be chanted if at all possible. Again, they were originally heard as sung and always intended to be heard in such a way.
So that takes care of why the Psalms are chanted, but what about the rest of the readings? Throughout the history of the Holy Faith, there have been times where the Mass has been mostly sung and times where it has mostly been simply spoken. Perhaps you remember Holy Days or other special occasions where the music at Mass has been elevated or even when parts of the Mass that are usually spoken are sung as part of the celebration of the Holy Day.
With all of the back-and-forth throughout the Church’s history, we find Eastern Catholics generally favor more singing of the prayers of the Mass and Western Christians generally have the four hymns, the Psalm, and (occasionally) the Our Father. I would like to share with you my own general norm in these practices. As I do, please keep in mind that I am not claiming that this is the only right way and I am not claiming that my way is better than other priests. The Church gives wide
latitude to individual priests to determine how and when they will chant.
Having said that, this is my typical method: I like the Psalm chanted at every Mass, even daily Mass; I like to have the Preface (right before the Holy, Holy, Holy) chanted on both the Holy Seasons (Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter) as well as Holy Days; I like to chant the Our Father during those same days and seasons. My perspective is that chanting these parts of the Mass gives due credit to the special times of year when we have Holy Days and Holy Seasons. As we continue to get to know one another, I hope that we will all keep learning from one another and come to appreciate more and more all that chanting and singing can add to Holy Mass.
God be near,
Fr. Jeremy Ploof, pastor