A reader recently wrote to me about the practice of setting psalms to common hymn tunes. Many of us have become accustom to hearing the psalms sung to the Gelineau tones, Conception Abbey tones, or other tones. There is also the practice of through-composed verses of the psalms. But the permission allowing for the setting of psalms to hymn tunes appears to be ambiguous. This was even brought up by Pray Tell in mid-2011.
The question hinges on the interpretation of GIRM, par. 61:
In the dioceses of the United States of America, the following may also be sung in place of the Psalm assigned in the Lectionary for Mass: either the proper or seasonal antiphon and Psalm from the Lectionary, as found either in the Roman Gradual or Simple Gradual or in another musical setting; or an antiphon and Psalm from another collection of the psalms and antiphons, including psalms arranged in metrical form, providing that they have been approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or the diocesan Bishop. Songs or hymns may not be used in place of the responsorial Psalm.
The difficulty lies in the interpretation of “psalms arranged in metrical form” and their need to be “approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or the diocesan Bishop.”
I am curious to hear how our readers, especially the wonderful musicians among us, interpret this passage and whether the USCCB has issued any guidance on this matter. The USCCB has historically been generous in its permission for non-official psalm texts to be set to music and sung during the liturgy. But does the same generosity extend to metrical arrangements of psalm texts?
I was first introduced to the practice of setting psalms to a common hymn tune in graduate school. This became a good practice for singing psalms at our prayer services when a cantor was not available. The book that we relied on to set our psalms to hymn tunes was A New Metrical Psalter by Christopher L. Webber. This resource provided the psalms texts that could then be matched up with Short Meter, Common Meter, and Long Meter tunes.
I must admit that I am a bit unsure of the practice. It always seemed to transfer the psalm text out of the realm of a reading and into the realm of hymnody. I am curious to here the opinion of those who have more experience in this area.
But this also brings me to some general questions about the way in which your community handles the proclamation of the responsorial psalm.
What resources do you turn to for the responsorial psalm? How does your community sing the responsorial psalms? What creative practices has your community developed?
Please comment below.