Gregory Polan, Grail Psalm Translator, Elected Abbot Primate

Abbot Gregory Polan of Concepolanption Abbey in Missouri has been elected Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Order. All the Benedictine abbots of the world are meeting this week and next in Rome, and the election was held this morning.

Abbot Gregory will be known to Pray Tell readers and to the liturgical world as the translator of the Revised Grail Psalter, which appears in English-language hymnals since the Missal was retranslated in 2011. This psalm translation has been approved by the Vatican as the text for use in all forthcoming liturgical books in the U.S., such as the forthcoming lectionary. Abbot Gregory is also composer of the lovely Conception Abbey psalm tones.

Abbot Gregory has been a monk of Conception since 1970, and abbot there since 1996, for nearly 20 years. He received a masters degree in theology from Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville.

Pope Leo XIII created the office of abbot primate in 1886, famously saying that the Benedictines were an “ordo sine ordine” – an order without order. But the abbot primate has no jurisdiction over other abbots or monasteries, each of which remain autonomous in the ancient Benedictine tradition. The abbot primate is a liaison to the Vatican, promotes unity among Benedictine monasteries and congregations, and represents Benedictines at religious gatherings throughout the world.

sant-anselmoPolan is the tenth abbot primate of the Benedictine order since 1886. He is the fourth American (after Rembert Weakland of St. Vincent’s in Latrobe, Jerome Theisen of St. John’s in Collegeville, and Marcel Rooney who is also from Conception.) Incidentally, here is a fun fact: there have been five monks from German-speaking lands (Germany and Switzerland) at the head of the order, serving for a total of 83 of the 120 years of the office’s existence.

As abbot primate, Polan will serves as head of the Benedictine university at Sant’ Anselmo in Rome. Sant’ Anselmo is home of the renowned Pontificio Istituto Liturgico, the pontifical liturgical institute, which has been instrumental in liturgical reform for the universal church.


  1. Congratulations to Abbot Gregory.

    What is the current status of the Revised Grail Psalter? I have read that the revised psalter is being revised again. Is there any indication of when we will see a definitive edition?

  2. Fr. Anthony Forte : Congratulations to Abbot Gregory. What is the current status of the Revised Grail Psalter? I have read that the revised psalter is being revised again. Is there any indication of when we will see a definitive edition?

    I don’t know about the Revised Revised Grail Psalter, but it’s interesting that the Conception Abbey monks have published a different revision of the RGP called The Ecumenical Grail Psalter. It’s not approved for liturgical use in the Roman Catholic Church. From the introduction: “Within a year of [the Revised Grail Psalter’s] publication, Christian leaders from groups beyond the Roman Catholic communion expressed appreciation for certain aspects of the texts of The Revised Grail Psalms, particularly the poetic quality of the text and the sprung rhythm, which facilitates recitation, chant, and musical settings of the texts. Among these leaders were an Episcopalian bishop, a bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of [sic] America, the president of a Baptist seminary, and the academic dean of a Calvinist seminary. They further inquired if we might consider publishing another edition of The Revised Grail Psalms, focusing more directly on the original Hebrew while seeking a more inclusive final text of the sort preferred in the current worship of their respective communions.”

    The Anglican Benedictine community of which I’m an oblate is in the process of adopting the Ecumenical Grail Psalter into its breviary. I like it a lot (although I will always love the Coverdale and 1979 USA BCP psalters).

  3. Is the current Revised Grail Psalter still approved for liturgical use or do we need to wait for the revised Revised Grail Psalter?

    1. @Fr. Anthony Forte:

      In the strange way that the Church has of doing these things, the RGP is still approved for liturgical use in the US, and has even been announced as being used in the forthcoming British Isles lectionary, despite the fact that the 2010 changes will apparently be undone in favour of the 2008 text and other (unknown) modifications requested by the USCCB will (or will not) be made.

      Everyone is currently in limbo. The world knows that the 2010 RGP is no longer the final text. No one knows what the “final” RGP will actually be, since this is still awaiting recognitio in Rome. Composers are still setting and publishers still publishing music based on the 2010 text, seemingly uncaring that this may soon be rendered obsolete. Other composers are keeping their tinder dry until they know what the actual “final” (it is to be hoped) text is going to be, or are setting other translations. Abbot Gregory has in the meantime published the Ecumenical Grail Psalter, which is apparently what he wanted to publish all along, had it not been for the strictures of CDW (for example, it has inclusive language). And so it goes on. You couldn’t make it up, really. Meanwhile, there is a strong movement for keeping the 1963 original Grail translation, which has served well on both sides of the Atlantic for over 50 years, and not adopting RGP’s more wordy version at all.

      1. @Paul Inwood:
        at least in the USA, unless an approval is officially withdrawn, once a psalm translation is approved for liturgical use, it can continued to be use for sung settings, which has the happy effect of allowing that particular repertoire to build rather than be gutted iteratively.

      2. @Karl Liam Saur:

        Yes, but you know what some pastors are like. They only want what’s in the Lectionary. If the final text in the book turns out to be different from what has been set and is being sung, they don’t want to know. Building a repertoire on an obsolete translation can be a risky business.

      3. @Paul Inwood:
        I only recently became aware of the Ecumenical Grail Psalter after seeing that the LP’s “Give Us This Day” began using it for the Morning and Evening prayer psalms (in place of the 2010 RGP). I am elated with this development! Although I initially looked forward to the publication of 2010 RGP, I was greatly disappointed with the overall elimination of the inclusive language that was made in previous revisions of the Grail Psalms (in 1983 and especially 1993). While I agree that recent biblical scholarship (since the original Grail Psalms were released in 1963) was needed to have a more authentic and richer translation, I do not see that gender-biased language is essential to achieving this objective. Certainly, “horizontal” inclusive language is increasingly important these days for acknowledging women in church life and liturgy. And is greater use of gender-neutral or “expansive” language inappropriate when referring to God? The 2010 RGP resumed the use of exclusively male pronouns for God. As I followed the work of Abbot Polan, I understood that he had to operate under the constraints of “Liturgiam Authenticam.” And I’m among the ranks of those who find that “LA” is an extremely regressive and overly centralized directive for preparing and approving vernacular translations (departing from the principles set by Vatican 2 and implemented shortly after by Pope Paul 6). I am now using the Ecumenical Grail Psalter for my daily Liturgy of the Hours – along with the revised inclusive and expansive language of the Psalter in “The St. Helena Breviary” used in the Episcopal Church.

    2. @Fr. Anthony Forte:
      Three actions are required for a vernacular liturgical text to be lawful: 1) canonical approval by a 2/3 majority of the de iure members of a conference of bishops; 2) recognitio of the Apostolic See; 3) promulgation by means of an executory decree by the president of the conference of bishops establishing the date when the mandatory use of the approved and confirmed translation becomes effective (and whether use of an earlier translation is or is not permissible from that date forward).

      There being no promulgation of the relatively few text revisions under discussion, the 2010 The Revised Grail Psalms remains the approved translation at this time.

      It has taken 26 years to get an approved English translation of the second typical edition of the Ordo Celebrandi Matrimonium. So it is understandable that the USCCB’s divine worship secretariat would want the Grail psalms contained in the ritual to have the latest revisions. But including those revisions would be canonically unlawful unless they were included in the text of the marriage ritual confirmed by the Apostolic See.

  4. We’re already seeing RGP1 and RGP2 in the US. Take a look at the psalms in the new marriage rite. A few slight variants.

  5. So, I have to ask, as a non-Roman Catholic… any chance that this would be a good time to try to get a version of the Grail Psalms published that includes the divine name of Yahweh as opposed to ‘The Lord’? I mean, since we have Grail Psalters seemingly developing for every conceivable need…

    1. The use of “Yahweh” is opening up another can of worms. Benedict 16 forbade its use, on the grounds (if I’m understanding his point correctly) that since many observant Jews never pronounce the sacred tetragrammaton (sp?), or the divine name, it is disrespectful to them to use it in hymnody or in scripture translations prepared for public proclamation.
      Other than the original English version of the Jerusalem bible, and older copies of St Louis Jesuit hymnals, the sacred word has vanished.

    2. @Father Robert Lyons:
      Nope. It’s not at all traditional in the Roman liturgy (see Jerome, Saint, Doctor of the Church, Translator and Controversialist…), and the brief (in historical terms) period when non-Scriptural songs could be used with that form of the Tetragrammaton (which is not necessarily accurate) was closed in the previous pontificate. I would note that concerns over using that form were not only percolating among traditionalist Catholics but also a number of progressive Catholics, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the wake of that change in policy has been fairly minimal as these things go.

      I have to say that, growing up, I was quite uncomfortable with songs that used that form, knowing how sacred the Name was among my many Jewish friends. Moreover, this was one reason for the emphasis on the Most Holy Name of Jesus: that was a name we could openly use in public worship.

  6. I’m fine with the tradition of using “the LORD” in small capitals to represent the Divine Name. I remember wondering why the guitar group in our university Catholic parish seemed to have no problem practically shouting the Name YHWH at Mass in one of those now-banned songs when Jewish worshipers wouldn’t dare. But then again, I wasn’t offended by my Old Testament professor saying the word. I was praying our (Episcopal) BCP 1979 daily office with a nun some years ago and the canticle for that morning (a Thursday) was the Song of Moses. When we got to “The Lord is a mighty warrior: YHWH is his Name” (it’s spelled out), I wondered what we’d do, and as it turned out, we both left a silence there instead of saying anything (most other translations say “The LORD is his Name”). I got all tingly, as it seemed we had both opted not to pronounce it, and I thought of the LORD dwelling in the space between the cherubim above the Ark. Cool. As for a psalter, I’d be fine with “the Lord” or “Adonai.” I realize the use of “Adonai” by non-Jews might be new, and some Jews don’t even say “Adonai” outside of actual liturgy (I’ve heard of the use of “Adomai” as a euphemism). And with that I realize Steve is right that this is another can being opened…

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