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Psallité — Another Collection of Psalms and Antiphons

Online Edition – September 2006

Vol. XII, No. 6

Psallité — Another Collection of Psalms and Antiphons

Cardinal Medina: “More Precise Terminology Would be Advisable”

Review by Susan Benofy

Psallité “A new collection of entrance, responsorial, and communion songs inspired by the antiphons and psalms of the Roman Missal. The style of the music is eclectic — with influences ranging from chant to reggae to folksong but in all cases essentially vocal”.

Three-volume set (Years A, B, C)
The Collegeville Composers Group
Liturgical Press (St. John’s Abbey-Collegeville) Price: $59.95
Publication Date: October 2006

(Samples to download )

“All of Christ’s faithful likewise have the right to a celebration of the Eucharist that has been so carefully prepared in all its parts … that their faith is duly safeguarded and nourished by the words that are sung in the celebration of the Liturgy”.

Redemptionis Sacramentum §58

Few Catholics today find their faith “safeguarded and nourished” by the texts sung at the usual Sunday Mass. The Church herself gives us words to sing at Mass but especially for the changing parts of the Mass — Introit, Offertory and Communion — we usually replace them with songs about gathering in, and telling our story. Sometimes we even “sing a new church”. This is not what the official liturgical documents intend.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) in its original form provides three options for the text to be sung during the Introit, Offertory and Communion processions. They are:

1) The antiphon and psalm of the Graduale Romanum
2) The antiphon and psalm of the Simple Gradual, or
3) another liturgical song suited to the part of the Mass, the day or the season and having a text approved by the Conference of Bishops.

These options are given explicitly in GIRM §48 (Introit) and §87 (Communion), and implicitly in §74 (Offertory), which says the options are the same as for the Introit.

The version of the GIRM used in the United States, however, was adapted by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The adapted §48 says:

48. …In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop. (bold text shows US adaptations)

GIRM §87 was similarly adapted. So in the United States, the Introit, Offertory and Communion chants may come from “another collection of psalms and antiphons”; also, in contrast to the universal GIRM, these alternate texts may be approved solely by a diocesan bishop. In addition, the US version of GIRM §61 permits a substitute from “another collection of psalms and antiphons …” even for the Responsorial Psalm — again, unlike the original GIRM.

These special provisions for the United States did raise questions in 2001, when a draft of the proposed American Adaptations was submitted to the Holy See for recognitio.

Cardinal Jorgé Medina Estévez, then-Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW), in a letter to the US bishops, mentioned several items which needed amendment or clarification before recognitio could be granted. In particular:

Perhaps more precise terminology would be advisable for 48n.3, 61n.2, 74n.3, and 87n.3 the common unclear element being the phrase “another collection”. The idea itself of a collection of such material approved by the Bishops is clearly very sound, and this Dicastery is indeed gratified that Bishops are taking this matter so promptly in hand after the publication of the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam. (Cardinal Medina, October 25, 2001)

Clearly Cardinal Medina viewed the term “another collection” as referring to a specific collection formally approved by the bishops’ conference, and expected such a collection to fulfill the requirement of Liturgiam authenticam §108:

108. Sung texts and liturgical hymns have a particular importance and efficacy. Especially on Sunday, the “Day of the Lord”, the singing of the faithful gathered for the celebration of Holy Mass, no less than the prayers, the readings and the homily, express in an authentic way the message of the Liturgy while fostering a sense of common faith and communion in charity. If they are used widely by the faithful, they should remain relatively fixed so that confusion among the people may be avoided. Within five years from the publication of this Instruction, the Conferences of Bishops, necessarily in collaboration with the national and diocesan Commissions and with other experts, shall provide for the publication of a directory or repertory of texts intended for liturgical singing. This document shall be transmitted for the necessary recognitio to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. (emphasis added)

But a more precise definition of “another collection” did not appear in the US version of the GIRM when it was approved March 17, 2003. No “repertory of texts intended for liturgical singing” has yet been presented to the bishops. Multiple psalm translations and paraphrases continue to be sung by Catholic congregations, and there is no “relatively fixed” text of the psalms that is regularly sung at Mass.

“Flexibility throughout the Mass”
This confusing situation dates from the original implementation of the Vatican II reform, when the permission to use “other collection of psalms and antiphons” was given.

In February 1969, the Newsletter of the US Bishop’s Committee on the Liturgy (BCL) reported that the Holy See had approved several liturgical provisions requested by the US bishops. Among them was the approval of an English translation of The Simple Gradual and “other collections of Psalms and antiphons”:

The approbation of “other collections of psalms and antiphons in English … as supplements to the Simple Gradual, for liturgical use in the dioceses of the United States, including psalms arranged in responsorial form, metrical and similar versions of psalms, provided they are used in accordance with the principles of the Simple Gradual and are selected in harmony with the liturgical season, feast, or occasion” was confirmed. (ellipsis and quotation original)

A news report on this approval published in the National Catholic News Documentary Service (now Catholic News Service) January 27, 1969 says:

This provides a wider choice of music for congregational singing at Mass as alternatives to the fixed texts of the Roman Missal.… The reason for this decision was to permit substitute texts to be used without waiting for the composition of musical settings of the antiphons of the Simple Gradual.

At that time several translations of the Psalter had been approved for liturgical use, and there was a general desire among some liturgical advisors to the bishops for as many adaptations and alternatives as possible. For example, in two articles on the Order of Mass in American Ecclesiastical Review, Monsignor Frederick McManus stressed the flexibility of the new Rite and the choices available.

The reference in the revised order to “other song” opens the door as wide as may be and creates the first of many instances where priests, consulting with others, are responsible for sound choices of texts suited for Mass. (September 1969, p. 196)

What is important is flexibility throughout the Mass. This is obvious … when there are the widest options, for example, in the songs to accompany the three traditional processions. But we should go a step further and ask just where the present rigidity of the Roman liturgy lies. Probably not in the structure of its parts.… More likely the real official inflexibility is in the texts themselves, in the official language, in the demand that, with few exceptions like the prayer of the faithful, an appointed text be adhered to. (December 1969, p. 400, emphasis added)

Monsignor McManus’s opinions carried great weight. He was a member of the Advisory Board of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) that was involved in liturgical translations, including that of the Simple Gradual. Also, as Director of the BCL Secretariat for the Liturgy, he advised the bishops on all liturgical proposals from ICEL. Furthermore, he was a member of the Consilium, the committee of experts and bishops appointed by the Holy See to carry out the details of the liturgical reform. The Consilium was in charge of reviewing texts and proposed adaptations and granting the required recognitio on behalf of the Holy See.

In 1970, a translation of the antiphons in the Simple Gradual, complete with new musical settings and psalm tones adapted for several different translations, was published: The Simple Gradual for Sundays and Holy Days (London: Geoffrey Chapman). But the book was rarely used, and today it is unknown. However, the “alternatives” that were approved while “waiting for the composition of musical settings of the antiphons of the Simple Gradual” are still with us.

Thus, though there have been protracted debates on details of official texts of the Missal and Lectionary, which require formal approval by the bishops’ conference and the Holy See, texts that had not received any sort of approval appeared in these “other collections” and were — and are — used in the liturgy. Even Psalm translations formally rejected for liturgical use (e.g., the 1991 Revised New American Bible, the New Revised Standard Version, and the 1993 Grail Psalter) are sometimes sung at Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours.

Revised Grail Psalter
In November 1984, the US bishops were asked to approve for liturgical use a revision of the 1963 Grail Psalter, which had recently been revised to incorporate inclusive language. The revised version failed to gain the required two-thirds affirmative vote. Later, the Chairman of the BCL, Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, issued a statement on this Psalter and the question of inclusive language. It was subsequently published in Thirty Years of Liturgical Renewal: Statements of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy. (USCC 1987, pp. 249-251)

The editor of this volume, again, Monsignor Frederick McManus, wrote an introduction to this statement in which he explains that lack of approval for liturgical use means that this translation cannot appear in liturgical books like the Lectionary. But it might be used in the liturgy, he says.

Indeed, it may be used in those parts of the liturgy for which prescribed or appointed official texts may be replaced almost at will, for example, by hymns or other songs with appropriate texts.

…[T]he new version may well be used at the Eucharistic celebration as a substitute for the appointed texts of the entrance and communion processions — along with hymns and various responsorial songs, which are rather freely chosen. (p. 248, emphasis added)

Monsignor McManus justifies this last statement by a reference to the bishops’ 1968 approval of “other collections of psalms and antiphons”. That is, he sees permission to use “other collections” in sung portions of the liturgy as a license to include texts explicitly judged to be theologically deficient.

While such an interpretation may seem absurd, it prevailed. The result is that Catholics are frequently expected to sing theologically defective texts at Mass — and more continue to be published.

“Alternative” Scripture Translations
Recent liturgical documents from Rome make it clear that this multiplicity of texts, especially of “alternative” Scripture translations, is not desirable. For example, the new US Lectionary (approved in June 2001) provided that only one translation of Scripture, the New American Bible [NAB], would be used.

Liturgiam authenticam requires that

In order that the faithful may be able to commit to memory at least the more important texts of the Sacred Scriptures and be formed by them even in their private prayer, it is of the greatest importance that the translation of the Sacred Scriptures intended for liturgical use be characterized by a certain uniformity and stability, such that in every territory there should exist only one approved translation, which will be employed in all parts of the various liturgical books. This stability is especially to be desired in the translation of the Sacred Books of more frequent use, such as the Psalter, which is the fundamental prayer book of the Christian people. (§36, emphasis added)

Moreover, in this translation, Liturgiam authenticam says,

the greatest care is to be taken so that the translations express the traditional Christological, typological and spiritual sense, and manifest the unity and the inter-relatedness of the two Testaments. (LA §41)

In particular, translations using so-called “inclusive” language are not acceptable, in part because they obscure the Christological interpretation of some passages, especially in the case of some Psalms.

But there has been resistance to change — as National Catholic Reporter columnist, John Allen, wrote in his online “Word from Rome” column on March 19, 2004:

Many English-speaking liturgists are resigned to the new dispensation, but in their hearts they cling to the approach embodied in the “old” ICEL. Hence, there is a risk of low-key resistance, even sabotage, as church officials get things rolling in parishes and dioceses.

Psallité — an Example of Resistance
The “flexibility” of the choice of texts made possible by the use of “other collections of Psalms and antiphons”, provides a fertile ground for such resistance and sabotage. For example, the Liturgical Press has recently published a new collection called Psallité. One volume of a projected three-volume set is now available.

Psallité uses the psalm and antiphon form of the Graduale Simplex (Simple Gradual) but is not a translation of it. In fact, while the Graduale Simplex provides only a few antiphons for each season, Psallité proposes a complete three-year cycle for Sundays.

The Psallité collection is the work of several composers called the Collegeville Composers Group. Its members are Paul Ford, Catherine Christmas, Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., Paul Inwood, and Carol Browning (who is identified as a Quaker Director of Liturgy and Music of a “Catholic Community” in California).

Psallité’s “Introductory Notes” say that it is “inspired by the antiphons and psalms of the Roman Missal”. The texts are said to be “biblically based” and it is claimed that the collection contains “memorable music that will change your life. Once this music gets under your skin, there’s no turning back”.

People will now experience that the promises God made in His Word are fulfilled in the Body and Blood of Christ.

(Introductory Notes)

Though its texts are only “inspired by” the Missal texts, the authors tell us,

Singing this kind of music helps our assemblies find their voices so that we all can sing the Mass, not just sing at Mass.

They say, further,

The verse tones of Psallité can be used with any translation of the psalms, especially any Grail-based translation. Because Psallité models the use of moderately inclusive, horizontally inclusive language, it employs the 1993 Grail revision sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops with the imprimatur of then-Bishop now Cardinal William Keeler, who was president at that time. The biblical canticles are mostly taken from the New Revised Standard Version, with some original translations for good measure.

But an imprimatur (“let it be printed”, the official declaration from the Church hierarchy that a work is free from doctrinal error) is not the only requirement for the liturgical use of a text. The NRSV has an imprimatur, but it has been declared unsuitable for liturgical use by the Holy See (in 1994).

The 1993 Grail translation (like the 1984 version) was expressly rejected by the US bishops for liturgical use, including using it as the basis for musical settings.

During the bishop’s discussion of this version of the Grail Psalter at their November 1993 meeting, one bishop asked if “approval for liturgical use” meant that this Grail translation would be used in a Lectionary.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, then chairman of the BCL, replied:

The version that will be used in the Lectionary is the Psalter from the NAB, so that’s the printed version. However, the musicians could compose psalm responses using this version. That’s what we’re really saying, that it allows for that kind of usage.

Thus, in rejecting this “inclusivized” Grail Psalter, the bishops in 1993 indicated their judgment that it was unsuitable for use as the basis of musical compositions for liturgy.

Although Psallité’s Introduction claims that it uses only “moderately inclusive, horizontally inclusive language”, the 1993 version of the Grail Psalter used vertical “inclusive language” — eliminating references to God as “He”. The version used in Psallité is said to be the 1993 version (the copyright states: “Psalm texts from The Grail [England], 1963, 1986, 1993, 2000”). There is no evidence that any “vertically inclusive” language was removed. For example, consider the first three verses of Psalm 23. In the current Lectionary (New American Bible) these read :

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want;
In verdant pastures He gives me repose.
Beside restful waters He leads me;
He refreshes my soul.
He guides me in right paths for His name’s sake.

Note that “He” appears four times. In the 1993 Grail Psalter, on the other hand, “He” does not appear appear at all.

My shepherd is the Lord, there is nothing I shall need.
Fresh and green are the pastures where you give me repose.
Near restful waters you lead me to revive my drooping spirit.
You guide me along the right path; you are true to your name.

The Grail translators employed a grammatical shift from third to second person in order to eliminate the use of “He” in reference to God. This directly conflicts with Liturgiam authenticam, which specifies:

57 b) In the translation of terms contained in the original text, the same person, number, and gender is to be maintained insofar as possible.

More than a decade ago, the US bishops found such “gender-neutering” objectionable. As their discussion in 1993 reveals, this “vertical” neutering was the primary reason the bishops rejected this “inclusivized” version of the Grail Psalter for liturgical use. For example, then-Bishop Francis George of Yakima (now Cardinal George of Chicago) objected:

And in the Grail translation, we have a rather systematic — quite systematic — elimination of “He”; although there is the occasional use of the possessive “His” in referring to God in Hebrew scriptures, the God whom we know to be the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.…

It can give the impression, when we pick up a book like this, that in fact the Tradition is not the carrier of revelation, but to some extent, its betrayal, to the extent that in the past we have called God “He”. And now, quite literally we seem to think that “he” must refer to a male — which of course it doesn’t in God’s case, and it has always been taught that way — but if now we’re saying, well, there is suspicion that it might do that, we cast reflection on the entire tradition which is our link to divine revelation.

And secondly, it’s another doctrinal consequence that the word “God” itself, devoid of any personalist, personal qualification by use of personal pronouns, becomes a kind of an empty keg — a container which we fill up with metaphoric content according to the needs of the people to whom it is addressed — and we risk losing revelation when we do that. So I would certainly ask you to reject this. Thank you.

from “What the Bishops Said”, transcription of the bishops’ discussion November 1993, Voices, April 1994, p. 27 (

Most bishops apparently agreed with this assessment and they rejected the 1993 version of the Grail Psalter for liturgical use (it failed to get the necessary 2/3 majority vote after an absentee ballot). Yet more than a decade later this same theologically and linguistically deficient translation is now being promoted by the composers of Psallité as a way for Catholics to “sing the Mass, not just sing at Mass”. In fact, the prevailing use of “alternative” texts such as this means that for the most part we have not been “singing the Mass”.

It should by now be obvious that neither politicized language nor music that “gets under your skin” helps people to enter into the Paschal Mystery, which is the purpose of participation in liturgy.

Psallité is precisely the sort of publication that justifies Cardinal Medina’s concern about the lack of clarity of the term “another collection”. The term has been in US liturgical documents for more than 35 years, but it has never been adequately defined.

It is nearly five years since the publication of Liturgiam authenticam’s directive to “provide for the publication of a directory or repertory of texts intended for liturgical singing”. As they proceed to fulfill this important assignment, the bishops will need to act on Cardinal Medina’s advice. “More precise terminology” is definitely needed.




The Editors