Mar 15, 2011

The Revised Grail Psalms

Online Edition:
March 2011
Vol. XVII, No. 1

The Revised Grail Psalms
New Liturgical Psalter Published by Conception Abbey and GIA Publications

Editor’s Note: This article introducing the Conception Abbey Revised Grail Psalms originally appeared in the Newsletter of the US Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship (BCDW), Vol. XLVII, January 2011, p 2-3. It is reprinted here with permission of the BCDW.

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued its recognitio for the Revised Grail Psalms for use in the liturgy in the United States on March 19, 2010 (Prot. n. 172/09/L). On January 3, 2011, the text of these psalms was published in two versions (for study and for singing) by GIA Publications. The reasons for the revision of the well-known and much appreciated Grail Psalms (1963) are presented here, as well as an example of the old and new versions of Psalm 63 (62):2-9, which appears both as a Responsorial Psalm in the Lectionary and in the Liturgy of the Hours (Morning Prayer of Sunday, Week I and Solemnities/Feasts).

The Grail Psalms was an excellent translation for introducing Catholics to the rich prayer forms of the Psalter at the time when the Church was moving into the vernacular liturgy after the Second Vatican Council. They provided a pastorally sensitive and enlightening way for Catholics to begin to appreciate the treasures found in the Book of Psalms. Their sprung rhythm was highly suitable for chanting, singing, or reciting the psalms in the context of worship. As with so many things, the need to renew these texts arose in light of subsequent scholarship. At the same time, the text has remained unchanged in many places, as a comparison [at right] of the two versions of Psalm 63 (62) shows.

Why was there a need for a revision of the Grail Psalms? When the Grail Psalms were first translated in the 1950s and early 1960s, the desire to retain strict rhythmic patterns similar to those found in their original Hebrew setting was a primary principle for the translators. In attempting to adhere to these rhythmic patterns, they would often abbreviate or paraphrase a text in preference to a more literal translation. By doing so, some instances of the rich biblical imagery of the Psalter were lost. Furthermore, in later decades, significant progress was made in the understanding of Hebrew rhetoric and how to incorporate the Hebraic style in English translation. Finally, there also arose a desire to return to a more elevated sacred language, in contrast to the informal and colloquial approach of the 1950s and 1960s.

Psalm 63 (62):2-9 provides a good example to consider how the revision of the Grail Psalms will serve both the Church’s understanding of the Psalter and its use in the liturgy. The two columns [below] provide the earlier setting of this psalm and its more recent revision. Following is a commentary on some selected verses.


2 O God, you are my God, for you I long;
for you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
like a dry, weary land without water.
3 So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.

4 For your love is better than life,
my lips will speak your praise.
5 So I will bless you all my life,
in your name I will lift up my hands.
6 My soul shall be filled as with a banquet,
my mouth shall praise you with joy.

7 On my bed I remember you.
On you I muse through the night
8 for your have been my help;
in the shadow of your wings I rejoice.
9 My soul clings to you;
your right hand holds me fast.


2 O God, you are my God; at dawn I seek you;
for you my soul is thirsting.
For you my flesh is pining,
like a dry, weary land without water.
3 I have come before you in the sanctuary,
to behold your strength and your glory.

4 Your loving mercy is better than life;
my lips will speak your praise.
5 I will bless you all my life;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
6 My soul shall be filled as with a banquet;
with joyful lips, my mouth shall praise you.

7 When I remember you upon my bed,
I muse on you through the watches of the night.
8 For you have been my strength;
in the shadow of your wings I rejoice.
9 My soul clings fast to you;
your right hand upholds me.

Verse 2 — In Hebrew, the noun shachar means “dawn”. Here the Psalmist uses its verbal form to describe looking to God as the new day begins at dawn. The Psalmist acknowledges that the first thing of the day is to look with longing to God, the source of all blessing. From our earliest Christian sources, Psalm 63 (62) came to be known as “The Morning Psalm” with its opening line making reference to seeking God at dawn. Then in verse 2c, notice the more literal rendering of the Hebrew basar as “flesh”, rather than the more generic “body”. In the Liturgy of the Hours, Psalm 63 (62) is given a place of primacy on Sunday morning, and also used at Morning Prayer on feasts through the year.

Verse 4 — This verse translates the important Hebrew word hesed as “love”. So often, this word in the psalms is a reference to the covenantal love of God toward His people, a love expressed in fidelity, loyalty, and faithfulness. In its transmission from Hebrew into the Greek of the Septuagint (LXX), hesed was rendered eleos, most often rendered “mercy, compassion”. Saint Jerome, certainly influenced by the LXX, rendered hesed in the Vulgate as misericordia, which in English is often expressed as “mercy”. In The Revised Grail Psalms, hesed is translated in three different ways: mercy, loving mercy, and merciful love, depending on its context.

Verse 7 — The expression “the watches of the night” refers to the two or three divisions of the night which marked the rounds of guard duty for the city or temple, during which the night hours were heralded. The verbal image painted here shows the Psalmist as one who, even as the progressive watches are announced through the night, remains awake reflecting on the wondrous ways in which God has protected and cared for him.

Verse 8 — The “shadow of your wings” is a reference to the wings of the creatures on the Ark of the Covenant. It is an expression of divine protection, security, and presence. To be before God brings the assurance of divine assistance, as the Psalmist speaks of “those who seek to destroy [his] life” (verse 10).

Printed copies of The Revised Grail Psalms can be purchased from The Printery House of Conception Abbey ( or GIA Publications ( The GIA web site also features an electronic version available for viewing as well as licensing guidelines, and an expanded history of this new Psalter: psalmDisplay.cfm.

Copyright © United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Used with permission.



The Editors