The Subject was Psalmody

My friend Andy Jones is talking about Psalmody over here, particularly that particularly particular Presbyterian/Reformed rarity known as exclusive Psalmody.  Andy makes this observation:

The primary problem with exclusive psalmody is that it forbids making mention of Jesus in your singing, which seems to run counter to every joyful note of the New Testament. Yes, the psalms make mention of the Lord in general fashion, but do not celebrate Him with the names, titles, and fullness given in the New Testament. How one can have Christian worship that makes no mention of Jesus is hard for me to swallow. Moreover, if our worship for all of eternity will be to sing “Worthy is the Lamb” then I am okay with us doing that in the here and now.

In the comments section, I had this to say:

The problem with exclusive psalmody as I’ve always seen it practiced is that the exclusive psalmists pick some of the worst texts possible! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the canonical Psalms are terrible, but that’s not what the exclusive psalmody people sing! They sing contorted, convoluted, stilted paraphrases of the Psalms, often to quaint or just downright drippy hymn tunes.

I believe in psalmody, and I’m even in favor of metrical psalmody, but it’s got to be a good, natural paraphrase and it’s got to be to a singable, schmaltz-free tune. In addition to the Trinity Hymnal, we have copies of the 1973 Book of Psalms for Singing in the pew. We rarely use it because I have rarely found anything in it that is very usable. (The Trinity Psalter is pretty much just a words-only version of the same book.) I sometimes use A New Metrical Psalter by Christopher L. Webber (Church Hymnal Corporation), which is infinitely more singable.

But hey, why don’t these exclusive psalmody people ever talk about CHANT? Chant allows us to sing the words of the Psalms in a good translation, not just in a metrical paraphrase.

Here’s what I didn’t say on Andy’s blog, mainly because I’d already hijacked his post enough with that egregiously over-long comment:

Apropos singing about Christ/to Christ in the Psalms:  Andy’s point is well-made.  But it’s a point that the ancient church got and for which the ancient church provided/provides a solution:  the singing (or saying, if you’re reading the Psalm instead of singing it) of a doxology–usually the “Lesser Doxology” a.k.a. the Gloria Patri–at the end of every Psalm.  (The “Greater Doxology” is the Gloria in excelsis.)

We read a Psalm every Sunday in worship:  the appointed Psalm from the Lectionary.  We almost always sing that same Psalm, in metrical form, as our Sequence Hymn (the hymn that accompanies the Gospel procession).  When I first arrived at the church, I would print a Trinitarian doxology at the end of the Psalm from time to time, but not every week.  I was very concerned with our worship not being too spiky*:  we already have people in the PCA who think we’re headed to Rome because we (gasp!) kneel for prayer.

This summer, I decided that instead of preaching the Gospel or Epistle lessons, I’d preach on the appointed Psalm every Sunday.  As I’ve been preparing for these sermons, I’ve been reading what Calvin and the other Reformers have to say about the Psalms.  The notes in the original (1599) Geneva Bible (not to be confused with the New Geneva Study Bible) have been especially instructive for me, teaching me that we need to see Christ in the Psalms.  After all, Christ saw himself in them (Luke 24:44)!  Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon’s Christ in the Psalms has been extremely beneficial too.

The necessity of seeing Christ in the Psalms, and of hearing many of the Psalms on the lips of Christ (perhaps more on that another day) has led me to the conviction that, accusations of spikiness or not, we need to append a Trinitarian doxology to our readings of the Psalms, every time, and as often as possible we need to sing an appropriate doxology at the conclusion of our Psalm-singing, too.

The aforementioned New Metrical Psalter has three such doxologies, in modern language:  one in Short Metre, one in Common Metre, and one in Long Metre.  The Scottish Psalter also provides metrical doxologies, including this familiar one in Long Metre:

To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
The God whom heav’n and earth adore,
From men and from the angel-host
Be praise and glory evermore.  Amen.

Thomas Ken (1637-1711), Bishop of Bath and Wells, wrote this stanza in 1709 (also in Long Metre) to be the final stanza for his morning hymn, “Awake, My Soul, and With the Sun” and his evening hymn, “Glory to Thee, My God, This Night” (a.k.a. “All Praise To Thee, My God, This Night”):

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heav’nly host:
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

It may also be used at the end of metrical Psalms that are in Long Metre.

Andy is absolutely right: our worship must be Christocentric. The ancient church, as well as our Reformation forbears, were way ahead of us on this one.

*In liturgical churches, a spike is a person, almost always male, who is more concerned with the intricacies of the liturgy than anything else, usually because he really, really likes dressing up in all the little outfits.


About revjatb

I am a father of six who is trying to do his best! My interests are varied. I have one blog, KnowTea, that is primarily focused on liturgy and worship and another one, Bengtsson's Baking, that is about, well, baking! I hope you enjoy both of them, and if you have any questions, please contact me!
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5 Responses to The Subject was Psalmody

  1. Cap'n Whook says:

    And at a certain Baptist college, Spike is a person, almost always male, who really, really likes to dress up in a bulldog outfit. (Samford mascot.)

    RevJATB, are you the (de facto) music minister at your church also? Mostly congregational singing with a pianist?

  2. RevJATB says:

    Pretty much. Actually it’s all congregational singing, as my predecessor had some beef against choirs and literally had the choir loft ripped out of the church. I dearly wish we had a choir, because there is no better way to encourage good congregational singing IMO than with a well-trained choir. We do use the piano most Sundays, but only because we cannot find a qualified organist who is also willing to commit to every Sunday. I have tried and tried to find an organist for three years, but to no avail.

  3. PaulB says:

    Good insights. I’d never heard the “spiky” reference before. Learned something new!

  4. Tim Horn says:

    I highly commend the Free Church of Scotland’s psalter, Sing Psalms, which was produced in 2003. The translations are modern and accurate — very comprehendable.

  5. RevJATB says:

    Thanks, Tim! I will have to get a copy ASAP!

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