The Revised Grail Psalter:
A Renewed Evangelization
The Psalms are integral to our lives as Catholics. Sometimes we are criticized because we do not have a good grasp on the Bible, and are unable to stand up for our Faith. As Catholics we are blessed with the Truth, a fullness given to us from Sacred Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Church. As a triune guide, it is exciting to explain to others the richness of our Faith. The way we can prove and defend our Biblical roots is through the continued use of the Psalms, each and every day at Holy Mass, in our personal prayer and by praying the Liturgy of the Hours.
Throughout the history of Holy Mother Church, the Psalms of King David have been an integral part of the worship of God. As a core of Judeo-Christian belief, Psalmody is ever present in our Mass, perhaps more than the average person thinks—the entrance, psalm proper, alleluia, offertory, and communion to name a few. Through the use of psalms, as opposed to simply swapping them out for catchy hymns, the faithful can actually participate by praying and singing the Mass. Although hymns have their purpose, they need not replace prayers the Church is asking us to proclaim in word and song.
History of Modern Psalm Sets
Presently, there are several English Psalters approved for use in the United States. Among them are the the Grail Psalter (1963) used in the Liturgy of the Hours, while the New American Bible (NAB) Psalter (1971) is in use in all other liturgical books. Venerable Pope John Paul II spoke about the need for a revision of the Psalms used at Mass. In the past several decades, many versions of the Psalms have been proposed, some of which made use of gender-specific paraphrasing, and were not approved for use.
The aforementioned Grail Psalter has been a project of several monastics, lay communities and scholars throughout the world. In the early 1950s, Fr. Joseph Gelineau, SJ, prepared a French translation of the Latin Psalms, set to a responsorial refrain and metrical verses. Approximately ten years later, the Grail Ladies, a secular institute in England, completed the project of translating Fr. Gelineau’s psalmody into English, bearing the title of The Grail Psalter (1963).
This original version was highly praised for its ease of chanting and recitation, especially in community. Over time, however, the increased study of the original Hebrew texts found the translation to focus more on rhythmical pattern than on precision of text.
Official U.S. Psalter
This past March, the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments granted its official recognitio of the Grail’s 4th edition, named “the Revised Grail Psalter” just a few days before it approved the new English translation of the Missal.
The Revised Grail Psalter will thus be the official text used in all future editions of liturgical books published for the United States, and for most other English-speaking countries. In consideration of the principles of Liturgiam Authenticam, the 2001 Vatican directive on liturgical translations, we find needed clarity: "The original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet."
The Song of Psalms
It is important to remember that the Revised Grail Psalter is speaking of the psalm texts, not merely the musical notation. The texts are currently open to composition, and judgment will need to pass to make sure the new compositions are in keeping with the Church’s clear directives on Sacred Music. Although we can recite them, the Psalms are really meant to be sung, even if done in a simple fashion.
What does this mean for the Church?
Thanks to the Benedictines of Conception Abbey in Missouri: “the faithful who attend any liturgy in English, The Revised Grail Psalms means consistency in what they’ll hear. For musicians and those who use the Psalms for choral recitation or chanting, it means a translation well suited to these uses while retaining integrity of translation. All in all, the consistency and fidelity to the ancient texts of the Psalms means that the Revised Grail Psalter will help promote a more effective, unified liturgy and catechesis.”
In short, we are given the Psalms as truly an incredible gift from God, a musical offering to Him on High. They are so very colorful in language, emotion, praise, and thanksgiving. May we better comprehend this great responsibility within Sacred music and evangelization, enkindling in us the desire for Truth and Beauty within our earthly Liturgies, our foretaste of that Heavenly Liturgy which we journey as faithful pilgrims.