Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Psalm Problem Provisionally Solved

One of the most vexing problems of the modern Roman Rite concerns the Responsorial Psalm. Many people don't know that this is really a substitute portion of the Mass: the music between the readings should actually be found in the Graduale, but neither the text nor the music makes an appearance in any modern missalettes. Instead they are replaced by Bugnini's "Responsorial Psalm," which is much shorter and designed for antiphonal singing with the congregational.

That alone raises problems because there is no music drawn from history that belongs by right to this part of the Mass. Composers have been busy for decades writing suggested tunes, but a striking number of them are unsuccessful attempts to draw from popular song to generate something that people can pick up on right away, even instantly, and sing right back. The problem is that in most Masses, this portion of the Mass leaves you feeling slightly ridiculous because the music is such low quality and the form and harmonies are not rooted in any Roman Rite tradition.

It is a terribly tragic thing that the Psalms, the very foundation of Christian song from the earliest years of the Church, could be reduced in this way. We should be moved and thrilled at the Psalm, not left feeling a sense of regret at a lost opportunity.

In any case, let me cut to the chase. Composer Jeffrey Ostrowski has done a wonderful thing. He has written a complete (or near complete) cycle of Psalms for use in the ordinary form of the Roman Rite, and posted them all online for easy download, along with accompaniments, ready made for using right away. Here is the link, which you will want to bookmark and use often. He has done the hard work. It is only left to you to sing them.

In my view, he has done an excellent job in recapturing the solemnity of the old form within the limited new form structure. The text is the Responsorial Psalm but the style and approach is from our history. Neither does he sacrifice the call for external participation. It looks to me like anyone could pick up the tunes very quickly.

Again, the site is

Let us be very clear here. There is nothing that requires you to sing what you find in the Missalettes. These tunes can be changed and replaced. So far, there have been few options for this, and none that are free (so far as I know). In our parish, our chant director usually writes a new one for every week, and most quality music programs end up doing something like this. But with the Chabanel Psalms, there is now a viable option for every parish. The posting of these is a wonderful gift to the Church and to liturgy in the English-speaking world.

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