Thursday, November 17, 2016

Double Book Review: Psalms and New Testament and Vespers for Sundays and Feasts

Readers have probably noticed that I am reviewing a lot of books lately. Of course, Christmas is not so very far away and books always make great gifts for people who still use these odd manipulables of paper, glue, string, leather, and cardboard, but the main reason is that I have been flooded with wonderful books to review and have even had to say no to some offers.

I have paired together two books today, a beautiful edition of the Psalms and New Testament from Baronius Press, and a magnificent new complete Vespers for Sundays and First Class Feasts from Angelus Press. Part of the reason they come together in my mind is that both have the nice black cover that, to my mind, immediately says: "Liturgical book!," even if the Baronius book is meant for personal devotion.

Baronius's Psalms & New Testament

The Psalms and New Testament volume is simply delightful. I myself had been searching for a long time for a compact Bible to use for studying in English the psalms I pray in Latin, and for doing lectio divina with the Gospels. It might just be a personal thing, but I can't stand hauling around gigantic Bibles. It's much nicer to be able to pop a little book in your briefcase or backpack and take it on the road or to the chapel. Moreover, I wanted the Bible to have the Douay-Rheims translation, because it's by far the most helpful for those who are immersed in the traditional Latin liturgy, which uses the Vulgate. As time goes on, my distaste for other translations has increased as I have seen how remote they are from the Roman Catholic tradition. This is notoriously true of the New American Bible, which is a paraphrastic and stylistic travesty (written, as Anthony Esolen once quipped, in "Nabbish"), but it is also true in subtle ways of the Revised Standard Version.

This Baronius edition, therefore, which contains the Douay-Rheims/Challoner has exactly suited my lectio needs over the past few couple of months, and I suspect it will suit the needs of many others, too. It is not quite pocket-sized but it is conveniently small (the photos show that). The cover is flexible leather. As one would expect of top-end Baronius books, the binding is sewn in signatures and the edge is gilt. There is a single yellow ribbon.

The print is quite small, so if you have good vision or good reading glasses, it will be fine, but if you need a larger print for comfort, you'll have to search elsewhere. The formatting of the text is elegant and the typeface old-fashioned but not distractingly so. Cross-references are abundant.

The notes, which are from the Challoner edition of the mid-18th century, are few but potent. They tend to arise at passages that Protestants twist to mean something other than the Catholic Church teaches, or at places where the text is very obscure. I like their vigorous tone and theological meat, which is such a far cry from the spiritually desiccated and ecumenically neutered notes one sees in more recent Bibles.

The Psalms are printed first (pp. 1-78), in the usual Douay-Rheims style, where under each Psalm there is its Latin title, a one-line summary, and the Hebrew description of the Psalm, which in Vulgate Bibles is numbered as the first verse. The Fathers of the Church and the medieval commentators often made a big deal out of these at times rather obscure titles.

Once again, there is a benefit in re-publishing an older edition of Scripture. As C. S. Lewis says, past generations did not have the hang-ups we have. Thus, the editor's summary of Psalm 48 (pictured above) reads: "The folly of worldlings, who live on in sin, without thinking of death or hell." You won't find that in Today's Inclusive Bible.

The Baronius Psalms and New Testament is the best compact book of its genre (i.e., psalms and NT in one volume) that I have ever seen. It has become an invaluable component of my morning routine.

Angelus's Vespers for Sundays and First Class Feasts

In my capacity as choirmaster and schola director, I am frequently in the position of having to create Vespers booklets for special occasions. Since we often sing traditional Roman Vespers, it typically involves cutting and pasting from a PDF of the Liber usualis, supplemented by Benjamin Bloomfield's psalm-tone generator. There are times when I have thought: If this is how much time and expertise it takes to get chanted Latin Vespers ready, no wonder so few people and places are doing it!

Enter this incredible resource, hot off the press. If you want to sing Vespers in the usus antiquior on any Sunday or Holy Day of the year, everything you need is present in this 336-page book, clearly typeset in black and red and very easy to find. It is as if someone took all the helpful Vespers material out of the Liber usualis and reorganized it for non-experts and without any shortcuts or abbreviations.

(Apologies for the fuzzy images; my camera is not very good and neither is the steadiness of my hand.)

Here are some photos of the "Common of Sunday Vespers" to give a sense of how the chant and text are laid out.

Then, if we look (for instance) at the first Sunday of Advent, we get the proper antiphons for the Sunday psalms, the Chapter, Hymn, Versicle, and Magnificat antiphon, and the Collect for the day, as well as which Benedicamus Domino to use. Whoever put this together was aiming to make it as user-friendly as possible. There are two ribbons, a black and a red, which is all that one would need (one for the common, one for the proper).

Finally, as in the Liber usualis, this book groups together Vespers psalms and the Magnificat (simple and solemn) according to the eight tones with all possible terminations.

A pastor who wishes to bring sung Sunday Vespers back into his parish or a Music Director who has the possibility of doing the same should acquire this book post-haste and consider investing in multiple copies of it. What a vision: a parish whose hymn-racks are lined not only with the Parish Book of Chant or the Proper of the Mass or the Lumen Christi Hymnal but also with this Vespers volume... a parish where increasing numbers of families come back to the church at 4:30 or 5:00 pm to chant Vespers together, week after week. It is remarkable how much of a difference the right book can make. This is one we have been waiting for for decades.

To order the Baronius Press Psalms and New Testament ($24.95), visit here.

To order the Angelus Press Vespers for Sundays and Feasts ($39.95), visit here.

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