24/8/08 – Singing the Psalms

In talking about the World Youth Day Mass setting, Missa Benedictus qui venit, we discussed how that the people’s acclamations during Mass should always be sung whenever possible.  These acclamations include the gospel acclamation, Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy Lord…), Memorial Acclamation (e.g. Christ had died…) and Great Amen.

Another part of the Mass that is often sung at Masses with music is the Responsorial Psalm.  The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says the following:

It is preferable that the responsorial Psalm be sung, at least as far as the people’s response is concerned. Hence, the psalmist, or the cantor of the Psalm, sings the verses of the Psalm from the ambo or another suitable place. The entire congregation remains seated and listens but, as a rule, takes part by singing the response, except when the Psalm is sung straight through without a response. (GIRM 61)

The reason for singing the responsorial psalm is historical.  The psalms are the songs and poetry of the Old Testament.  For centuries the Jewish people have always sung the psalms and would never consider reading them during worship.  Thus we sing the psalm in keeping with this heritage.

The responsorial psalm for each day is included in the lectionary with the other scripture readings.  It allows us to meditate and reflect on the scripture that has been selected for the day and is proclaimed at Mass.  The psalm is specifically chosen for that day, and it is that selection that should be sung whenever possible.  To meet pastoral needs and foster participation, however, alternatives can be chosen to the psalm of the day.  We will explain the use of seasonal or common psalms next week.

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