Friday, June 8, 2012

How shall we sing the Lord's song?

Just how should we pray the Psalms in corporate worship? It’s a tough question, and one that can generate more than a bit of heat when worship leaders gather. Should they be read or sung? If sung, should preference be given to chant or to metrical settings? And should the Psalm on the Lord’s Day be always placed directly after the First Lesson, or can we move it around a bit?

In the current issue of Liturgy, Emily R. Brink considers all of these issues in her essay entitled “Sustaining Practices of Psalmody”.
Given the three main practices of psalmody that have experienced such renewal in the twentieth century—chanting the psalms, singing the psalms reshaped into metrical poetry, and the varied possibilities in the responsorial approach—what practice(s) will best sustain and deepen the practice of psalmody as a foundation for Christian prayer?All of these practices have potential for providing the people a deep connection between the word of God and their lives of prayer. Each practice has strengths as well as challenges for the practice of a full-bodied psalmody in any given body of believers. All of them share an approach that covers psalms that have very different structures and content (therein lies need for much more study and reflection) and occurs in liturgies that may or may not have traditionally included the psalms. The accessibility of many new psalmody resources does not necessarily mean that the practice of singing the psalms has increased, but in many traditions psalmody has indeed been introduced or revived and renewed.
What do you think? Do you have a preference for one way of singing the Psalms over all others, or do you prefer to choose different settings for different occasions? What do you think of Brink’s suggestion that the Psalm can sometimes profitably be moved from its position after the First Lesson to another place in the service?

Emily R. Brink (2012): Sustaining Practices of Psalmody, Liturgy, 27:3, 56.
Emily R. Brink is a senior research fellow at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and a fellow of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. She was editor of three hymnals, including the 1987 Psalter Hymnal that begins with an entire metrical psalter. She was founding editor of Reformed Worship and is the current chair of the Consultation on Common Texts.

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