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Sing a New Psalm — and Canticle

by Gary D. Penkala

Current Divine Office

Divine Office All the Psalmody in the current Liturgy of the Hours for the United States (1975) comes from The Grail Psalter (1963). Members of a women's movement begun in The Netherlands in 1921, the Ladies of the Grail in Great Britain translated the Psalms, using the Jerusalem Bible and the French Psalms of Rev. Joseph Gelineau as their models. This Psalter, noted for its lyricism and ease of singing, was popular even before Vatican II. When the Divine Office was opened to the vernacular, with accompanying inclusion of more participation and singing, The Grail Psalter was chosen as its source of English psalmody.

The three Gospel Canticles (Benedictus, Magnificat, Nunc dimittis), the Te Deum and the Doxology are translations by the International Consultation on English Texts. ICET was an ecumenical organization founded in 1969 with the purpose of translating liturgical texts that various Christian denominations hold in common, like the Creeds, the Doxology, and the Lucan Canticles. These translations found their way into the official Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours. Perhaps most innovative was the new Doxology, "Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.". This caused no little dissonance with children and others who prayed the Rosary on a regular basis.

The other Scripture (Readings and Old & New Testament Canticles) is taken from The New American Bible (1970). The NAB, approved for use at Mass in the Lectionary for Mass, was used as source for most Scripture in the Divine Office.

Most other texts (Ritual, Antiphons, Responsories, etc) come from the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (1975). The Opening Prayers are from the 1975 Roman Missal/, also via ICEL.

All of this will change in a few years.

Current Lectionary

The Lectionary for Mass, first published in 1970, contained biblical texts from the New American Version of Scripture, produced by the Catholic Bible Association, sponsored by the U.S. Bishops' Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. The New American Bible has undergone considerable revision since then. Hence, in 1998, the Second Typical Edition of the Lectionary for Mass was published, with considerable changes to the Mass readings. The Psalms from the 1970 NAB were not changed, with much to the delight of cantors and parish musicians.

This 1998 Lectionary is what is currently on the ambos of our churches. All the psalmody (i.e. the Responsorial Psalms) will change in a few years.

Wherefore the New Psalmody?

The Committee on Divine Worship, an office of the USCCB Secretariat of Divine Worship, published its summer NewsLetter on just this topic. The monks of Conception Abbey (Missouri), under the direction of Abbot Gregory J. Polan, OSB, completed the Revised Grail Psalms in 2008.

Over ten years, the Grail Psalms were revised (and re-translated where necessary), bringing them in line with up-to-date principles of Scripture scholarship, matters of authentic translation and requirements for appropriate rendering for liturgical use. Of particular concern was that this new version of the psalms meet the requirements established in Liturgiam authenticam, the 2001 Instruction issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, enunciating principles for preparing translations of liturgical texts [Jarrod Thome, Tower Topics, Summer 2010].

The need for a new translation came about after acknowledging that the paraphrasing done by the Ladies of the Grail in 1963 for the sake of rhythmic poetic patterns was at odds with the precepts of Liturgiam authenticam, which demanded more authentic translations.

Approved by the Holy See in 2010, the Revised Grail Psalms have since been expanded to include the liturgical canticles of the Divine Office. The expanded version, now called Abbey Psalms and Canticles, was approved by the Holy See in 2018. The copyright on the original work had been held by Conception Abbey and was administered (legally and financially) by GIA Publications. In conformity with Liturgiam authenticam, the new texts will be copyrighted by the USCCB, taking them out of the hands of mercantile interests. There is no mention in the CDW NewsLetter, however, of whether or not fees and royalties will be collected on these psalms and canticles, as they are for the texts of the Mass.

Pre-publications Revisions

Hoping to have appeal beyond the USA to a broader English-speaking world, the responsible Vatican congregation globally distributed the not-yet-approved texts for comment. Subsequently, the Holy See proposed a number of changes, which in my opinion are steps backward from the high levels of the 2010 Roman Missal — Third Edition. The USCCB agreed to the changes and the CDW NewsLetter enumerated five categories of "emendations"

  1. Righteous and righteousness seemed too "stuffy" and just and justice were substituted.
  2. Inclusivity became an issue — the rather poetic children of Adam was out; the mundane the human race was in.
  3. Awesome, having socially lost its original meaning, "inspiring awe," for its teen description of a new pair of sneakers, has been replaced with wondrous — perhaps not bad.
  4. Merciful love apparently waxes too eloquent; the simple, even curt, mercy must suffice.
  5. And forebears — alas, thou art well too archaic; let's just go with ancestors.

Future Plans

The Abbey Psalms and Canticles are already being incorporated into newly revised ritual books, for example the Order of Baptism of Children. These texts will eventually appear in new editions of the Liturgy of the Hours, which has begun portions of its long review and approval process, and the Lectionary for Mass. No guess at a time line was include in the NewsLetter, but it will undoubtedly be many years for each project. Further, the Abbey Psalms and Canticles will likely be part of a future "liturgical Bible," pending revision of the New American Bible.


Here are two examples of how the new Abbey text will differ from the current Divine Office text:

Psalm 114:1-4
Current text:

When Israel came forth from Egypt,
Jacob's sons from an alien people,
Judah became the Lord's temple
Israel became his kingdom.

The sea fled at the sight:
the Jordan turned back on its course,
the mountains leapt like ams
and the hills like yearling sheep.

Abbey text:

When Israel came forth from Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a foreign people,
Judah became his holy place,
Israel became his domain.

The sea beheld them and fled;
the Jordan turned back on its course.
The mountains leapt like rams,
and the hills like yearling sheep.


Canticle of Mary [Magnificat]
Current text:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.

Abbey text:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
For he has looked upon his handmaid in her lowliness;
for behold, from this day forward,
all generations will call me blessed.

For the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age
for those who fear him.

He has made known the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit of heart.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones
and has exalted those who are lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,
mindful of his mercy,
Even as he promised to our fathers,
to Abraham and his descendents forever.


Alas, no mention of the future text for the Doxology. Bummer.

Article written 13 December 2019

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