Tag Archives: liturgy

The Revised Grail Psalter & Conception Abbey


psalms.jpgThe Revised Grail Psalter


The life of a Benedictine monk hinges upon the motto ora et labora, which is Latin for “pray and work”. Specifically, St. Benedict intended his followers to be deeply rooted in the psalms, drawing upon their richness in writing his holy Rule and expounding at length upon how they should be prayed. For nearly 1,500 years now, Benedictines have carried on the tradition of their founder, and the Order is well known for its dedication to the liturgy. It should come as no surprise, then, that when the U.S. Bishop’s Committee on the Liturgy wanted a new translation of the psalms for use in the liturgy, they approached Conception Abbey‘s own Abbot Gregory Polan to undertake a revision of the 1963 Grail Psalter.


What are the Grail Psalms?


In the years leading up to Vatican II, when the liturgy was still in Latin but moving toward
Joseph Gelineau.jpggreater lay participation, the psalm responses of the Mass were permitted to be sung in the vernacular. A French Jesuit by the name of Joseph Gelineau prepared a French translation of the psalms which was very rhythmic and worked well with a particular set of psalm tones. In response to his work, a community of lay women formed a secular institute called The Grail (of England) and undertook an English translation of Fr. Gelineau’s work. They employed scholars and musicians to work on the project and they began to release the fruits of their work in a series of books, each containing a few psalms, throughout the 1950s. The full version with all 150 psalms was released in 1963.


Just like the French Gelineau psalm tones, the 1963 Grail Psalter proved to be very well-suited for choral recitation, singing and chanting. It was soon incorporated into the Liturgy of the Hours.  While the lectionary in the United States used the psalms of the New American Bible and the Revised Standard Version, the 1963 Grail Psalms were also permitted for use as the Responsorial Psalm at Mass.  GIA Publications of Chicago featured these Responsorial Psalms in their Worship III Hymnal.


Why was a new translation needed?


The 1963 Grail Psalms made a wonderful transition from Latin into English because they were so easily understood, they had a clear poetic rhythm and they could be recited and sung with ease. All of these things were important objectives when the Ladies of the Grail set about their work. And while the 1963 Grail Psalter was very successful in this regard, there are places where the adherence to a set rhythm necessitated a paraphrase of the original Hebrew as opposed to a more authentic translation, taking into consideration the sometimes irregular rhythm of the Hebrew Psalms. Since Vatican II, however, we have seen a move to preserve sacred texts’ fidelity to their original sources.


Secondly, since the 1950s when most of these psalms were composed, “Much has happened in the area of biblical scholarship to enable us to understand better both the structure of Hebrew poetry and some of the more problematic texts,” Abbot Gregory said. He continued, “This scholarship will make a more accurate translation possible.”


Additionally, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments’ 2001 document Liturgiam Authenticam insists that a consistent translation be used in all the texts of the liturgy, which is currently not the case as far as the psalms are concerned. The Revised Grail Psalter will be the official translation used in the Lectionary, the Liturgy of the Hours, the texts for all books of the Sacraments, etc.


Conception Abbey.jpgWhy Conception?


Obviously, a project of this scope is quite the undertaking. But why were monks of Conception chosen to bring this work to fruition? As mentioned above, the mere fact that Conception Abbey is a Benedictine monastery is already a tally mark under the “pros” column. However, it is the combination of the scholarly pursuits of Abbot Gregory Polan that made the initial request from the U.S. Bishop’s Committee on the Liturgy in June of 1998 the first and obvious choice.

Abbot Gregory would tell anyone (and he told the Bishop’s Committee) that he is first and foremost an abbot. Next on the list, though, you’ll find “Scripture Scholar” and “Musician”. After working on a translation of a section of the book of Isaiah in the Revised New American Bible, the staff at the Bishops’ Conference–knowing also his musical background–rightly assessed that his combination of abilities especially suited him to the task of revising the Grail Psalter which, like the 1963 Grail Psalter, needed to be suitable for choral recitation, singing and chanting. When Abbot Gregory agreed then, mentioning that he was first an abbot though, the bishops were happy to communicate that they just wanted it done right.


So, Abbot Gregory began the project, enlisting the help of other monks of Conception
Abbot Gregory Polan.jpgAbbey, and after four years an initial draft was completed. This draft was then brought before a November meeting of the Bishop’s Committee on Divine Worship where it was approved to undergo the rigorous process to deem it an acceptable translation. And acceptable it was as the USCCB approved its widespread use in a 203-5 vote at their meeting of November 11, 2008. It is now awaiting approval from the Vatican.


What does this mean for the Church?


For the Faithful who attend any liturgy in English, the Revised Grail Psalter means consistency in what they’ll hear across the board. For musicians and those who use the psalms for choral recitation or chanting, it means a translation which is well suited to these uses without sacrificing the integrity of the translation. All in all, the consistency and fidelity to the ancient texts of the psalms means that the Revised Grail Psalter will help promote a more effective, unified catechesis.


For Conception Abbey, the Revised Grail Psalter is another way that they, in their 135 years since their founding, have been able to respond to the needs of the Church.


Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus



The copyright for The Revised Grail Psalms is held jointly by Conception Abbey and The Grail (England).  GIA Publications serves as the international literary agent for this new version of The Grail Psalms.


Copies of the Revised Grail Psalter will not be released until the recognitio is received from Rome. For more information you may contact:


Jarrod Thome
Director of Communications
Conception Abbey


Antonio Cañizares Llovera: Cardinal & NEW Prefect of the Church’s Worship Office

Today in Rome, the Holy Father appointed Spanish Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera,
Antonio Cañizares Llovera.jpg63, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He replaces Cardinal Francis Arinze.


Cardinal Cañizares Llovera was born in Valencia, ordained a priest in 1970 and has served as bishop in Avila, Granada and Toledo. As Archbishop of Toledo he was Primate of Spain, a diocese in that country that goes back to the 4th century. In 2006 Pope Benedict created him a cardinal and assigned him the Church of San Pancrazio.


The cardinal holds an earned doctorate in theology, specializing in catechesis from the Pontifical University of Salamanca. He’s spent time in the classroom, in administration and was an editor and author. For 7 years Cañizares Llovera was the head of the Spanish bishops’ office of doctrine. He serves the Holy See as a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.


Why the tetragrammaton (YHWH) is not allowed in the Liturgy

On August 10th I posted an article on the Pope’s prohibition of the use of tetragrammaton in the sacred Liturgy. You can read the original posting here.


A recent reflection on the restoration of this practice follows.


Why “Yahweh” Isn’t Used in Catholic Liturgy

Biblical Expert Says It Reflects Jewish Tradition

JERUSALEM, NOV. 21, 2008 (Zenit.org) – To understand the Vatican directive reiterating that the name of God revealed in the tetragrammaton YHWH is not to be pronounced in Catholic liturgy, it helps to know the history behind the Jewish tradition, says a biblical expert.

Father Michel Remaud, director of the Albert Decourtray Institute, a Christian institute of Jewish studies and Hebrew literature, explained to ZENIT that the message published in June by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments reflects current Jewish practice.

The Vatican note explained: “The venerable biblical tradition of sacred Scripture, known as the Old Testament, displays a series of divine appellations, among which is the sacred name of God revealed in a tetragrammaton YHWH — hwhw.

YHWH.jpg“As an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God, it was held to be unpronounceable and hence was replaced during the reading of sacred Scripture by means of the use of an alternate name: ‘Adonai,’ which means ‘Lord.'”

Father Remaud said that “until almost the year 200 B.C., the divine name was pronounced every morning in the temple in the priestly blessing: ‘The Lord bless and keep you: The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you'” (Numbers 6:24-26).

He said this blessing originated out of the context of the next verse in Numbers: “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

Left unsaid

Furthermore, the priest said that the Mishna, the Jewish law codified toward the end of the second century, “specifies that the name was pronounced in the temple ‘as it is written,’ while another denomination (Kinuy) was used in the rest of the country. After a certain period, the divine name was no longer pronounced in the temple’s daily liturgy.

“The Talmud leads one to understand that the decision was taken to avoid a magic use of the name by some.”


According to Father Remaud’s sources, ever “since the death of the high priest Simon the Righteous, about 195 B.C., the divine name was no longer pronounced in the daily liturgy.”

The expert compared the Talmud’s testimony with the Book of Sirach, which mentions Simon the Righteous in Chapter 50. Chapters 44-50 remember all “godly men” since Enoch, including Abraham, Moses and David.


Father Remaud said the seven-chapter passage ends with the high priest Simon pronouncing the divine name: “Then Simon came down, and lifted up his hands over the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, to pronounce the blessing of the Lord with his mouth, and to glory in his name; and they bowed down in worship a second time, to receive the blessing of the Most High” (Sirach 50:20-21).

Yom Kippur.jpgFrom the time of Simon the Righteous until the temple’s ruin, the name was only heard “as it is written” during the Yom Kippur liturgy at the temple of Jerusalem, where the high priest pronounced it 10 times, continued Father Remaud.


“On hearing the explicit name from the mouth of the high priest, the ‘cohanim’ [Aaron’s descendants] and the people present in the atrium knelt down, prostrated themselves with their face on the ground saying: ‘Blessed be the glorious name of his Kingdom forever.'”

The Mishna does not say that the high priest pronounced the divine name, but that the name “came out of his mouth,” he clarified.

A whisper


Moreover, continued Father Remaud, it seems that toward the end of the period of the second temple — 70 A.D. — the high priest now only pronounced the word in a whisper. This was explained in a childhood memory of Rabbi Tarphon (1st-2nd centuries), who recalls that even straining to hear, he could not hear the name.


The biblical scholar also noted that the formula of Exodus — “This is my name forever” (Exodus 3:15) — through a play of words in Hebrew is interpreted by the Talmud of Jerusalem as “This is my name to remain hidden.”


“Today, the divine name is never pronounced,” continued Father Remaud. “In the Yom Kippur office of the synagogue, which replaces the temple’s liturgy by the recitation of what took place when the temple existed, the people prostrated themselves in the synagogue when recalling — though not pronouncing — that the high priest pronounced the divine name.”


The Catholic priest noted that the first Christians called “Jesus by the term ‘Lord’ (Kyrios),” by which they “deliberately applied the term used in Greek to translate the divine name.”


“In Judaism’s liturgical tradition, this divine name was only pronounced in the liturgy of forgiveness of sins, on the day of Kippur,” he continued. “One might see an allusion to this tradition and to the purifying power of the Name, in this verse of the First Letter of St. John: ‘Your sins are forgiven for his names’ sake’ (1 John 2, 12).”

Dedication of the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran

How Lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts! My soul longs, yea, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.

(Psalm 84)

Lateran.jpgToday is a most unusual feast of the Church, the Dedication of the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran, a day when a church is born and dedicated for sacred rites. But the celebration is more than architecture; it is about the birth of men and women into eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ under the power of the Holy Spirit through the sacraments of He established for this purpose. The proper name of the Pope’s cathedral -not Saint Peter’s–is the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior, Saint John Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist at the Lateran. The honor the Church bestows on us today is remembrance of the cathedral on the day it was consecrated. It ought to be noted that the Church in Rome also liturgically remembers the basilica on the feast of the Transfiguration (August 6). The Lateran Basilica is “omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput…the Mother and head of all the Churches of the City and the World.”


The basilica was built by Constantine and dedicated by Pope Sixtus III in the 4th century.
Lateran baptistery.jpgOne of the best things about the Lateran is the baptistery, though it is a beautiful church in general, but I love the 8-sided baptistery. There one reads:


Here is born a people of noble race, destined for Heaven, whom the Spirit brings forth in the waters he has made fruitful. Mother Church conceives her offspring by the breath of God, and bears them virginally in this water. Hope for the Kingdom of Heaven, you who are reborn in this font. Eternal life does not await those who are only born once. This is the spring of life that waters the whole world, Taking its origin from the Wounds of Christ. Sinner, to be purified, go down into the holy water. It receives the unregenerate and brings him forth a new man. If you wish to be made innocent, be cleansed in this pool, whether you are weighed down by original sin or your own. There is no barrier between those who are reborn and made one by the one font, the one Spirit, and the one faith. Let neither the number nor the kind of their sins terrify anyone; Once reborn in this water, they will be holy.


And so we say with the words of Scripture: zeal for your house consumes me.

All Souls

The Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed -All Souls–follows the Solemnity of All Saints. The Church’s remembrance of our deceased friends and loved dates back to Saint Isidore of Seville’s Rule for Monks but it wasn’t until the monks of the Abbey of Cluny under the leadership of Abbot Odilio, who in 998 ordered all the Cluniac houses to observe a day in which the dead were prayerfully remembered. By the 13th century the custom was extended to the entire Church in the West; the Churches in the East have a similar day depending on what ecclesiastical community we are talking about. The custom of singing the Dies Irae set the tone and theology of this observance; today one rarely hears the Dies Irae sung in parishes because it is considered a “downer” and thus completely neglecting what the hymn says; it seems, however, to be making a come-back (even the 1928 BCP included the Dies Irae post World War I) as an apt expression of grief rooted not in civil secularity but in theology reminding faithful that we neither make not sustain ourselves. This feast like all other liturgical feasts points to God and to his love and mercy more than to us and our to condition.


Last Judgment.jpg 

An excerpt of an oration of Saint Gregory of Nazianzus


“What is man that you should be mindful of him, mere mortal  that you should care for him?” What is  this new mystery confronting me? I am both small and great, both lowly and exalted, mortal and immortal, earthly and heavenly. I am to be buried with Christ and rise again with him, to become a co-heir with him, a son of God, and indeed God himself.


This is what the great mystery means for us; this is why God became man and became poor for our sake: it was to raise up our flesh, to recover the divine image in us, to re-create mankind, so that all of might become one in Christ  who perfectly became in us everything that he is himself. So we are no longer to be “male and female, barbarian and Scythian, slave and free” -distinctions deriving from the flesh–but to bear within ourselves only the seal of God, by whom and for which we were created. We are to be so formed and molded by him that we are recognized as belonging to his one family.


If only we could be now what we hope to be, by the great kindness of our generous God! He asks so little and gives so much in this life and in the next, to those who love him sincerely. In a spirit of hope and out of love for God, let us then “bear and endure all things” and give thanks for everything that befalls us, since even reason can often recognize these things as weapons to win salvation. Meanwhile let us commend to God our own souls and the souls of those who, being more ready for it, have reached the place of rest before us although they walked the same road as we do now.


Lord and creator of all, and especially of your human creatures, you are the God and Father and rule of your children; you are the Lord of life and death; you are the guardian and benefactor of our souls. You fashion and transform all things in their due season through your creative Word, as you know to be best in your deep wisdom and providence. Receive this day those who have gone ahead of us in our journey from this life.


(Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 7, 23-24; PG 35, cols 786-7; ET by ICEL)


V. From the gate of hell.

R. Deliver their souls, O Lord.


V. May they rest in peace.

R. Amen.


V. O Lord, hear my prayer.

R. And let my cry come unto Thee.


V. The Lord be with you.

R. And with your spirit.


Let us pray.


O God, Creator and Redeemer of all the faithful, grant to the souls of Thy servants and handmaids the remission of all their sins, that through our devout prayers they may obtain pardon which they have always desired. Who lives and reigns with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, world without end. Amen.


V. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.

R. And let perpetual light shine upon them. Amen.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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