Reviewed by BROCARD SEWELL,
The Psalms: A New Translation (Collins, Fontana Books, 3s, 6d.).
Thirty-Six Psalms: An English Version, by Frank Kendon (Cambridge University Press, 25s.). The Psalms for the Common Reader, by Mary Ellen Chase (Michael Joseph, 21s.).
THE Psalms are the basis of Christian liturgical worship (apart from the eucharistic rite, in which they have only a restricted place). At least since the beginning of the present century the laity in the Latin Church have become more and more estranged from the ancient traditions of public worship.
Today, few have ever been present at the offices of Vespers and Compline, while the other "Flours" are hardly known even by name. The rosary and other pious devotions have taken their place; and until recently the normal Sunday evening service in most churches was the familiar "R.S.B."
But now things are changing, and we live in days of liturgical revival. Whatever may be decided about the Mass, we shall almost certainly in the future have public worship in the vernacular based on the ancient offices of the Western Church: if not an English Vespers and Compline on the old pattern with all its complexities, then at least something on the lines of the Anglican Matins and Evensong (both adapted, of course, from the old Catholic service hooks).
This means that the psalter, or at least parts of it, will become again the common prayer of the faithful; although, of course, there has always been a considerable number of tertiaries, oblates, and others for whom the psalms are part of their daily life.
It was long ago suggested by certain Anglican divines that some of the psalms, especially the more bloodthirsty and vengeful ones, were not suitable for use in Christian worship. At the time, this point of view was vigorously repudiated by prominent High Church clergy as savouring of "Modernism": but recently certain continental Catholics have been saying just the same thing.
So presumably, once the vernacular is introduced, it will no longer be a matter of regular cyclic recitation of the whole psalter, but of an authorised and appreciated selection of the psalms. (Though the number of psalms that would need to be eliminated is small.)
One problem, naturally, will be what version of the psalms to use. Everyone admits that versions deriving from the Vulgate Latin contain obscurities: a state of affairs that many, in recent years, have tried to remedy.
Among new Catholic translations may be mentioned the
scholarly Book of Psalms by Mgr. Edward Kissane, the "Little Office" psalms of the Roman rite by Fr Martindale. the ingenious but not always happy renderings of Ronald Knox, and, best of all, the recently published The Office of Our Lady, translated and adapted from the Office de la Sainte Vierge, arranged by the Benedictines of En-Calcat (London : Darton, Longman and Todd, 1963).
And now The Grail has come forward to offer us, through Fontana Books, a new version of the psalter "translated from the Hebrew and arranged for singing to the psalmody of Joseph Gelineati", This gives one pause. The thought that the Gelineau melodies might become the staple musical fare in our churcheis is disconcerting. But presumably that is not the idea. For scouts' camp fire worship and assemblies of confraternities of one kind or another Gelineau is not unsuitable.
But on the continent there is still a tradition of congregational plainsong singing, and it is difficult to see why it should not be revived here. Especially as the Anglicans have shown long ago that the 'maims in English can be sung to the ancient plainsong tones.
But if that is thought to be too difficult for us in these degenerate days, what is wrong with the socalled "Anglican" chants? They may lack strength and solemnity of plainsong, but they are infinitely preferable to the wan aim of Gelineaux.
Neither the breviary psalter (old version or new) nor the rhythms of Coverdale-Tyndale-Crarimer (Book of Common Prayer) can be sung to Gelineaux in any case; so if his music is to be used it must be in association with a completely new version or versions of the psalms.
But if the psalms are to be used in some form or forms of "popular" vernacular worship, there are other ancient renderings of their text (including free adaptations) which have a claim to be considered, as still having a strong appeal.
There are, for instance, the poetical paraphrases of such authors as Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady, to say nothing of Milton, and, on a lower level, the metrical psalter beloved of Scots presbyterians.
As art instance, who would wish to sing The Grail's version of psalm 135 (AV-RV 136) beginning 0 give thanks so she Lord for he is good,
for his great love is without end .
when Milton's splendid
Let us with a gladsom mind Praise the Lord for he is kind . is available?
Yet, provided one does not judge
by too high a standard, The Grail's psalter is a good workaday simple version that will have its uses. In spite of its aim of "conforming the English to the rhythmic pattern of the Hebrew" it is not a poetical version. But apart feom minor infelicities (such as "Come, ring out our joy unto the Lord" for "Come let us sing untothe Lord". rVertise, exsultemus Domino] it reads on the whole well, It is unthinkable as a text for liturgical worship; but in other fields it will probably achieve success.
The late Frank Kendon, poet and author of The Small Years, was invited to give a literary revision to the draft Psalter of the New English Bible prepared by other hands, with a special commission to recreate in some measure the rhythms of the Hebrew. Failing health prevented him from completing his task, and the NEB committee decided to begin again.
Kendon's versions of psalms 144 and 40 and 41 (AV/RV enumeration) have now been published in dignified format by the Cambridge University Press. The book makes a handsome memorial to a distinguished writer; but although some passages are very good, in general the result is not inspiring.
Kendon, however, has not a few felicities: "He is like a growing tree where rills of waters run" is pleasing; and so is "All heaven above tells out the glories of God. Its vault proclaims God's handiwork."
Neither The Grail nor Kendon is anything like so successful as are the translations in the EnCaleat Office of Our Lady (which it is not our business to consider here); but the fact is that as texts for liturgical use the older versions still remain supreme.
The ChalIoner/Rheims-Douay, Authorised Version, and Prayer Book psalters keep very close together in their renderings. Apart from archaisms such as "holpen", "lien", "Tush"s "tabret" etc. (all of which are easily replaced), and the business of "hath", "doth" etc. (which can be justified as a reasonable and proper USC of 'hieratic' language), these ancient versions present no difficulty to the modern reader.
Mary Ellen Chase's The Psalms for the Common Reader is an excellent introduction to the Psalter. The author hides her considerable learning tinder a lively and simple way of writing, and no one who reads the Bible or uses the Breviary or the Prayer Book could fail to learn a great deal from her. and to pray the psalms with greater understanding.
Her quotations are made from the Authorized Version, which she feels retains the rhythm and stresses of the original better than most, if not all, modern versions. But she rightly says that "Roman Catholics who may read this book will find their Douay version of 1610, either in the original form or in the eighteenth century Challenor revision, an excellent translation."
How true that is! but how seldom one hears it said by Catholics.
For the English case Professor Mollat has a good deal of sympathy. After recounting how Parliament passed the famous Statutes of provisors and proemunire against absentee Wrench) holders of English benefices, and against foreign jurisdiction, he insists-more strongly than do some English historians-that the English opposition was national, not merely monarchial, and that it led naturally on to the Reformation of the sixteenth century.
"The unrest of a whole nation cannot be stifled indefinitely. If it is too much to assert that a national church was already beginning to forme it is at least true that men's minds were ready to listen to Wycliffe's violent attacks on the constitution of the Church of Rome, and that England was •