Reciting or Chanting the Psalms
The traditional Gregorian Psalm Tones, and the various simplified adaptations to the English text inspired by them, are faithful to the essential characteristics of the Hebrew parallelism reproduced in the Latin Psalters of the West. What are these characteristics? Each verse is formed of two clauses; an interval of silence follows the cadence at the end of the first clause and leads into the second clause, closing the verse with a final cadence.
The American editions of the Liturgy of the Hours, marketed by Catholic Book Publishing Corporation, and other editions derived from them, break with the Church’s age-old liturgical tradition by not presenting the psalms and canticles in verses. This indefensible editorial decision reveals an egregious ignorance of what choral prayer requires, and has led to confusion in religious communities attempting to use these editions for their common prayer.
The midway interval of silence (normally indicated by an *) fosters contemplative prayer. It makes the rhythm of the psalmody restful and allows the meaning of the words to descend from the mind into the heart. Almost imperceptibly, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us with ineffable groanings (Romans 8:26), one begins to experience while reciting the psalms, a quiet union with the Heart of Jesus, only-begotten Son of the Father and Eternal High Priest.
The most effective way of reciting or chanting the psalms requires that the text be apportioned verse by verse to two choirs, or to one united choir alternating with two or more cantors. One choir responds to the other with a gentle, rhythmic regularity, taking care to observe midway a notable silence, always of the same length. This silence is an integral part of choral psalmody. Great care must be taken lest it become abbreviated, irregular, or in any way treated as being somehow less important than the verbal element of choral prayer.
Fr. Gregory Wassen +