Fr. Mark on Psalmody (again)

THough I am not as comfortable with the “Heart of Jesus” devotion and language as is Fr. mark I once again wholeheartedly recommend his article on Psalmody and excerpt of which follows below:

Singing on One Note: Recto Tono

In the Teresian Reform of Carmel, in various other reforms, among Institutes founded in the wake of the Council of Trent, and among apostolic Institutes founded in the 19th century, one finds the tradition of chanting the Divine Office on a single sustained note. This is often referred to as recto tono, meaning on a straight or unadorned tone. This practice must not be judged as somehow inexpressive, unnatural, or artificial because it is without melodic modulation. It is, rather, the most unadorned form of chant: chant reduced to its simplest expression. As such, it is eminently suited to the ordinary daily choral prayer of a community engaged in apostolic works. Executed well, the recto tono recitation of the Hours is restful, and pacifying. It can, in effect, foster a contemplative union with the Heart of Jesus that will bear fruit in every apostolic endeavor.

Until fifty years ago, it was not uncommon for Institutes of religious women to chant on a single note The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary or of one of the excellent pre-Conciliar vernacular adaptations of the Roman Breviary that were widespread before the Second Vatican Council. Where this was practiced with care, respecting the intervals of silence and embracing a moderate and serene rhythm of recitation, the choral Office became a daily immersion in the Word of God and an oasis of contemplation in the midst of activity.

Absolutely spot on!

Please do visit Fr. Mark’s blog, it is worth a close and attentive reading and re-reading.

Fr. Gregory Wassen +


About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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5 Responses to Fr. Mark on Psalmody (again)

  1. Dale says:

    This is indeed a very interesting article. I well remember in my youth (Good Lord, I never expected to be so old that I would start anything with, “When I was young”!) when the daily low mass was offered in a type of recto tono, which whilst not chanted did have the sung parts of the mass done in what was a sing-song manner, the same was done for said evensong as well as morning prayer. And I do remember how very prayerful this was. Later in seminary, Russian, we were taught that all “read” sections of the services were to be done in a type of recto tono; the reason given was that the office was not the personal opinion of the reader or celebrant and that by using a recto tono we excluded personal voice modulations and emphasis of sacred text.

  2. Dale says:

    Wanted to add. I very much appreciate the revived interest in the Sacred Heart. If one understands that this devotion is expressive of the Divine Love, it is a very rich devotion indeed. I think where many Byzantine Orthodox dislike this devotion is that they do not really bother to understand that in the west the Heart is the seat of Love and spiritual devotion, not the belly button; of course there is also the hatred shown to anything western that is evident in the Byzantine tradition that seems to make any devotion that has not emanated from the Byzantine Empire simply rejected for that reason alone.

    Michael Pomanzansky’s attack against the tradition of the Sacred Heart seems to be this sort dismissive attitude one finds so very evident amongst the Byzantines.

    • fathergregory says:


      No doubt most Orthodox will dismiss the Sacred Heart of Jesus (not to mention Mary) devotions out of hand as incomprehensible devotions to body-parts. This of course shows little more than ignorance. Fr. Michael Pomazansky – though no doubt gaining popularity – is a point in case. The discomfort for me derives not so much from what the devotion IS but from the kind of language it uses. I have a similar discomfort with the “sweetest Jesus” language in the Akathist to our Sweetest Lord Jesus Christ. I can see and understand others using such devotions to great spiritual benefit – but it is not for me. I do not reject or deny the legitimacy of either devotion though.

  3. Dale says:

    Fr Gregory,
    I do believe that you have indeed hit the nail on the head, so to speak. Yes, much of the devotions to the Sacred Heart are indeed simply in a very bad, but popular, taste. I think that much of this is rather off putting; I also agree with your summation of the Moleben to the Sweetest Jesus as well (although this may offend many Byzantines, both devotions, as expressions of popular piety, are very close). But I do not believe that this should distract from the devotion itself. And yes, Pomazansky is becoming uncomfortably popular, as well as that Greek who seems to blame everything on the “Franks.” Such ethnic hatred taking upon itself a religious tinge is very, very troublesome…and seems to be gaining favor, especially amongst Byzantine converts.

    • fathergregory says:

      Frs. Michael Pomazansky, Seraphim Rose, John Romanidis, are rapidly gaining “cult status” I’m afraid. The more vindictive and anti-ecumenist the better. Popular piety is not necessarily in good taste, both Frs. Alexander Schmemann and Percy Dearmer seem to have understood this very well. I agree that the devotion itself is fine as far as it goes, but I don’t think the Sacred Heart ought to be celebrated as a I Class Double with a priviliged Octave – its a bit much! I would probably prefer it as a Minor Double – but the Simple Kalendar does not keep it. I do think the Propers for the Feast of the Sacred Heart bring out what the devotion is all about for those who wish to observe it. Concerning the Byzantine Akathist mentioned earlier, I have never much cared for the Troparia and Kontakia for precisely the reasons most Orthodox like them so much. They contain lofty and wordy theology and interpretations of Scripture but for me its just too thick. It may be taste, but I feel the same way about Romanticism. I appreciate beautiful language and style, but I also appreciate simplicity and elegance. The Western liturgical tradition seems to be more “my kind of thing.” Of course this says more about me than it does about Byzantine Hymnography and devotions.

      Fr. Gregory

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