The poetic moods in the psalms range from dark and penitent to skipping and jumping. Sometimes several moods mix in any one song, making the choice of a suitably supportive musical style challenging.
The title today is occasioned by a different issue, that of the psalms we do not hear. Some we jump because they did not make it into the Revised Common Lectionary (the numbers not in bold type in the lists in the Library and index pages).
Others we skip because something comes up. This year, it’s because Easter is quite early and we leap into Lent before exhausting all the ‘ordinary’ days in the season after Epiphany. (1)
This year, Year C, the songs we lose for Lent are 138, 1, 37, 92 and 96. Let’s have a quick look, noting that 1 and 96 are discussed elsewhere in this blog:
- The first psalm, together with the second, form something of an introduction to the book. It’s a beautiful song and not to be missed, so worth a read during the weeks sometime
- 96 is visited frequently, often sung in December in fact as it comes up for Christmas Day.
This is a fairly long (40 verses) reflection on people who are good or evil. It encourages us towards the Clean-living Claude/ia end, not just to avoid wrath but because such values are associated with wisdom — an important theme in the psalms — and hence justice. (v.30) The psalmist says not to bother if the wicked appear to flourish, themes picked up by a couple of classical settings of interest:
- Orlando di Lassus: in Latin for five voices, presenting verses 35-36 (Tweet: “The wicked flourish; now you see them, now you don’t”); and
- William Byrd: in English for only three voices and thus more attainable for small singing groups, a setting of verse 25 alone which is about the other side of the coin:
I have been young but now am old, but never have I seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.
I wonder if there’s a minimum age for the singers for that one? More seriously, we have seen young and old, including children of good people and of all walks of life, begging for bread in tragic circumstances recently. We can only pray that both sides of the coin, fading wickedness, thriving ‘righteousness’ and justice, may be true of those who are causing their pain.
Psalm 92 also values the senior citizen, an idea that Everett picks up in his antiphon in The emergent psalter:
Those who are righteous shall flourish like a palm tree … they shall bear fruit in old age (verses 12-14)
The full psalm is much broader in scope, though, with encouragement to sing praises in the morning and the evening, with psaltery, lyre and harp. This theme resonates in the refrains in PFAS, as well as a nice Taizé setting by Jacques Berthier (Together in song 50)
This is another psalm “of David”, of thanksgiving and trust.
This song also appears in TiS, at number 86, a refrain that I cannot remember ever singing. I say refrain rather than tune, for TiS rather unusually instructs us: “Verses are to be spoken. It is effective … against a softly playing-background of instruments”. This style is the norm in The emergent psalter.
- Transfiguration Sunday falls on 7 Feb, supplanting the ‘Ordinary’, and Lent starts on 14 Feb.