Psalm 147, 4 Feb ’18

This psalm, like others in this final handful in the Psalter, is a song of praise, calling us to rejoice in the creation and the ubiquitous evidence of divine love and care.

‘Starry Night’ by V van Gogh. Wikimedia commons

With sudden shifts of focus, a visionary sweep of the universe, the selected text (verses 1 to 11 in Year B) alternate between the earthbound to the heights, the present day to the distant past, from the stars to personal reassurance of the exile and outcast:

God heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. God counts the number of the stars; and calls them all by name. (3, 4)

We are encouraged to pull out our lyres again in order to sing those praises (7).

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Being a vespers psalm and therefore appearing frequently in evening prayer services in the Roman and other rites, classical settings abound. Guerrero, Lassus, Monteverdi, Victoria and others wrote several settings. In the vespers liturgy and the Anglican Compline, up to five psalms were accompanied by the Magnificat or other Marian verses.

Tomas Luis de Victoria‘s setting of this psalm would be appropriate if singers were available. Lauda Ierusalem, Salmo de Vísperas No. 6 (illustrated) is a series of short sections, one for each of the odd verses. It would have been sung antiphonally by a choir in the vespers service, the priest chanting the even verses. This motet is in Latin rather than the preferred English; so in the modern environment it could be used to inspirational effect as incidental music or anthem. It could also be interposed as reflective antiphons between readings or prayers.

If relishing that idea of naming each of the myriad stars, a refrain by Isaac Everett in The Emergent Psalter would be an excellent choice: ‘Jehovah with immeasurable wisdom calls each star by name’.

PFAS rolls out several responsive options, frequently just picking the ‘hallelujah’ theme. One (147A alt.) is even a familiar tune by Mozart. Mozart’s music is supposed to soothe the troubled breast: this is a canon in three parts, so it will keep the congregation awake and alert as they learn and enjoy their woven harmony.

Together in Song No 92 covers most of the set verses and, being by John Bell, is reliably tuneful and easy to learn. Although the composition includes a chorus it is presented, and will be sung at South Woden, as a congregational hymn rather than a responsorial psalm with cantor.

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