Psalm 111, 19 Aug ’18

Back story

After too long away from the singing of the psalms at SWUC, most recently in Brisbane, your cantor / webmaster returns to his appointed place of duty at last.

St John’s Anglican cathedral Brisbane

The recent visit to Brisbane is worth a short report as we attended a choral eucharist service at St John’s Anglican cathedral in Brisbane, with a beloved niece singing an excellent soprano in the choir. As part of the Brisbane Contemporary Church Music Festival, the Messe Solonelle by Jean Langlais (1907-1991) and other incidental music was by modern composers.

The French composer Langlais is notable as having been a blind but highly accomplished organist and composer, widely respected at home and during tours in Europe, the USA and elsewhere.

The psalm last Sunday (130 — ‘Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord’; see previous blog post here>) was sung by the choir to more traditional Anglican chants (4+6 chord structure, more in Styles) by earlier composers James Turle (1802-82) after Henry Purcell, and Edward Rimbault (1816-76).

Music during the communion included a contemporary setting of Psalm 1.

Psalm 111 coming up

Psalm 111 is a song of praise in honour of the creative divine spirit whose very nature and deeds are awash in high standards of justice and goodness –“wrought in truth and equity”.(8)

These important attributes — standing out like sustaining pillars throughout the Psalter but sadly scarce in a selfish materialistic world — flow on to the ‘works’ or evidence on earth of divine influence.

At St John’s, the formality and ritual of the high Anglican tradition could not mask adherence to justice and love. Notes in the order of service parallel the approach taken at SWUC:

St John’s is committed to the principles of social and eco justice. We actively pursue just outcomes for all.

The exclusive use of male pronouns to denote the Divine is a convention adopted by the translators. This incorrectly associates God with maleness and maleness with God. Please feel free to replace ‘he’ with ‘she’ as you see fit.

Introit verse 1 in Psalm 111, Salmos de Vísperas by Tomàs Luis di Victoria, c 1600. “I will give thanks to you Lord with my whole heart.”
A final verse notes that reverence to this divine nature is ‘the beginning of wisdom’. Most translations say ‘The fear of God’, a rather inadequate rendition of the honour and loving respect due to revealed divine principles and their source, as the psalmist would have intended. This final verse seems to set up the transition to the next Psalm 112, which starts: “Happy are those who fear God, who delight in the commandments.”


Marty Haugen’s relatively simple refrain in The New Century Hymnal draws on verse 2: ‘Great are the works of God’. At SWUC, a local adaptation of this tune has been retrofitted with new words for the wisdom theme: ‘To honour God is the beginning of wisdom’,  avoiding the more common ‘fear’ translation mentioned above.

Early composers such as Claudio Monteverdi, Wolfgang Mozart, Heinrich Schütz and Tomas Victoria all wrote several settings to this psalm, probably because this is one of the vespers psalms. (The introit shown above is from Victoria’s setting for odd verses. The previous psalm, 110, was included in Monteverdi’s famous Vespers of 1610; illustration at right>)

In other modern sources:

  • A useful refrain by Jane Marshall, with a double tone for the verses, appears in Together in Song 68.
  • That in The Emergent Psalter is probably a little tricky for congregations to pick up on the fly.

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