Psalm 45, 5 July 20

A female presence flows through the readings for this Sunday 5 July. First in Genesis is the record of how Rebekah stepped out in faith to meet an unknown Isaac.

Psalm 45 is a song to a king and his bride. And from the Song of Solomon we hear:

My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.” (Song 2:20)

Not quite in the land of PsalmsintheSouth, but we are getting there.

Psalm 45 is more formal than the lyrical Song of Solomon. Processing with the restraint of a ceremony in a royal court, it might almost picture a festive entry into a place of reverence, nuptial or otherwise. It was, after all, written by the Korahites who were offical singers for the court.

Sponsored message from the King or not, such ceremonial celebration serves a purpose. And the singer’s heart ‘stirs with a noble song’, addressing a king who is expected to be honest, just and even-handed:

Your royal sceptre is a sceptre of equity.

The second part of the song, or a second voice, then celebrates the bride in her beauty and fine robes, an integral element in a reign of truth. Read more in an earlier post>

Psalms 45 is a song for a royal wedding. In this miniature King Richard II of England receives his bride, the princess Isabel, from her father, Charles VI, king of France. (Royal 14 D. vi, f. 268v British Library)

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Often featured herein, most recently for Psalm 116, is the ever-pleasing music of the Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria. He did not, as far as I can tell, turn his talents to Psalm 45.

William Byrd did though, and in the same year, 1605, that Victoria presented his monumental Officium Defunctorum. To find Byrd’s work one has to search for the Latin title Diffusa est gratia, ‘Full of grace (are thy lips)’, a phrase which is buried down in verse 3.

More practically during days of COVID-19 isolation, there being no setting in Together in Song, the alternate refrain in Psalms for All Seasons 45B by John Bell is a good choice. His well-crafted refrain includes a delightful quote from the associated RCL reading in the Song of Solomon:

Take, O take me as I am; summon out what I shall be / Set your seal upon my heart and live in me.

Rather than using the tone suggested, we shall hear the verses (10 to 17) paraphrased to fit freely into Bell’s nice refrain tune.

The relevant Crystal Ball also offered a free-wheeling story-teller improvisation. This is an effective and enjoyable way to go. John Bell wins the day this time around but that style will grace a future psalm presentation.

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