Psalm 54: Sustaining life

‘Surely God is my helper, the upholder.’ (4)

In seven short verses, David rehearses the themes encountered in many of the psalms, a cry for divine attention, safety and justice. He acknowledges divine assistance and support. At the end, reminded of past faithfulness and deliverance, he is moved to give thanks and more — a freewill offering and sacrifice.

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An antiphon quoting Ps. 54:1 in the Luttrell Psalter c.1330. Image British Library, Add. MS 42130

An antiphon found in the Luttrell Psalter reveals an interesting arrangement of readings. After the introit by a cantor “Salve me” on a four-line C clef, the response text is from Psalm 54:1. However, the previous page contains Psalm 116, while the text immediately following the end of this antiphon is drawn from Job 19 rather than a psalm.

Two classical medium-length settings entitled Deus in nomine tuo (God in your name, v.1) by Lassus and Hassler in four voices look quite accessible and rewarding for the local choir or quartet. Settings by the Gabrielis (Andrea and his more famous nephew Giovanni, one time student of Lassus) calling for 8 parts each might be a gig too far.

Psalm 54 just squeaks into the lectionary in one year as an alternative reading, so there are relatively few modern settings available. Everett’s in TEP, drawing on verses 1 and 4, is perhaps the simplest and most easily sung by a congregation following a cantor.

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