Workshop on composing responsorial psalms

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Workshop on composing responsorial psalms


By Lara Pickford-Gordon

On Thursday, March 30 the Liturgical Commission will host a workshop on ‘Composing Responsorial Psalms’ with Bro Paschal Jordan OSB of the Abbey, Mount St Benedict, Trinidad. Venue is the St Philip and St James RC Church, Chaguanas, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The feature speaker will be David Bereaux on ‘Copyright and Performing Rights’.

According to information provided by the Liturgical Commission, the workshop is in keeping with the 1971 mandate of the Liturgical Commission’s Music Committee of the Archdiocese of Port of Spain.

It attempts to: ensure that locally composed responsorial psalms remain true to the text of the new Roman Missal which came into effect in 2011, provide an opportunity for training of liturgical composers and others who are interested and inclined in the area of psalmody, facilitate the sharing of ideas between current and upcoming liturgical composers, and encourage the creation and curation of new work.

The psalms currently sung in the liturgy is a compilation of psalms prepared by Bro Paschal. He is responsible for the compilation of the book Responsorial Psalms for the three-year cycle of Sundays and major feast days and is the composer of the responses and of a selection of psalm tones.

None of the published psalms in the book were developed at a parish level. The Liturgical Commission, through its work at Liturgy School and other workshops conducted with parish choirs, has encouraged compositions from musicians and composers for responsorial psalms as well as the hymns and service music (‘Lord Have Mercy’ etc.) sung at Mass.

The workshop targets choirs/music ministers who can read/write music and have an aptitude for composing music. It aims to encourage new compositions of psalms with the intention of compiling a new Responsorial Psalm Book II for T&T.

Psalms in the Liturgy

The Book of Psalms is situated in the Wisdom Literature of the Bible. [The Wisdom Books are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Qoheleth or Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom, and Sirach or Ecclesiasticus].

The Liturgical Commission explained that “wisdom” is meant as spirituality or attitude to life or how to live a good life. The Book of Psalms, also called the Psalter (from the Greek psalterion meaning a book of songs) is a collection of 150 religious poems, lyric in character that are meant to be sung to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument – lyre or harp or psaltery or zither.

There are many other ‘psalms’ in the Bible outside the official Book of Psalms, and these are commonly called Canticles.

The Book of Psalms is a collection of songs, songs of the heart, so poetry. In it are cries to God of love, despair, vengeance, hope, confidence, praise, and gratitude. The whole gamut of human emotion is contained therein, and this is why people of every age have found help, solace, and a tool for daily living in the Psalms.

The Commission stated, “The story of the Bible is the story of Jesus and is our story, too. So, the Psalms point to Jesus for their fulfilment, and we apply them to our own story and see ourselves in them.”

Elaborating on the importance of the responsorial psalm in the liturgy, the Commission shared some early Church history.

It was the custom in the synagogues to read a part of the Pentateuch every Sabbath which gave 150 reading parts in a three-year cycle and each time, there was a special psalm that could be the response of the community to the reading.

Christians have continued the idea in construction of a three-year cycle of Sunday Readings in the Liturgy of the Word at Mass or Sunday Services, with a Responsorial Psalm to match each Reading.

At present, all the mainline Churches – Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians etc. all use the same Lectionary. This means that they all have a Psalm after the Reading of Scripture.

In the execution of the responsorial psalm, the congregation is given a response,

first sung by the Cantor, who then sings the psalm-verses and the

congregation comes in with the response. The function of the psalm is to recall to mind some aspect of the First Reading, but in a lyrical form which is more easily digested and remembered.

Registration for the workshop is at:

Deadline is Monday, March 27.