Where have the psalms gone?

From the earliest days of the Church the Psalms have been a staple element in Christian worship, as they were and are still in Jewish worship. Two of the prayers uttered by our Lord on the Cross used the words of psalms indicating that they were familiar to him in his own life of prayer.

Common Worship obviously intends the continued use of the Psalms. Psalmody is appointed with the readings for every Principal Service, for the second and third services on Sundays, for Morning and Evening Prayer or a single office on weekdays. Psalms are evidently expected at Baptisms, Funerals, Marriages and other services. In Anglican worship it is clearly intended that psalms should remain a regular element in all the main services.

Most remarkable of all is the provision for a ‘Service of the Word’, where a great deal of freedom is allowed in order and content. Note 6 specifies that ‘The Service should normally include a psalm or psalms’. It permits a metrical version, a responsive form or a paraphrase, or occasionally replacement by a ‘song or canticle the words of which are taken directly from Scripture’. But the principle of a psalm as an essential element in such a service is clear. No one could accuse the Liturgical Commission of undermining the role of the Psalms in Anglican worship.

Yet what is the reality in many parish churches? Most Sunday services are either a Parish Communion, or a ‘Service of the Word’, often in the form of a ‘family service’ where a psalm is unlikely to be used. The use of psalms at Marriages and Funerals is also becoming uncommon. A generation of Anglicans is growing up unfamiliar with psalms in their regular public worship. Space precludes examining the reasons for this widespread abandonment of the Psalms in the regular services of ordinary Anglican congregations but the question remains whether such a radical departure from age-long practice should be allowed to take place merely by default, particularly when it is clearly contradictory to the intention of the Church of England in its latest Common Worship services?

TG

 

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