By Robin G. Jordan
The Psalter. In The Art of Public Worship (1919), in his discussion of the rendering of the psalms at Mattins and Evensong, Percy Dearmer recommends the antiphonal recitation of the psalms and the unison singing of the Glorias in parish churches. He also recommends sitting for the psalms:
“The Psalter forms a large portion of Mattins and Evensong, and is at present one of the main difficulties in the popularizing of services. But the psalms only seem long because people think they have to stand for them, and because chanting makes them long and prevents most people understanding them. Much as I prefer plainsong to Anglican chanting, I fear it will be even less popular. I believe the chanting of the psalms (outside community chapels where plainsong can be — or ought to be — heard at its best) is only satisfactory and helpful when performed by a highly-trained choir in that magnificent vehicle for sound, a great cathedral. Even then, the congregation can enjoy the music, and follow the words, far better if they sit. I wish also that English parish churches would revert to the old-fashioned custom, which has been so wisely retained in most American churches, of reading the psalms, and only singing the Glorias. But this reading should not be a duet between the minister and the congregation; it should be done, verse by verse, alternately by each half of the congregation, from side to side. If you try this, all sitting, you will find that the Psalter takes on a new character, that few parts of the service are more loved: every one enters into the meditative power of the exercise, and few then feel that the psalms are too long.”
The Glorias to which he refers were not just the Gloria Patri but the Gloria in excelsis. The rubrics of the 1789 and 1892 American Prayer Book permit the singing or recitation of the Gloria in excelsis as an alternative to the Gloria Patri at Morning Prayer. In The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary (1950) Massey H. Shepherd Jr., in his discussion of the Gloria in excelsis at Evening Prayer, offers a glimpse into the origin of the practice in the American Prayer Book:
“Bishop William White explained in a letter to Bishop Thomas C. Brownell, dated February 8, 1822, that it ‘was introduced under the notion, that singing it would add to the beauty of the service.’ The Gloria in excelsis is Greek hymn used in the Daily Offices of the Eastern Church since the fourth century. It is known as the ‘greater or major doxology’—to distinguish it from the Gloria Patri—and is sung at the conclusion of the psalmody of Lauds.”
A number of Western Churches incorporated the Gloria in excelsis into their morning offices. In Rome the morning office was sung immediately before the Mass and the Gloria in excelsis migrated from the morning office to the beginning of the Mass. Pope Symmachus would in the fifth century restrict its use to certain festive days at Masses celebrated by the Pope. This would, with the spread of the Roman Rite, be the practice of Western Christianity until the eleventh or twelfth century when its use became common on Sundays and feast days, except in penitential seasons.
The 1928 Prayer Book drops the Gloria in excelsis from Morning Prayer but retains it in Evening Prayer. This was an unfortunate development. The rationale for this change is unclear unless it was to restrict its use on Sunday mornings to the service of the Holy Communion. As one can see from the widespread restoration of the Gloria excelsis to the daily offices and the revival of the ancient Gallican practice of singing a variable hymn of praise in place of a fixed canticle in the service of Holy Communion in the more recent Anglican service books, it was premature. The American Prayer Book, it should be noted, pioneered the revival of the ancient Gallican practice with the rubric permitting the substitution of a “proper hymn” for the Gloria in excelsis.
When a small church celebrates Holy Communion only once a month, singing the Gloria in excelsis at the end of the Psalms at Morning Prayer not only enables the congregation to conclude the Psalms with a Trinitarian song of praise but also to confidently sing the Gloria in excelsis after the Post-Communion Prayer at Holy Communion. Singing the Gloria in excelsis or some other hymn of praise at that particular juncture in the Holy Communion service is preferable to reciting the Gloria in excelsis. Archbishop Cranmer moved the Gloria in excelsis to that position in imitation of the hallel psalm Jesus and his disciples sung after the Last Supper before they went out into the night. Here again those planning a small church’s worship can choose from a number of bright and vigorous metrical settings of the Gloria in excelsis if a prose setting is too challenging for the congregation.
The Psalms at Lauds were from the ancient times concluded with four songs of praise—the three laudate psalms, Psalms 148, 149, and 150, and the Benedicite, from which the office derives its name “lauds,” or praise. In the Lutheran Mattins, which, like Anglican Morning Prayer, is based upon the morning offices of the Medieval Breviary, the Psalms are concluded with the Benedicite and a hymn of praise. The singing of the Gloria in excelsis at the end of the Psalms at Morning Prayer in the 1789 and 1892 Prayer Books was perfectly appropriate. One is prompted to suspect the compilers of the 1928 revision of having tendencies not too different from those of Pope Symmachus.
The 1928 rubric states:
“Then shall follow a Portion of the PSALMS, according to the Use of this Church. And at the end of every Psalm, and likewise at the end of the Venite, Benedictus es, Benedictus, Jubilate, may be, and at the end of the whole Portion, or Selection from the Psalter, shall be, sung or said the Gloria Patri….”
Note that the singing or recitation of the Gloria Patri at the end of every psalm and at the end of the Venite; Benedictus es, Domin;, Benedictus Dominus Deus; and Jubilate Deo is permissive. It is not obligatory. Only the singing or recitation of this doxology “at the end of the whole Portion or Selection from the Psalter” is obligatory.
In The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary (1950) Massey H. Shepherd Jr., in his discussion of the Gloria Patri at Morning Prayer, provides this explanation:
“In the Eastern Church is is customary to sing it at the conclusion of each group of Psalms selected for the Office; in the Western Church it was usually sung after every Psalm. The Proposed Book of 1786 enjoined the Eastern custom, but since 1789 the American Prayer Book has allowed either the Eastern or the Western tradition of use of the Gloria.”
By permitting both the Eastern and the Western practice the compilers of the first American Prayer Book took a major step toward addressing the increasing objections since the sixteenth century to the repetitiveness of the Gloria Patri in the Book of Common Prayer.
In The New American Prayer Book: Its History and Contents (1929) E. Clowes Chorley identifies two outstanding characteristics of the 1928 Prayer Book when compared with the two previous American Prayer Books. They are its greater flexibility and its numerous provisions for shortening the regular services, particular the services of Morning and Evening Prayer.
To take full advantage of these characteristics, it is important to carefully read the rubrics and to avoid the tendency to recite every text simply because it is printed in the rite or service. Recognizing this unfortunate proclivity in users of the Prayer Book the compilers of more recent Anglican service books have adopted the stratagem of placing optional material in a section after the rite or service rather than in the rite or service itself. Only those texts that are always included as a part of the rite or service are printed in the rite or service. This is not the case in the 1928 Prayer Book. When insufficient attention is given to its rubrics, the result is often a rite or service that is unnecessarily long and tedious.
Antiphonal recitation of the psalms in the services of Morning and Evening Prayer is widely-agreed to be the best method and responsive reading, the least desirable method. Antiphonal singing or recitation is also the traditional method.
The Introduction to Celebrating Common Prayer -Pocket Version draws attention to an important principle in the singing or recitation of the Psalter: The character of each Psalm determines the best way to go about sing or reciting the Psalm. It suggests, “some psalms, such as the more personal and penitential psalms are perhaps best spoke by a single voice.” It further suggests, “other psalms may be recited together….” It notes, “the asterisk at the half-way point indicates that a short pause is appropriate. “
In the early monastic offices of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, one of the oldest branches of Christianity, one monk chanted a Psalm while the other monks mediated on the words, seated on the ground. When the Psalm was concluded, all stood and the abbot intoned a Psalm Prayer to which the monks responded “Amen.” The monks then sat down again and the cantor began the next Psalm.
The Gloria Patri should be omitted except after the final psalm and should be omitted after the canticles. The custom of reading the psalms and then singing the Gloria Patri has merit and would conclude the psalmody on a note of praise. The Gulbransen Digital Hymnal DH-100 CP’s Master Index contains at least three tunes for prose versions of the Gloria Patri – GREATOREX, MEINEKE, and BETHEL PARK—and several tunes for metrical settings. Thomas Ken’s doxology, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” is one of them and can be sung to Kenneth Owen’s wonderful tune FAIRFIELD or to Thomas Tallis’ EIGHTH TUNE (also known as TALLIS’ CANON), as well as to OLD HUNDRETH. All three tunes are in the Gulbransen Digital Hymnal DH-100 CP’s Master Index. When this particular doxology is sung to Tallis’ EIGHTH TUNE, it can be sung as a round. In the season of Easter Thomas Ken’s doxology can be sung with alleluias to LASST UNS ERFREUEN (“Ye watchers and ye holy ones;” “All creatures of our God and King”), also in the Gulbransen Digital Hymnal DH-100 CP’s Master Index. (All of the aforementioned tunes are also in the Gulbransen Digital Hymnal DH-200's Master Index.)
A metrical setting of the Gloria Patri that has been published in Anglican collections of metrical psalms and hymns along with the Thomas Ken doxology since the seventeenth century is “To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost the God whom we adore” from the Tate and Brady New Version. The meter is CM (86.86). Among the tunes to which this doxology may be sung are ARLINGTON (Arne), LAND OF REST, MARTYRDOM, ST. MAGNUS (Clarke), TURNER (Maxim), and WINCHESTER NEW. LAND OF REST may be sung as a round or canon, normally at a distance of one or two measures and a space of one octave. TURNER (Maxim) is a fuguing tune.
The section “Concerning the Services of the Church” contains the proviso that “the Minister, in his discretion, subject to the direction of the Ordinary. may use other devotions taken from this Book or set forth by lawful authority within this Church, or from Holy Scripture….” This proviso may be interpreted to permit the use of the Gloria in excelsis after the Psalms at Morning Prayer and the use of alternative canticles taken from Scripture after each Lesson at Morning and Evening Prayer. It would be particular appropriate to sing the Gloria in excelsis or a metrical version of the greater doxology after the Psalms in a service of festal Matins on a major festival of the Church Year such as Christmas, Easter, Whitsunday, and Trinity Sunday.
Teaching the antiphonal recitation method to the congregation is not difficult. This can be done before or after a service. The members of the congregation are asked to take their usual seats on the two sides of the center aisle. A short psalm such as Psalm 150 is picked and then those seated on the right side are asked to read aloud the first half of each verse and those on the left side to read aloud the second half of each verse. The entire congregation is asked to join together in singing the Gloria Patri at the conclusion of the psalm. The setting of the Gloria Patri that the congregation will be using can be taught to the congregation at the same time as the antiphonal recitation method is taught to the congregation. It is best to teach the Gloria Patri setting first. The psalm should be read a couple of times in this way and the Gloria Patri repeated after each reading until the congregation is comfortable with the antiphonal recitation method and the Gloria Patri setting.