Revised Grail Psalms
This article, which appeared in the Summer 2010 edition of Tower Topics, quarterly of Conception Abbey in Conception, Missouri, is reprinted with the kind permission of Jarrod Thome, Director of Communications.
In April 2010, the Most Rev. Arthur Serratelli, Bishop of Patterson NJ, and Chairman of the Bishops' Committee on Divine Worship of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, informed the bishops of the United States that the Revised Grail Psalms had received an official recognitio from the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
This final approval makes the Revised Grail Psalms the official English-language liturgical Psalter for the United States.
These psalm texts will thus be the ones used in all future editions of liturgical books published for the United States, and, as it happens, for most other English-language countries as well.
In his letter Bishop Serratelli expressed his gratitude for this work undertaken by the monks of Conception Abbey under the direction of Abbot Gregory J. Polan, OSB, producing this translation which is to play such an important part in the liturgy in years to come.
This revision of the 1963 Grail Psalms was undertaken by the monks of Conception Abbey at the request of the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy (now the Committee on Divine Worship).
In a process taking over ten years to complete, the Grail Psalms were revised (and re-translated where necessary), bringing them in line with up-to-date principles of Scripture scholarship, matters of authentic translation and requirements for appropriate rendering for liturgical use.
Of particular concern was that this new version of the psalms meet the requirements established in Liturgiam authenticam, the 2001 Instruction issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, enunciating principles for preparing translations of liturgical texts.
Without question, the psalms are one of the most treasured components of Sacred Scripture.
They voice our longing for the Infinite and resonate with the broad range of emotions that flow through our lives.
As such, they have for ages been at the heart of Judeo-Christian worship — including the liturgical prayer that has been engaged by the Order of Saint Benedict for over fifteen centuries.
Widely recognized as the father of western monasticism, Saint Benedict exhorted his followers to live by the motto ora et labora ("prayer and work").
In his Rule for Monks, he makes clear that the psalms are an essential element of the ora of monastic life.
To this day, Benedictines carry on the tradition of their founder, and the Order is well known for its dedication to the liturgy.
It should be no surprise, then, that when the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Divine Worship wanted a new translation of the psalms, they approached a Benedictine monk to undertake this most important work.
This monk was Abbot Gregory Polan of Conception Abbey, and his task was to revise the 1963 Grail Psalter.
What are the Grail Psalms?
In the years leading up to Vatican II, when the liturgy was still in Latin, moves were being made to foster greater participation on the part of the laity.
Permission was granted to sing the psalm responses of the Mass in the vernacular.
Jesuit Father Joseph Gelineau prepared a French translation of the psalms with a rhythm well suited to oral recitation and chant.
In response to his work, a community of lay women in England formed a secular institute called The Grail, which undertook an English translation of Father Gelineau's work.
Scholars and musicians worked on the project, and through the 1950s their work was released in a series of books, each containing the translation of a few psalms.
The full version of all 150 psalms was finally released in 1963.
Just like their French predecessors, the 1963 Grail Psalms in English proved to be very well suited to choral recitation, singing and chanting.
The Grail translation was soon incorporated into the English edition of the Liturgy of the Hours.
Eventually, three other English versions of the Psalter were approved for use in the lectionary: those of the New American Bible, the Revised Standard Version, and the Jerusalem Bible.
Why was a new translation needed?
In 1963 Grail Psalms provided a comfortable transition from Latin to English; the translation was clear and easily understood, the text had a straightforward poetic rhythm and the psalms could be recited and sung with ease.
There qualities had been important objectives for the Ladies of the Grail when they had set about their work.
While the 1963 Grail Pslter was highly successful in this regard, the decision to adhere to a specific rhythmic pattern had led them in places to paraphrase the original Hebrew rather than render a precise translation of the source texts.
Since Vatican II, the Church has insisted that authenticity in translation requires accuracy.
Secondly, since the 1950s, when most of these psalms were composed, much has happened in the area of biblical scholarship to enable us to understand better both the structure of Hebrew poetry and some of the more problematic texts.
This scholarship makes a more accurate translation possible.
Additionally, and perhaps most significantly for the Catholics in the pews, The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in the instruction Liturgiam authenticam (2001), mandates that a single consistent translation be used in all forms of the liturgy, which is currently not the case.
Catholics will now hear the same version of the psalms at Mass, in the Liturgy of the Hours, and in the texts for all books of the sacraments.
Anywhere a psalm is found in the liturgy here in the U.S. (and in most other English-speaking countries as well), it will be from the Grail Psalter as revised by the Benedictine monks of Conception Abbey.
Some history of the project
Why were the monks of Conception chosen to bring this work to fruition?
The mere fact that Conception Abbey is a Benedictine monastery is a primary reason.
But it was the particular combination of scholarly pursuits engaged by Abbot Gregory Polan that had prompted the initial request in June of 1998 from the U.S. Bishops Committee on the Liturgy (now the Committee on Divine Worship), and for the same reason he remained the obvious choice.
Abbot Gregory is first and foremost monk and abbot of Conception Abbey, and thus responsible for the spiritual and temporal welfare of his community. But he also has formal training as both a Scripture scholar and musician.
He had translated a section of the Book of Isaiah for the Revised New American Bible, so the staff at the Bishops' Conference, having been apprised of his musical background, recognized that his particular combination of talents suited him well to undertake the revision, such that the resulting text would retain those qualities that had made it so suitable for choral recitation, singing and chanting.
Abbot Gregory enlisted the help of other monks of Conception Abbey.
After four years an initial draft was completed and brought before the Bishops' Committee on Divine Worship in November 2002.
It was there approved to undergo the rigorous process that would deem it an acceptable translation. The full assembly of the USCCB approved the use of the Revised Grail Psalms on 11 November 2008, in a vote of 203-5.
The text was then sent to the Vatican for final approval.
Until now, much of this has been old news as the Church has anxiously awaited the recognitio from Rome approving the Revised Grail Psalms.
On Easter Monday, Msgr. Anthony Sherman, Executive Director of the Secretariat of Divine Worship, informed Abbot Gregory of the good news that the recognitio had been granted.
Basking in the joyous light of Easter, the Church has yet another reason to let "Alleluia!" resound.
What does this mean for the Church?
For Conception Abbey, the production of the Revised Grail Psalms is another response to the needs of the Church, in a manner that resonates directly with Saint Benedict's words "Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus" — "That in all things God may be glorified."
For the faithful who attend any liturgy in English, the Revised Grail Psalms means consistency in what they'll hear.
For musicians and those who use the psalms for choral recitation or chanting, it means a translation well suited to these uses while retaining integrity of translation.
All in all, the consistency and fidelity to the ancient texts of the psalms means that the Revised Grail Psalter will help promote a more effective, unified liturgy and catechesis.
As faithful souls glorify God with every utterance of these sacred verses, may the merits of this work reciprocate abundant blessings upon them and upon the Church.
The copyright for the Revised Grail Psalms is held jointly by Conception Abbey and The Grail (England).
GIA Publications serves as the international literary agent for this new version of The Grail Psalms.
Reprinted with permission from Conception Abbey.