Archive for February, 2015

On Psalm Marathons and Similar Endeavors

It’s an exciting time in the history of psalm-singing. In the six years since its release in 2009, the Reformed Presbyterian Church’s Book of Psalms for Worship has become one of the most trusted modern psalters and is gaining use in a wide variety of churches. The Reformed Churches in New Zealand are currently finishing their own carefully compiled psalter-hymnal, Sing to the Lord, which includes the best from a wide variety of psalm-singing traditions. As I mentioned last week, the Canadian Reformed Churches recently completed revisions of the Book of Praise and the English Genevan Psalter. And the United Reformed Churches and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church are hard at work completing our own new Psalter Hymnal.

With a new psalter comes a big learning curve, of course. Realizing this, many churches and individuals are exploring creative methods to become familiar with the contents of these new songbooks.

The Book of Psalms for WorshipThe Reformed Presbyterian Church prepared for the release of The Book of Psalms for Worship by publishing several “Psalter Supplements” containing provisional versions of texts and tunes, in addition to creating an extensive library of recordings, resources, and informational videos. Now, with the psalter in its fifth printing and available in a dazzling array of formats (even smartphone apps), RPCNA members have no excuse not to be well-acquainted with their new songbook.

The Canadian Reformed Churches ensured that each congregation had a chance to interact with the revised Book of Praise by releasing a provisional version to the churches in 2010. Revision committee chairman Rev. George van Popta comments, “In addition to the quality of the work, the near universal positive reception is also due to how involved the churches were in the process” (see “Book of Praise revision completed,” Christian Renewal, 2/4/2015, p. 16).

Another creative venue for learning the contents of the new psalter is an 8-session “Psalm Marathon” coordinated by CanRC organist Frank Ezinga and hosted at two Canadian Reformed churches on several Saturday evenings this spring. With accompaniment on trumpet, violin, piano, organ, and flute, these singing sessions attempt to familiarize participants with all 150 psalm settings from the revised Book of Praise. For more information, visit http://langleycanrc.org/calendar#event/5489.

Hearing about these unique opportunities for learning new psalm settings makes me long to see similar efforts being put forth in the URCNA and OPC. In particular, we need opportunities to learn these new songs not only individually, but corporately. For example, every night some of my Reformed college friends and I get together to sing two or three selections from the Psalm Proposal and give a rough evaluation of each as regards textual accuracy, singability, and tune choice. So far we’re up to Psalm 22, and while our approach isn’t that rigorous or organized, we’re already finding new favorites in the Proposal’s contents. These informal (or formal) opportunities are critical for a smooth transition to the new songbook in just a few years.

How are you currently learning about the new Psalter Hymnal? What ideas might you have for helping your church or a group of your friends begin to explore its contents? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Whether it’s a “psalm marathon” or just an informal get-together, I encourage you to actively engage now with the songs future generations will be singing.

–MRK

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Resource: The New Genevan Psalter

The New Genevan Psalter

Fans of the 450-year-old Genevan Psalter had good reason to get excited last year when the Canadian Reformed Churches released a new edition of their Book of Praise with updated settings of all 150 Genevan psalm tunes. For all of this songbook’s great features, however, many of its elements—such as the hymns, doctrinal standards, liturgical forms and prayers, church order, and subscription forms—are only useful in a Canadian Reformed context. Individuals and churches from other denominations or traditions would have little use for this extra material.

Just this week, however, I got word that the Book of Praise’s publishers have released a New Genevan Psalter containing all the updated Genevan psalm texts and tunes without CanRC-specific material! This psalter is intended for use by psalm-singing individuals or congregations from any tradition. For United Reformed congregations, it could serve as a solid Genevan supplement to the current Psalter Hymnal. As its website says, “A congregation that sings the Psalms is rooted in the church of all ages, and a congregation that sings the Psalms set to the Genevan tunes is embedded in the church of the Reformation.”

Rev. George van Popta explains more about the New Genevan Psalter’s purpose in its Preface:

In response to the ever-increasing interest in and appreciation for this precious legacy of John Calvin [the Genevan Psalter], it was thought good to publish a new English Psalter without the specifically Canadian Reformed elements that are included in the Book of Praise. With gratitude to our God we present the New Genevan Psalter to the English-speaking church. May our God be ‘enthroned on the praises of Israel’ (Psalm 22:3) through the use of this book. To him alone be the glory, now, and forever!

For more information, to look inside, or to order, you can visit the New Genevan Psalter’s website: http://newgenevanpsalter.wordpress.com/.

–MRK

February’s Psalm of the Month: 8B

The second installment in URC Psalmody’s Introduction to the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal

Sunrise over the Beaver River

Lord, our Lord, in all the earth
How excellent Your name!
You above the heavens have set
The glory of Your fame.

In addition to preserving the two beloved versions of Psalm 8 from the blue Psalter Hymnal (#12, 13), the URC/OPC Psalter Hymnal Committees included in the Psalm Proposal this excellent setting from The Book of Psalms for Singing. Explore the use of dynamic contrast as you sing—perhaps strong and joyful for the first and third stanzas, hushed and reverent for the second. Render the rousing 1742 tune AMSTERDAM with excitement that befits worshipping in the presence of such a majestic God.

Suggested stanzas: All

Source: Psalm 8B in The Book of Psalms for Singing and The Book of Psalms for Worship, Psalm 8 in the Trinity Psalter and the ARP Psalter.

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 8

  • Wondering at God’s excellence (v. 1)
  • Wondering at man’s lowliness (v. 2)
  • Wondering at God’s providence (vv. 3,4)
  • Wondering at man’s privileged place (vv. 5-8)
  • Wondering at God’s excellence (v. 9)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 8

If Psalm 8 refers only to the first Adam in his original state, its praise is dampened by the reality of the Fall. Humanity’s crown of “glory and honor” (v. 5) has been dragged through filth and mire. In our sin we abuse our dominion over the works of God’s hands (v. 7), and the whole creation groans as a result (Romans 8:22).

However, according to the apostles’ interpretation (cf. I Cor. 15:27, Eph. 1:22), Psalm 8 points us to Christ, the Second Adam, who promises restoration and reconciliation for our fallen world. The author of the letter to the Hebrews directly interprets Psalm 8:4-6 in reference to Jesus: “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:8,9). In awe of this Savior, we can well exclaim, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Applying Psalm 8

  • How do the mouths of babies and infants reveal God’s strength (v. 2; cf. Matt. 21:16)?
  • Why does God care for you (vv. 3,4)?
  • In what ways has sin corrupted the “glory and honor” of mankind (v. 5)?
  • Why is it comforting that God has put all things under Jesus’ feet (v. 6)?

The sum of Psalm 8 is this: In creating man, God demonstrated his infinite grace and fatherly love towards us, which should well amaze us. And although that happy condition has been almost entirely ruined by man’s fall, yet the traces of God’s free gifts to us which still remain should be enough to fill us with admiration. True, the proper order which God originally established no longer shines forth in this mournful and wretched overthrow, but the faithful whom God gathers to himself, under Christ their head, enjoy fragments of the good things they lost in Adam—enough to amaze them at God’s incredible grace. While David here focuses only on God’s earthly blessings, we must rise higher, and contemplate the invaluable treasures of the kingdom of heaven which he has unfolded in Christ, and all the gifts which belong to the spiritual life, that by reflecting upon these our hearts may be inflamed with love for God, that we may be stirred up to the practice of godliness, and that we may not allow ourselves to become lazy and negligent in celebrating his praises.

—paraphrased from Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 8:7-9

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

(A PDF version of this post, formatted as a bulletin insert, is available here.)


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