25 January 2010

Laudate Dominum omnes gentes

Popes and Patriarchs may, as I described in an earlier post, have declined to convey episkope to a candidate unable to recite the whole Psalter memoriter. It remains true that not very many of us could deliver very many of the psalms from memory. Perhaps some of us could repeat just one psalm perfectly; partly because it consists of but two verses; partly because it is the psalm which concludes our Sunday Evening public worship, being by custom the concluding element in the service of Benediction as it commonly is done in this Atlantic Archipelago.

Byzantine Christians may be familiar with ps 116/117 as the last of the psalms in the Saturday Vespers with which Byzantines begin the celebration of the Lord's Day. Really elderly Latins might recall that right at the end of the Easter Vigil, as it was celebrated in those far off days before Dr Bugnini, the blood-lust stirring in his heart, rolled up his sleeves and started to sharpen an experimental knife, this was the psalm of the vestigial First Vespers of Easter with which that service concluded. It is a not inept summary of the Paschal Mystery.

It opens with one of the commonest words in the psalter: HLLU. Most will recognise this as the command which is often combined with an abbreviated form of the Tetragrammaton to give us the form HLLU-YA (Hallelujah; Alleluia). And a browse through the three columns in Brown Driver and Briggs suggests that this is noisy word; with suggestions of shouting or crying aloud as you might at a wedding feast or a harvest thanksgiving. The context is commonly liturgical. But in this psalm the text proceeds rather unusually: HLLU ET-YHWH KL GOIM means "Praise YHWH all Gentiles". It is not common to find a term which is most at home with the chosen people as they worship God in the exclusivity of their Temple being applied to unclean Gentiles. Not surprisingly, the Rabbi from Tarsus, whose festival we celebrate today and whose Year we have just kept, refers this to the eschatological glorifying of God for His mercy by the Gentiles; in which his teaching is in the rabbinic mainstream (cf R. Kimchi "This psalm ... belongs to the days of the Messiah ... the Gentiles shall worship YHWH") except for the fact that S Paul, converted today so that he might be the great Apostle of the Gentiles, believes this part of the Eschaton to be even now fulfilled.

S Paul and other rabbis are confident that the psalm's next phrase refers to the peoples, or tribes, of 'the Circumcision'. But the verb here is a different one: ShBCh, which is very much less common (BDB call it a late Aramaism); some have felt that it lacks the exuberance of HLL. The various Greek and Latin manuscripts and editions are uncertain how to bring out the difference - they tend to use the same Greek (ain-) or Latin (laud-) roots, sometimes adding prefixes such as ep- and col- (although Pius XII's men experimented with praedicate) which suggest 'in accompaniment'. It almost looks as though the Hebrew Nation is being given a supporting role in the Gentile liturgical praise of YHWH!

Pauline theology enables us to tie things in together. It is in the Paschal Blood of Christ, in His Easter Flesh, that the Temple's middle wall of partition is broken down and the Both, Jew and Gentile, are reconciled in one Body to God through the Cross. As the Messiah dies upon the Cross, the Veil of the Temple is torn in two and the Enmity is Murdered. It is in this way that Christ became a diakonos of the Circumcision on behalf of the Truth of God to confirm the Promises of the Fathers. And he confirmed those promises by fulfilling them, Antitype to their types. As we sang earlier in Benediction, Et antiquum documentum novo cedat ritui. So indeed, the truth of the LORD endureth for ever (as we sing in the Anglican Patrimony when, God help us, we do Benediction in that murderous Mr Coverdale's English!).


Little Black Sambo said...

How was Alleluya uttered? Could it have been ululation, such as they do at Middle Eastern weddings?

JamesIII said...


In my college years, My Hebrew professor, Dr. Malamoud, an expert in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic dialects, had the same opinion. Alleluia was a modernized form of the ululation.

Interestingly, he also speculated that if one attempted to pronounce the unspeakable name of God, YHWH, it was designed so that only the "sound of the wind blowing" was produced.

Interesting thoughts.

Malcolm Kemp said...

It is said that in one Anglican cathedral, some year ago, in a diocese with a bishop who was shy but not retiring, there was a power cut during the singing of the Psalms at Choral Evensong on a dark winter's evening. The choir, by this time unaccompanied, just carried on singing the Psalms for the Day, totally from memory.

I am sure there are plenty of other cathedrals where this could happen.

Joshua said...

Certainly Ps 116, Laudate Dominum, is customarily sung at the end of what's commonly called Benediction, while the Sacrament is being returned to the tabernacle (of course, strictly speaking, the service is composed of four parts: Exposition, when - all singing O salutaris hostia -the Sanctissimum is emplaced in the monstrance on the Tabor stand; Adoration (be it for a short time in silence or for a longer time with sundry prayers and chants); Benediction proper, nihil dicens - unless its Melkite rite; and Reposition - when Laudate comes in).

However, apparently among the Yanks, they like to sing instead that bit of the Te Deum versified, "Holy God we praise Thy Name" (which, with its worship of the Name, does sound rather Semitic - anyone put it back into Hebrew?).

Joshua said...

What's this, Fr H, about loud shrieks of delight at the harvest thanksgiving at St Thomas the Martyr's? I do hope that you, the vestrymen, and the ladies' guild don't get stuck into the fruit wines and party uproariously...

Joshua said...

St Augustine somewhere writes of singing with jubilation as just letting the music soar with unworded delight... a little like the jubilus at the end of the Alleluia in the plainchant? (Ambrosian chant has much longer such passages, with hundreds of notes on one syllable - perhaps that's what the Bp of Hippo had in mind from his days as a catechumen and neophyte at Milan.)

Michael McDonough said...


I hate to sound like one who must constantly defend American praxis against Australian criticism, so I will not. Besides, I take it that you're experience of such American praxis stems from attending the N.A.C. in Rome, and I have never been there, so what do I know?

I will say however, that in you excellent description of the 4 moments of Eucharistic Adoration outside of Mass, that the "Holy God we praise Thy Name", in my experience on these shores, is actually commenced after the Reposition, as a Recessional Hymn. I think that is also how it is done on Sunday evenings on EWTN from the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama.

It is certainly a Hymn which most Catholics of a certain age, whatever their proclivities, know how to sing, and sing with full heart.

I'm not sure if there is a general custom about what to chant while the Priest gets up to take the Host from the Monstrance for reposition, but Psalm 116(117) is at least one of the uses I have experienced more often. (I think that at EWTN, the nuns tend to use another traditional chant, Adoremus in aeternum, Sanctissimum Sacramentum, which may be a non-excusive custom of their Order.

Michael McDonough said...

I have often wondered about the sound of the chanting (psallere) to which Augustine's ear was attuned. It was "solemn", and had the enormous advantage according to his own writing, that it was the Word of God, as chanted by the Son of God himself (Epistle to Januarius, #54, toward the end).

When I hear so many Catholics defending their use of "Praise and Worship singing" in the Liturgy, using the famous (mis?)quote of Augustine in the CCC, I am reminded of how Augustine writes there of how the Donatists mocked the Catholics for the reserve and solemnity of their chanting during the Liturgy, prefering, as he puts it, their own songs, coined by mere human genius, and sung as if to sound the trumpets of war and send the armies into battle!

How much silliness could have been prevented by a more "fact checked" and Traditional quote in the CCC!

Chris said...

Adoremus in æternum is the antiphon used on Psalm 117(116) at that point.

GOR said...

“…that bit of the Te Deum versified, ‘Holy God we praise Thy Name’…”

In my younger days in Ireland, Joshua, “Holy God” was a staple not just at the end of Benediction but at all and sundry times. I’m not sure why, but possibly because everyone knew it and one could always be assured of a lusty rendition from the congregation. My mother - who was otherwise a devout woman – absolutely hated it (familiarity breeding contempt perhaps…) and referred to it as that old ‘Come all ye…” (If you’re familiar with old Irish ballads, you’ll understand that reference…).

Apparently, this devotion to the hymn was not confined to Ireland. Martin Mosebach in “The Heresy of Formlessness” relates how it was his favorite hymn as a boy – in German, of course: “Grosser Gott,wir loben Dich!”

Sir Watkin said...

"it was the Word of God, as chanted by the Son of God himself (Epistle to Januarius, #54, toward the end)."

Do you mean no 55?

Perhaps I have misunderstood you, but if it's the passage I think you have in mind does it mean any more than that we have exempla et praecepta from the Lord and Apostles in Scripture for the fact that we should sing hymnis et psalmis, rather than claiming that the chants themselves are those that the Lord and his Apostles used?

Much though I should like it to mean that (bearing in mind the tantalising similarities that suggest the chants of Church and Synagogue share a common (temple?) ancestry), I wonder whether it does.

What too is the force of Augustine's criticism of the African manner of singing? Is he saying that their approach is too slow and lifeless (pigriora), with the consequence that the Donatists actually have a point when they criticise Catholics (of their acquaintance) for singing solemnly (sobrie)? On that reading Augustine would be not be commending (excessive) solemnity, but preferring a lively style of performance.

He would be like the contemporary commentator who says, "It's no wonder people think chant, polyphony and other traditional music are dull, when too many people sing them in such a dull way, instead of letting them live and dance. If you do that you're positively driving people towards the dross of Kendrick and Co. You're your own worst enemies."

Joshua said...

I must confess: my awareness of "Holy God" as the thing sung at/after Reposition dates to (ahem) my occasional visits, as a university student, to "recollection" (long spiritual talk plus Benediction) at the "study centre" of Opus Dei, run at that stage by various American priests and laymen.

[While they're nice folk, and indeed when in Rome a few weeks back I paid a visit to St Josemaria to return the favour, so to speak, they're not quite my cup of tea...]

Never having encountered this hymn used thus, I assumed it was a custom from the U.S.A.


But what about the far more ancient, and better, practice of singing Salve Regina or somesuch Marian anthem after Benediction - historically speaking, such an evening devotion of singing to Our Lady was the earlier practice, which (for more solemnity) was added to by arranging for the Bl Sacrament to be exposed: and in the manner of liturgical evolution, Exposition took over, reducing the Marian focus to an adjunct, now often entirely omitted.

The O.D.'s did, I am glad to say, maintain the proper historical referent by always ending with the seasonal antiphon, versicle and collect, in Latin.

Joshua said...

I assume readers would appreciate the old joke about O.D.:

(to the tune of Mass XVIII's Agnus Dei)

"Opus Dei, qui tollis pecunia mundi..."

+David said...


On the other hand, context (and scale) is everything! Go to:
to hear it after Benediction in German.

Michael McDonough said...

Sir Watkin,

Yes, that's the section, but here's what he wrote:

"De hac re tam utili ad movendum pie animum, et accendendum divinae dilectionis affectum, varia consuetudo est, et pleraque in Africa Ecclesiae membra pigriora sunt: ita ut Donatistae nos reprehendant, quod sobrie psallimus in ecclesia divina cantica Prophetarum, cum ipsi ebrietates suas ad canticum psalmorum humano ingenio compositorum, quasi ad tubas exhortationis inflamment. Quando autem non est tempus, cum in ecclesia fratres congregantur, sancta cantandi, nisi cum legitur aut disputatur, aut antistes clara voce deprecatur, aut communis oratio voce diaconi indicitur?" (Letter 55, 18.34)

He could care less that the Donatists reprove the Catholics for chanting solemnly (sobrie psallimus) when they engage in their tavern songs (ebrietates); finishing off with "when we brothers (his monasterium?) are assembled in the church, what better time to chant the holy things, except during readings or sermons, or when the high priest is praying out loud, or when a common prayer is signaled by the deacon's voice?

Sounds almost (modern) Byzantine Liturgy to my eyes!

Sir Watkin said...

Do you not think that Augustine is criticising the Africans?

piger is a pejorative term.

Michael McDonough said...

I do not. Serge Lancel's biography mentions that Augustine shared a certain "Africaness" with his fellows, who included the Donatists by the way. I imagine his idea of appropriate hymns were those of Ambrose, written the year before Augustine's baptism, against the siege of the Arians in Milan. In Africa, his own bishop was a "Greek", so he probably knew, and appreciated whatever psalmody he inherited as bishop.

From the quote what I do see him deploring are the songs the Donatists wrote, which he mocks as akin to songs of battle attack (and the Donatists were rather bellicose and had their terrorists). The main reason he gives are the texts derived from Scripture, whereas the Donatist songs were inventions of mere men.

As I see it, he is strongly encouraging his African Catholics to stick to their "lazy (or slow?)" way of chanting the words of the Prophets, and not to want to follow the snappy example of their fellow citizens, the Donatists. (KIM, the Donatist cathedral at Hippo was within earshot of the Catholic cathedral.)

Sir Watkin said...

Hard to be definitive.

Obviously Augustine doesn't like what the Donatists do, but beyond that, is he saying, "Customs among Catholics vary from place to place, and that's just fine"?

Or, "Customs vary from place to place, but in some places variation goes too far, to the extent that people react against the Catholic practice and those nasty heretics are encouraged in their (undoubtedly misguided) ways"?

Auginstine's Africaness isn't decisive unless we know that that it extended to musical style (and if his Africaness is shared with the Donatists this muddies the waters rather than clarifying them).

Likewise any Greekness inherited from his bishop. Was there any divergence at this date between Greek and African styles of singing? If there was, which did Augustine favour (if indeed he had a preference)?

If Ambrose is relevant, aren't his hymns humano ingenio compositi too? Or is the distinction a subtler one, not between Scriptural texts and all others (modo Calvinistico), but more between original compostions that closely follow Scripture and are imbued with its authentic spirit, and those which do their own thing? (And when it comes to performance style, do we know anything about how Ambrosian hymns were originally sung?)

I can't see that these questions can be resolved, tho' I do find it hard to take pigriora as a neutral term, still less one of approbation.

Michael McDonough said...

I'm afraid I can't get too involved with you in discussing this issue at the present. I'm receiving chemotherapy and radiation therapy aggressively, and it really wears me out. The points you raise are all very interesting and my view is certainly not definitive. It's just hard for me to focus on many details at once right now.

As to one or two of your questions. In the whole context of these two letters, Augustine is replying to the priest Januarius's questions about how to decide on what are the proper customs in the churches to be observed, and how to tell. I think you know that as well as I do.

I think "pigriora" is an admission by Augustine that his congregation are not enthusiastic towards chanting (in that sense he may agree with the Donatist charge), and yet he would not have them follow the style of the Donatists either. I only bring up the Greekness of Bishop Valerius, because it was a fact: he was raised in the Greek monastic tradition, apparently, but had become a bishop in Hippo in Africa. I have no idea if that was a very common sight in those days, I just find it rather intriguing. Valerius had trouble speaking colloquial Latin to his people, which is one reason why he corraled Augustine into becoming a priest, and broke with ecclesiastical tradition in having him ordained co-adjutor bishop: he needed Augustine's vox. Augustine also had some Punic, which Valerius knew not at all.

So, my sense is that when he became bishop on the death of Valerius, one of Augustine's goals was to instill his idea of proper formation in Church custom in his clergy, and through them, in his people. I'm sure he worked closely with his Patriarch in Carthage, also. But, he did have the adage given to him by "that most blessed man Ambrose", of "when in Rome do as the Romans do." (Actually imparted to Augustine for repeating to his mother, Monica.) And he reports that early in the correspondence.

So, there are a series of distinctions that he makes about "customs": some are local, some are universal, some differ even locally, and some the people have seen done in Ephesus, and now want to see put into practice in Hippo! Some are legitimate, others are like "wild vines overgrowing the path through the forest". It is for the Bishop to decide, and to prune back what is obstructing the good path.

What is clear with regard to chant -- and you have said as much earlier -- is that Augustine prefers to chant the words of Scripture using some form of chant which he regards as traditional, rather than 1) not sing, as seems to be the tendency among the "pigriores" Catholics (nothing really changes), or 2) sing the raucous "battle hymns" of the Donatists (this may be a sleight on his part in the direction of the latter, he was capable of that). For all I know, it may have been true of the Donatists, that like the Methodists, "they had all the good hymns!"

Sufficit mihi pro tempore!

Michael McDonough said...

Fr. H,

Although I've commented a number of times on this post, I have so far failed to say that I found this post about the Alleluia very informative.

Michael McDonough said...

This is a bit of modern make-believe, or perhaps learned interpretation, as I understand it, but the ululation component is clear. Frankly, I love to listen to it. Was African chant like this? Who knows?

Psalm 2


Joshua said...


"But what about the far more ancient, and better, practice of singing Salve Regina or somesuch Marian anthem after Benediction..."

That is my experience. O salutaris is sung the Exposition, Tantum Ergo at the incensing of the Host, just before the Benediction, and after the Reposition, the Marian antiphon of the season.

Sir Watkin said...

We have probably done this passage of Augustine to death! I think that ultimately our conclusions about it and its context are not terribly different.

Thank you for a most interesting discussion. My apologies if the exhaustive has deteriorated into the merely exhausting.

Michael McDonough said...

Sir Watkin,

Not at all. I do think we rather agree than disagree. I probably misspoke saying Augustine was NOT being critical of the Catholics: more precisely he was being critical in the sense of challenging them to do better.

Your posts were spiritual refreshment, stimulating; my written responses are what tires me!

Sir Watkin said...

Yes, I think that's how I should read it.

Thank you for the conversation - I too find this sort of close reading of a text most stimulating.

May S. Augustine's prayers strengthen and uphold you as you undergo your treatment.