|ROME, 14 JULY 2009 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: Can the psalm after the first reading (usually from the Old
Testament) be replaced by a hymn related to the second reading (usually
from the New Testament) or the Gospel? Music groups rarely have a
repertoire that includes all the psalms, but can usually find something
related to the second reading or Gospel.
A: The short answer to this question is no. The General Instruction of
the Roman Missal (GIRM, American translation) is quite explicit in No.
61, which deals with the psalm:
"After the first reading comes the responsorial Psalm, which is an
integral part of the Liturgy of the Word and holds great liturgical and
pastoral importance, because it fosters meditation on the word of God.
"The responsorial Psalm should correspond to each reading and should, as
a rule, be taken from the Lectionary.
"It is preferable that the responsorial Psalm be sung, at least as far
as the people's response is concerned. Hence, the psalmist, or the
cantor of the Psalm, sings the verses of the Psalm from the ambo or
another suitable place. The entire congregation remains seated and
listens but, as a rule, takes part by singing the response, except when
the Psalm is sung straight through without a response. In order,
however, that the people may be able to sing the Psalm response more
readily, texts of some responses and Psalms have been chosen for the
various seasons of the year or for the various categories of Saints.
These may be used in place of the text corresponding to the reading
whenever the Psalm is sung. If the Psalm cannot be sung, then it should
be recited in such a way that it is particularly suited to fostering
meditation on the word of God.
"In the dioceses of the United States of America, the following may also
be sung in place of the Psalm assigned in the Lectionary for Mass:
either the proper or seasonal antiphon and Psalm from the Lectionary,
as found either in the Roman Gradual or Simple Gradual or
in another musical setting; or an antiphon and Psalm from another
collection of the psalms and antiphons, including psalms arranged in
metrical form, providing that they have been approved by the United
States Conference of Catholic Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop. Songs or
hymns may not be used in place of the responsorial Psalm."
Thus, although there is a lot of flexibility in order to promote singing
the psalm, including the substitution of the psalm of the day and
possible use of an approved metrical version, there is no occasion in
which a non-biblical hymn may substitute the psalm.
This is because no human work, no matter now musically or poetically
accomplished, can substitute God's inspired word. This norm is already
found in the GIRM, No. 57:
"In the readings, the table of God's word is prepared for the faithful,
and the riches of the Bible are opened to them. Hence, it is preferable
to maintain the arrangement of the biblical readings, by which light is
shed on the unity of both Testaments and of salvation history. Moreover,
it is unlawful to substitute other, non-biblical texts for the readings
and responsorial Psalm, which contain the word of God."
Only God's Word enjoys that special presence of Christ which is found
during the liturgical proclamation of the Word. As St. Augustine wrote
in his lectures on the Gospel of John (30,1):
"The passage of the holy Gospel of which we have before discoursed to
you, beloved, is followed by that of today, which has just now been
read. Both the disciples and the Jews heard the Lord speaking; both men
of truth and liars heard the Truth speaking; both friends and enemies
heard Charity speaking; both good men and bad men heard the Good
speaking. They heard, but He discerned; He saw and foresaw whom His
discourse profited and would profit. Among those who were then, He saw;
among us who were to be, He foresaw. Let us therefore hear the Gospel,
just as if we were listening to the Lord Himself present: nor let us
say, O happy they who were able to see Him! because there were many of
them who saw, and also killed Him; and there are many among us who have
not seen Him, and yet have believed. For the precious truth that sounded
forth from the mouth of the Lord was both written for our sakes, and
preserved for our sakes, and recited for our sakes, and will be recited
also for the sake of our prosperity, even until the end of the world.
The Lord is above; but the Lord, the Truth, is also here. For the body
of the Lord , in which He rose again from the dead, can be only in one
place; but His truth is everywhere diffused. Let us then hear the Lord,
and let us also speak that which He shall have granted to us concerning
His own words."
God speaks to us through all the readings and not just the Gospels. We
also respond to him using his inspired words which encapsulate all
possible human reactions to the encounter with God.
* * *
Follow-up: Substituting the Psalm [7-28-2009]
In relation to our July 14 answer on the responsorial psalm, a New
Zealand reader asked: "Are the first or second readings in the liturgy
optional? I have attended Mass in New Zealand where either the first or
second reading is omitted and the Gospel acclamation is completely
The principles involved here are found in the Introduction to the
Regarding Masses on Sundays and solemnities, No. 79 of the Introduction
says: "In Masses to which three readings are assigned, all three are to
be used. If, however, for pastoral reasons the Conference of Bishops has
given permission for two readings only to be used, the choice between
the two first readings is to be made in such a way as to safeguard the
Church's intent to instruct the faithful more completely in the mystery
of salvation. Thus, unless the contrary is indicated in the text of the
Lectionary, the reading to be chosen as the first reading is the one
that is more closely in harmony with the Gospel, or, in accord with the
intent just mentioned, the one that is more helpful toward a coherent
catechesis over an extended period, or that preserves the semicontinuous
reading of some biblical book."
With respect to the weekday readings, No. 82 says:
"The arrangement of weekday readings provides texts for every day of the
week throughout the year. In most cases, therefore, these readings are
to be used on their assigned days, unless a solemnity, a feast, or else
a memorial with proper readings occurs.
"In using the Order of Readings for weekdays attention must be paid to
whether one reading or another from the same biblical book will have to
be omitted because of some celebration occurring during the week. With
the arrangement of readings for the entire week in mind, the priest in
that case arranges to omit the less significant passages or combines
them in the most appropriate manner with other readings, if they
contribute to an integral view of a particular theme."
Therefore, unless the New Zealand bishops' conference has allowed the
use of only two readings on Sunday, then three readings must be used. I
have been unable to verify whether this is the case.
Although the lectionary offers ample possibilities for choosing various
readings on weekdays, there is no provision for omitting one of the
readings altogether. Hence, two readings and a psalm are always
On the other hand, the rubrics foresee the possibility of omitting the
acclamation before the Gospel if it is not sung.