When I began to become Reformed, c. 1980–81, the Reformed churches I knew were hymn-singing congregations. Typically they used the blue (1961) Trinity Hymnal, published by OPC (and later by Great Commission Publications). There are Psalms (for singing and reciting) in the blue Trinity Hymnal (TH), of course, but they aren’t gathered in one place for singing. In this respect, the TH is truly a hymnal rather than a psalter-hymnal. The red TH is an improvement in certain respects but it remained deficient in not collecting the psalms in one place for singing. Again, considering the history of Reformed worship the decision not to gather God’s songbook together for use in public worship is odd. The Reformed and Presbyterian churches were Psalm singing churches from the beginning. We translated the Psalms into the language of the people and set them to tunes for use in public worship. For at least 150 years Psalms were virtually the only thing sung in public worship by the Reformed and Presbyterian churches.
Over the years, however, I came to understand that history and original understanding of the principle behind our original practice. Finding a Psalter to use, however, was not always easy. I first came into sustained contact with Psalm-singing in the Escondido Christian Reformed church and then again in my congregation in Kansas City, when a member graciously re-bound and donated a set of Blue Psalter-Hymnals (PH). Singing Psalms in worship is one thing, but planning a service and choosing Psalms to sing is somewhat different experience and I became quite fond of the PH right away. It was a great improvement over the TH. It contains settings of the 150 Psalms, many of which are quite good and faithful to the text. Nevertheless, some of the settings, however, aren’t terribly appropriate to the Psalm and too many of the Psalms are loosely paraphrased. For those reasons and others the URCs and the OPC are cooperating on a new Psalter-Hymnal.
The other day a group of students asked if there were any contemporary Psalters. They’ve been reading on the history of Reformed worship and wondered what one would do, if one took up the historic Reformed practice of Psalm singing in worship. I took them to my office and began pulling psalters off the shelf. They are pictured above. It was quite encouraging, however, to the students and to me to see how many options there are for folk who want to sing the Psalms. I hadn’t gathered them all together before and, further, there are some not represented. So, the pile of Psalters could be even larger.
Those pictured, in no particular order, from top to bottom, are the Canadian Reformed Book of Praise. It contains the Anglo-Genevan Psalter (with other canonical and non-canonical songs). I include it because it is a great way to access the Genevan tunes (some of which still work quite well) and settings of the Psalms. The second is the Psalms of David in Meter, the 1650 Scottish Psalter. It is a split-leaf Psalter so that tunes and Psalms can be mixed and matched. There are smaller editions of this, which I didn’t include in the photo. There are two copies of the 1912 Psalter. This is the collection of metrical Psalms published by the old United Presbyterian denomination and used by the CRC until the publication of its first Psalter-Hymnal in the 1930s. The bottom two Psalters are two of my favorites. Both are published by the RPCNA (Crown and Covenant). The red Psalter (The Book of Psalms for Singing) is the older and the blue (The Book of Psalms for Worship) is newer. We have the red Psalter in the chapel at WSC and I’ve used the blue Psalter worshipping with my RPCNA brothers and sisters with much joy and profit. Both are skillfully and carefully done. I commend them for your use. The Free Church of Scotland has produced a new Psalter, Sing Psalms, which, like the 1650 Psalter, is split-leaf but contains updated tunes and settings (and, I suppose) translations of the Psalms. I’ve had the opportunity to use some of the settings and they are very well done.
That we have this abundance of Psalters is a wonderful thing. My students were thrilled to see that they exist—that they aren’t just history or theory—and that they can be put to use in the corporate worship of God. I am encouraged and I hope you are also.
There are surely good Psalters of which I’m ignorant or which I haven’t listed. Please let us know below what Psalters we should add to this list so that we can continue recovering the practice of singing God’s Word in public (and private) worship.