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The Psalm Translation in GIA Hymnals: A History

by Michael Silhavy

In the 1950’s, French scholars began work to provide a translation of the psalms that was faithful to the text and faithful to the “sprung rhythm” of the original Hebrew poetry. The translation was included in the French language La Bible de Jerusalem. Composer and theologian Joseph Gelineau, SJ, was one of the scholars involved with the translation; he also composed psalm tones to be sung with this translation. The same principles of sprung rhythm were applied for an English translation. In recognition of assistance from the (then named) Ladies of the Grail, the name Grail Psalms was given to this English language translation. GIA first published Gelineau’s settings and the English translation in the 1960’s. After the Second Vatican Council, it was decided that the Grail translation of the psalms would be sole English translation to be used in the Liturgy of the Hours. It has also been used in GIA hymnals, and continues to be used today although in a revised way and in a new version known as The Abbey Psalms and Canticles.

When the first English language Lectionaries were published in the United States after the Second Vatican Council, a number of psalm translations were authorized for publication in the Lectionary. Translations included the Grail, New American Bible, and Jerusalem Bible versions. Thus, the Grail Psalms were one of the official translations that could be used in the liturgy and printed in a Lectionary.

With the release of the new edition of the Lectionary in 1998, it was decided that a single translation of the psalms would be printed in the Lectionary. The New American Bible translation was chosen. This directive did not mean other translations were prohibited during the Liturgy of the Word, they simply couldn’t be printed in the Lectionary. GIA continued to publish psalm settings using the Grail translation. Chief among these settings were the original settings by Gelineau as well as other composers, most notably Michel Guimont.

A 1983 and a 1993 revision of the Grail Psalms were released and published by GIA. Although never approved for Lectionary use, the 1993 translation did receive an imprimatur from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Following the release of the Vatican instruction Liturgiam authenticam in 2001, the Grail psalms were retranslated yet again according to principles of that document.

At the same time, the 2001 General Instruction of the Roman Missal (paragraph 61) gave even greater worldwide permission as to what translation could be sung during the Liturgy of the Word. The Grail Psalms remained an official translation for liturgical use and continued to appear in GIA hymnals. 

A new Grail translation was approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on November 11, 2008, and was granted a recognitio by the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on April 9, 2010. It was given the name The Revised Grail Psalms. Furthermore, a March 19, 2010 decree from the Vatican directs that the Revised Grail Psalms translation is to be used in all future liturgical books.                                                                                                                                                           

This translation was created by the monks of Conception Abbey. In 2019, the rights of the translation were assigned to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. A new name was given to the translation: The Abbey Psalms and Canticles.

As mentioned above, this translation is now the only translation that will be used in the Church’s English language liturgical books going forward. It has already been published in the revised ritual books, and it has been used in Gather, Fourth Edition and Sunday’s Word.

Any new lectionaries printed will include this translation. Likewise, future hymnals, seasonal resources, missalettes and other publications from any publisher will be required to use this psalm translation.