January 03, 2012
Psalms to live by
By Father Rocky Hoffman *

By Father Rocky Hoffman *

I had a question about music at Mass and substituting songs for the Psalm. During Mass on the Feast of Christ the King, the proper Psalm for Mass was the 93rd Psalm: The Lord is King, He is robed in Majesty. The musician at Mass substituted a song based on Psalm 34: Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord. He does this on a regular basis, and it disturbs me. I’ve experienced this in many parishes I’ve attended. The impression is that the psalms are interchangeable and any one of them can be selected to suit the particular inclinations of the choir leader or music group director at Mass. My belief is that the psalm for the Mass, like the Old Testament, New Testament and Gospel passages are in conjunction with the theme of a particular Mass and cannot be substituted.

Am I correct in this thought? If so, is there a particular Church document that I might reference, tactfully, when discussing this with our music director?  

I have found two citations from authoritative documents which can help answer your question, but in a few words, the Responsorial Psalm between the readings, is more in the nature of a song or hymn, than in the nature of a reading.  That is why it is more commonly sung than the readings. 
First, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), stipulates:  “For Sundays and solemnities, three readings are assigned: that is, from a Prophet, an Apostle, and a Gospel. By these the Christian people are brought to know the continuity of the work of salvation according to the God’s wonderful plan. These readings should be followed strictly. During the Easter Season, according to the tradition of the Church, instead of the reading from the Old Testament, the reading is taken from the Acts of the Apostles.”  (GIRM, no. 357, emphasis added.)  Please note that this paragraph from the GIRM makes no mention of the Responsorial Psalm.  “Readings” are defined as Old Testament (Prophet), New Testament (Apostle), and Gospel.  The Responsorial Psalm is not even mentioned.  Since it is not mentioned, a liturgist or a parish music director could make the case that it is not necessary to follow strictly the assignment of the Responsorial Psalm; in other words, you could substitute it. 

However, the instruction “Redemptionis Sacramentum” (2004) points out:  “It is also illicit to omit or to substitute the prescribed biblical readings on one’s own initiative, and especially “to substitute other, non-biblical texts for the readings and responsorial Psalm, which contain the word of God.”
With these two authentic citations in mind, we can safely say that no one should substitute the Responsorial Psalm with a “non-biblical text,” but you could substitute the Responsorial Psalm with another Psalm according to the legitimate pastoral needs of the assembly.

Rev. Francis J. Hoffman, JCD (Fr. Rocky) is Executive Director of Relevant Radio.  Ordained as a priest for Opus Dei in 1992 by Blessed John Paul II, he holds a doctorate in Canon Law from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, an MBA from the University of Notre Dame, and a BA in History from Northwestern University.  His Question and Answer column appears in several Catholic newspapers and magazines across the country.

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