I suggested, a few weeks ago, that we ought to use the GIRM to "help" our priests ensure that our Masses were celebrated worthily. David Schütz, whose blog, Sentire Cum Ecclesia, features in my blogroll, is a former Lutheran Pastor in Melbourne who now works for the local Archdiocese. He runs another blog, Sing Lustily And With Good Courage, about hymnody, and it was there that I came across an interesting point.
David said: "In fact, it is prohibited to replace the responsorial psalm used in the liturgy with a paraphrase."
I e-mailed him to ask about this and he has pointed me to the GIRM. In the edition for England and Wales it says:
"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."
"61. 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.
The following may also be sung in place of the Psalm assigned in the Lectionary:
either the responsorial gradual from the Graduale Romanum, or the responsorial psalm
or the Alleluia psalm from the Graduale Simplex, in the form described in these books."
What these two paragraphs mean is that there is a limit to the amount of choice the Priest or (more likely) the parish Musikmeister has at Responsorial Psalm time. It's either the Psalm as printed in the Lectionary, the Psalm for the season of the year or for the category of Saints, or the alternatives from the Graduales.
What is implicit in the Australian and E&W translations, and explicit in the US translation is this:
"Songs or hymns may not be used in place of the responsorial Psalm."
What is also implicit throughout is that the only alternative to the Responsorial Psalm exactly as printed are the official alternatives, also exactly as printed. There is no scope for paraphrase, no scope for creativity.
I might also argue that this means that responses that can't be learned simply and easily by the congregation are not licit either, for how does the congregation "take part by singing the response" if those who are responsible for music have chosen something they really like, but which the congregation can't catch first time round (or, more ominously, second, third, or fourth time round).
Now, I know that this will raise various hackles about actuosa participatio and more, but one step at a time. These are the rules for celebration of the Ordinary Form in England and Wales at present, and it is our duty to make sure that they are observed.