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Ecumenical Grail Psalter

The Ecumenical Grail Psalter Paperback by Conception Abbey

The Grail Psalter was published in 1963 – the translation was an attempt to replicate some of the rhythms of Hebrew poetry (found in the Psalms) into the English translation. This was revised in 1983 to make the translation more inclusive horizontally (that is, with reference to humans). A further light revision in 1992 tried to avoid gender specific pronouns wherever possible.

But, as with so much under Pope Benedict, a new English translation was made – gender exclusive. This was published in 2010 and approved by the Vatican. There are several modified versions of it.

There was a desire to have a version of this Revised Grail Psalter which is a more accurate translation of the original Hebrew and also more inclusive, conforming to contemporary English usage. A recent comment here pointed to this Ecumenical Grail Psalter being online.

Previously I wrote in anticipation of the Revised Grail Psalter. And then I wrote three posts about that Revised Grail Psalter (1, 2, 3).

In that last post, I carefully examined Psalm 2 in the Revised Grail Psalter. I will now see whether the Ecumenical Grail Psalter (following using italics) improves this.

Verse 2 is the first change from the Revised Grail Psalter:

2 They arise, the kings of the earth;
princes plot against the LORD and his Anointed.

becomes

2 They arise, the rulers of the earth;
nobles plot against the LORD and his Anointed.

The next change is

4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the LORD derides and mocks them.

to

4 The One who sits in the heavens laughs;
the LORD derides and mocks them.

Arguably, “The One” makes this more inclusive, but that is lost in the next breath when the Ecumenical Grail continues

5 Then the Lord will speak in his anger,
and strike them with terror and rage.

which not only has “his” but adds an extra “Lord” not present in either the original text or the Revised Grail which had

5 Then he will speak in his anger,
his rage will strike them with terror.

Verse 6 in Ecumenical Grail is identical to Revised Grail:

6 “It is I who have appointed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”

But, you immediately spot, Ecumenical Grail having removed “kings” in verse 1 has now lost a central point of the psalm – The kings of the earth plot against God’s anointed whom God has appointed as his king on Zion!

Verse 7 is unchanged. Verse 8 changes

8 Ask of me and I will give you
the nations as your inheritance,
and the ends of the earth as your possession.

to

8 “Ask of me and I will make nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth as your possession.

I’m struggling to see the point of that change. Help me?

Verse 9 unchanged. Verse 10 is changed to be consistent with 1:

10 So now, O kings, understand;
take warning, rulers of the earth.

becoming

10 So now, O rulers, understand;
take warning, nobles of the earth.

Verse 11 – unchanged. Verse 12

12 lest he be angry and you perish on the way,
for suddenly his anger will blaze.
Blessed are all who trust in God!

admittedly is made more inclusive as:

12 lest God be angry and you perish on the way
in the sudden blaze of God’s anger.
Blessed are all who trust in God!

In conclusion, from the limitations of examining one psalm carefully, I continue to find the Revised Grail Psalter unimpressive, and the Ecumenical Grail Psalter a slight improvement in some areas with a surprising loss in others.

I will purchase the Ecumenical Psalter – just because of my interest in the Psalms and Psalm translations, but I will not be switching to it in my daily prayer. There is also The Ecumenical Grail Psalter – Singing Version which also interests me.

What do you think?

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13 Responses to Ecumenical Grail Psalter

  1. This is likely a poor place to introduce myself, but I have just found time to write and, as they say, there is no time like the present.

    I only speak two languages well, but that seems enough to show me that translation of poetry is a charlatan’s work. But what else can we do but play along? Perhaps an element of the original will come through… So we try.

    But, to the point, didn’t the introduction of the psalms come into Christian liturgy from the Greek? Reproducing Hebraic rhythms may be interesting, but is it relevant to Christian worship? And why must everything be inclusive? The psalms are challenging–exceedingly so–and might they best be approached head on with the appropriate stubborn courage and open-eyed wonder? (I think so.)

    • Welcome, Kevin. Are you suggesting that we should abandon the Western practice of translating the Hebrew Bible from Hebrew, and follow the Eastern practice of translating the Septuagint?

      As to the issue of inclusiveness, I see that issue as translating into contemporary English. Your introduction of yourself didn’t state what two languages you speak, or where you live, but, in the English we speak in this country, the word “men”, as just one example, would have once included women. It no longer does. “God made men and put them in the Garden of Eden” would no longer accurately reflect the understanding of that story. Whereas Paul used the word ἀδελφοὶ to include women, hence translating this merely as “brothers” may once have been correct, it no longer is, and we correctly translate it now as “brothers and sisters”. I hope this helps.

      Blessings.

  2. Thank you for the welcome, Bosco!

    I hesitate to make sweeping recommendations, but I will venture to say that replicating Hebraic rhythms hasn’t much to do with translating the psalms into English. (But perhaps I’m simply speaking from ignorance. If such a thing can be done convincingly, without forcing the English, I would like to hear it. Still, it isn’t what would be most important to me.)

    As for an inclusive approach, I assumed we were dealing with more than gender. I thought the idea was making the psalms ‘more friendly,’ an idea that I find very problematic. Some would tone down or even eliminate the curses and vindictiveness one finds in the psalms, but I prefer to wrestle with them. I prefer wrestling with all of it, to include my stubborn desire to always see Christ in the psalms. (I often wish I could pray the psalms as might a Jew.)

    By the way, I haven’t any real issue with gender inclusive translations, but I guess I’m old-fashioned enough to think that ‘men’ often means both men and women even in 2016.

    Of course, we really get to the heart of it when we refer to God the Father. It’s a useful human construct, one that informs a part of our relationship with the Creator, but certainly God transcends gender. How do we keep both thoughts alive in our minds and at the same time, I wonder.

    • Thanks, Kevin.

      I don’t know anyone passionate about replicating the Hebrew psalm rhythm – it just describes what was done in the Grail version. One could as easily have described it as replicating the rhythm pattern of, say, “Three blind mice…” which follows the same principles.

      You still haven’t specified your context. Certainly, in this country, no contemporary material would use “men” to mean both men and women. Also, here, we are comfortable regularly referring to God as “Matua” (Parent) and, of course, “Father and Mother of us all” (a formulary of our church). That God transcends gender is part of the apophatic tradition I stress so often on this site.

      Blessings.

  3. Bosco, my apologies; I think we are speaking past one another. I was reserving my comments–or trying to–to the Grail version. It seems quite interested in replicating Hebraic rhythms. (I don’t see the point in it, but to each his own.)

    Again, my principle concern with so-called inclusive translation is with bowdlerized texts and not necessarily issues of gender.

    It wasn’t too long ago, for instance, that folks were up in arms about some of the language found in Mark Twain’s ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ A new edition was fabricated which used the word ‘slave’ quite a bit in place of the stronger, difficult, and now offensive original. I say, wrestle with the original. Know it for what it is/was.

    In regards to the psalms, what do we as Christians make of “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks”? I would rather wrestle with the passage than simply ignore it. (The passage need not be in a book of worship, I agree, but it certainly belongs in any translation of what we know as the Psalms.)

    My two cents. Sorry to intrude.

    • Thanks, Kevin. First: you are not intruding at all – it is great to have discussion and clarification happening here. And disagreement is fine.

      The Grail Psalter is one way to produce a text for chanting. The Coverdale version is another. Christian chanting of the psalms is a tradition that is shared with Judaism and obviously precedes Christianity. Both Grail and Coverdale are obviously non-metrical texts. Grail uses a pattern of stressing that, as I said, can be seen in, for example, “Three Blind Mice”. It is the pattern of stressing that many discern in Hebrew poetry. I am not aware, as you appear to be indicating, that each Grail psalm is attempting to replicate the stress pattern of its Hebrew original. When praying the Grail psalms aloud – as I did to start my day this morning – there is a rhythm that develops. Some even find this tiresome – I do not.

      On inclusive language, I see no parallel with your fabrication of an edition of Mark Twain’s already-in-English ‘Huckleberry Finn’. We are talking about accurately translating ancient texts which the author would have understood as inclusive into contemporary English so that the author’s intention come through accurately. The NRSV makes a reasonable attempt at this, but even there I discern words which are not gender-specific in the original which are obscured in translation by gender-specific rendering.

      So yes, like you, I encourage people to wrestle with the original Hebrew and Greek of the biblical texts.

      Blessings.

  4. I hadn’t thought of chanting! (It’s not really in my experience.) That makes the Grail’s interest quite understandable!

    As for inclusive language, I don’t understand why you focus on gender in our discussion. Again, I thought that the Grail was interested in making the psalms ‘accessible’ and ‘friendly;’ that it was being expurgated and ‘cleaned up’ in other ways. If it’s simply a question of gender, as I say, I have no problem with it. To each his own.

    Is the Grail version ‘ecumenical’ because of the sensitivity to gender? Is there more to it than that?

    • Kevin, I’m getting a bit lost in your critique, then. The whole point of the Grail Psalter tradition (and similarly the Coverdale Psalter tradition) is to produce a psalter for singing and praying aloud in community. This is not some first step to a whole Grail Bible (or some whole Coverdale-type Bible).

      Under Pope Benedict XVI, as I made clear, contemporary English translations of many texts were disallowed and had to be reworked into masculine-specific, gender-exclusive language even when it was clear that the original included women. The refusal of the first English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a case in point. The Revised Grail Psalter was one of those reworking of the Grail Psalter as indicated. The Ecumenical Grail Psalter is reworking that Revised Grail Psalter to more accurately reflect the intention of the original texts. I have not the slightest idea where you are getting the idea that the Ecumenical Grail Psalter is “being expurgated and ‘cleaned up’ in other ways” – certainly not from me.

      Blessings.

  5. I like the Ecumenical Grail Psalter and find it improves on the Revised Grail in many ways, making it recite and sing more easily. I’m with Kevin in wondering why it’s so important to mimic the Hebrew syllabic stresses, but that’s a cornerstone of the whole Grail enterprise and I’ve gotten used to it. I’m a lifetime fan of the 1979 USA BCP psalter, but as I’m also a member of a Benedictine community using the earlier inclusive Grail and moving to the EGP, I’m about to get very familiar with the latter and find it a good contribution to the options available. The Singing Version, by the way, simply adds the syllabic accent marks in the same way as the previous Singing Versions did, to facilitate singing the texts with Gelineau (using all the marks), Saint Meinrad (using only the last accent per line), or Conception Abbey (ditto) psalm tones. As a bonus, the EGP Singing Version includes the Conception Abbey tones on a page at the end of the psalter.

    • Thanks, Scott. The (NZ) Cistercian Abbey that I am an associate of uses the Inclusive Grail Psalter. The Australian Cistercian Abbey does also. I am unaware of any movement to change that. The NZ Prayer Book psalter (that stands in the Coverdale tradition as USA’s BCP does) has issues that I would leave for another post/thread. It would be interesting to know a list of communities that use EGP. I think, as I’ve explained, the Grail-style stressing is merely one way to organise the rhythm of saying aloud and the singing that this enables. The Coverdale (10×10) rhythm is merely another (though not that different in principle). Blessings.

  6. Sorry for all the confusion. For some reason I thought that creating an ecumenical text was something more than translating from the oldest texts while making the language gender inclusive.

  7. I’m just catching up with this. I wonder whether the text they’re selling as ‘ecumenical’ is really the 2008 revision of the Grail Psalter by Abbot Gregory Polan that the Catholic Church only authorized in Africa as a stopgap measure, before the 2010 approval of a quite altered text. The inclusive Grail of 1983 is still my favourite version.

    By the way, which is the current ANZP psalter?

    • Yes, Gareth, the Inclusive Grail is my normal psalter for prayer. ANZPB has its own psalter in the Coverdale tradition – not from the original Hebrew but “based on best English translations and commentaries”. It is a controversial version – that is really another thread. I really must do a post on this. You can possibly get a start on reading about it in my thesis. Blessings.

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