I’ve often wondered why chanting the Psalms is missing from corporate worship even among churches committed to singing the Psalms,. Yes, it’s not easy for our pop-music-trained ears, but I can think of many reasons why it would be great if chants made a comeback, in Presbyterian and Reformed churches especially. I know some recent hymnals have included Psalm chants, like the Cantus Christi. Hopefully others, including the URC’s forthcoming Psalter Hymnal include them. Before you dismiss the idea as “Catholic” or “weird” or “old fashioned,” hear me out. And then go read D.G. Hart’s piece on chanting the Psalms (yes, he’s an OPC guy).
Some reasons why we should bring back chants:
- Chanting makes it very easy to learn entire texts of Psalms – I think easier than via metered Psalms. It’s especially easier for children.
- Chanted Psalms focus on the text, so reflection on the words is easier.
- Chanted Psalms are truer to the actual text of Scripture, as they don’t awkwardly try to fit square pegs into round holes just to fit the boundaries of rhyme and meter.
- With practice, chanted Psalms are beautiful, even with congregations that aren’t very musical.
- They are one of the oldest forms of musical worship.
- Many of the tunes in our hymnal are inspired from chants, so we’re already part way there. “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” is one example (and where the title of this post comes from).
- I’ve found that chant melodies often match the words of the Psalm much more accurately than some of the diddies included in our hymnals, especially when it comes to Psalms of lament, repentance, and imprecation.
Some answers to possible objections to chants:
- Just because chants are familiar to Roman Catholics or Episcopalians doesn’t mean we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Hart refers to this as the guilt by association fallacy.
- They aren’t difficult to learn, and can be beautifully sung and very “worshipful.” In fact, they are probably easier to learn than many “Genevan jig” renditions of Psalms that many churches already sing (which are also beautiful). Congregations which are not very musical could benefit from chants.
- The main type of chant I’m referring to is not the type with a lot of embellishment on each syllable, which can be difficult to learn and distracting to sing. I’m referring more to the simpler Gregorian or Plainsong style chants.