Genevan Psalm-Singing “Lectionary”

I’ve been reading John Witvliet’s The Biblical Psalms in Christian Worship: A Brief Introduction and Guide to Resources.  Witvliet suggests that there is value to singing through all the Psalms on a regular basis.  He also remarks that has a historical basis:  “In Calvin’s Geneva, despite the rejection of the Roman lectionary for Scripture readings and sermon texts, the Psalms were sung in public worship according to a regular regimen that was printed in the back of published Psalters (indeed, it was a lectionary for singing)”  (51).  I had a look at a couple of old Genevan Psalters (1565 and 1674), but I didn’t find any such “lectionary.”  However, with some help from one of my colleagues (thanks, George!), I found the original source which Witvliet references, Pierre Pidoux’s Le Psautier Huguenot du XVIe siecle.  Pidoux reproduces a chart that is apparently found at the back of a 1562 Genevan Psalter.  You can find it here.

There are a few interesting features on this chart.  The entire Psalter is sung through in a half-year.  However, this involves a Wednesday service (Jour des Prieres), as well as the use of pre-service songs before the morning and evening Sunday services.  It also sometimes involves determining the song before and after the sermon, thus taking this song selection out of the hands of the minister.  Also, the singing of whole Psalms is the norm, although where the Psalm is long, it will be split up over two or more services.

I think something like this could be used in twenty-first century Reformed worship services as well.  I’m going to tinker with it and see what I can come up with.  I agree with Witvliet that there is value in singing all the Psalms on a regular basis.

About Wes Bredenhof

Pastor of the Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania. View all posts by Wes Bredenhof

7 responses to “Genevan Psalm-Singing “Lectionary”

  • George

    I think finding some mechanism to sing through the Psalter, perhaps annually, would be good. The Psalms address each attribute of God, every aspect of the gospel, and the full range of what it means to be human. I can only imagine how blessed a congregation would be if such annual singing through the Psalter were part of our practice. In some respects, it would parallel our annual trip through the catechism, that little booklet that tells it all.

  • Tom Skerritt

    I agree that singing from a broad selection of psalms is helpful and even needed. Most people in confessional Reformed church bodies tend to like singing hymns more. In asking folks why this is it has become pretty clear to me that they have no idea what the psalms we sing already mean. If you’re going to introduce more selections from the psalter you really ought to take the time to explain them. In the RPCNA church I used to attend there was a 5 min psalm exposition during the AM service. Very helpful to a person like me, new to psalm singing.

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  • Danny Hyde

    We’ve been doing this in the evening service for years. Currently we are in the sixth time through the Psalms portion of the Psalter Hymnal. We don’t sing every verse, but we do sing through at least a part of every Psalm on an annual basis. Normally, I will choose one of those in the following Lord’s Day morning service to reinforce our singing of it.

  • Vaughn Hathaway

    I have served as Stated Supply of a small Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church for a number of years. The hymnal the church uses, adopted about 50 years ago, was one of the last produced by the United Presbyterian Church. There are very few of what I would consider to be standard metrical Psalms in it. What Psalms are there are more akin to the so-called Bible Songs of the ARP and the majority of them are set to tunes that are almost unsingable. I am of the opinion that the editors wanted to discourage the singing of Psalms. Furthermore, many of the hymns of Fanny Crosby types. The hymnal is a “sacred cow.” I have attempted routinely to use at least one metrical Psalm each Lord’s Day. I have obtained these from a number of sources. This past year, I have been using the newly proposed Psalter for the ARPC. Because many of the tunes are not standard, I have been using a Psalm at least two Sundays consequentially. This, of course, cuts down on the number of Psalms sung annually. At the rate we are going, it will more than likely take more than two years to complete the entire Psalter.

  • Chris Coldwell

    Years ago my old church adopted singing through the psalter in a year and produced a Psalter to accommodate this practice, based upon the 1650 Scottish Psalter; we called it the Comprehensive Psalter. Copies are still around I’m sure.

  • Baus

    I’ve been using the Comprehensive Psalter to sing through the Psalter in a year. The program is Mon-Sat : one song a day (6 total), then on Sunday repeat the first three for morning worship, and the last three for evening.

    I’m taking it a little slower than a year, however.

    See here: http://www.fpcr.org/catalog/catalog-online.htm

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