Music director alters Psalm

This past Sunday, the music director both severely abbreviated and added a line** to Psalm 51 such that this was what we actually sang:

R. Create in me a clean heart. Creat in me a clean heart.
Have mercy on me, O God. Remove my sin, wash me from my guilt.
**Your ways are endless love, and hope for peace, mercy without end.
A willing spirit, Lord, sustain in me. I proclaim your praise.

When I asked the music director about it, he laid claim to “pastoral latitude” in order to “help the congregation have a deeper appreciation for the psalm.” Is this even permitted? I am a lector, and this is totally forbidden in regard to the 1st and 2nd readings. Also, this goes beyond paraphrasing which is not allowed per the use of hymns in place of the actual psalm text. I need references to Church documents to show to him, if this is, as I think, not permitted.

From the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (at )

"The Biblical Readings

  1. In the readings, the table of God’s word is prepared for the faithful, and the riches of the Bible are opened to them.[61] 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.[62]"

Footnote 62 is: “Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Vicesimus quintus annus, 4 December 1988, no. 13: AAS 81 (1989), p. 910.”

I would ask your pastor. If it was the pastor’s decision, then there is a bit more leeway. The Psalm was not substituted, a single line was added. Sometimes, these are added to the musical arrangement of the psalm to fit the meter and beat. Now, if the music director did not consult first with the pastor or receive permission for these sort of additions in general, then this is not permitted. He, as someone other than the pastor, has no ‘pastoral latitude’. Even associate pastors or priests in residence in a parish do not have the authority to make such liturgical substitutions unless given permission by the pastor to exercise their own judgement in these matters.

In asking your pastor, I try not to be accusatory. I would just try to frame it as seeking understanding. Explain the strictures placed upon lectors and inquire about the application of these regulations on the psalm. The music director may be in the wrong about this, or he may be in the right. The pastor has the final say. In all honesty, he may not have caught it. The priests I know quite often meditate upon the readings beforehand and, while still participating in the Liturgy of the Word, often are spiritually preparing themselves for the proclamation of the Gospel and their preaching.

I remember someone altered ‘Amazing Grace’ song -
you know the part ’ saved a wretch like me’ -
they changed the word to something else…ruined the song.
However, Psalm 51 - your average Joe - wouldn’t know the change.

I appreciate your replies to my initial query, but I am not sure I was able to convey my primary concern. Yes, abbreviating the Psalm bothers me, but what really concerns me is the fact that he basically created the second line “out of whole cloth,” as it were. He told me he wanted to convey the message given in the second line, so he added it in, basically rewriting the scripture. This goes beyond paraphrasing which has been condemned already.

It doesn’t phase me at all that I may have been the only one to notice. That is of little or no importance. What matters is that the laity be able to trust that what is offered to them for their participation in the Mass is accurate and correct. We should not have to go to Mass with our filter on, listening and watching for things in the Mass which may not be correct.

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Write your bishop, he may respond.

For him to personally edit the Psalm is absolutely forbidden. You should send a letter to your bishop since the pastor obviously is condoning this.

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That does not seem to be responsive to the question. There is a psalm for each Sunday with plainchant music. The regulation you cite does not address another version of that psalm or a substitute psalm. How much latitude is allowed does not appear to be addressed by your cite.

GIRM Paragraph 61 (in part)::In the dioceses of the United States of America, the following may also be sung in place of the Psalm assigned in the Lectionary for Mass: either the proper or seasonal antiphon and Psalm from the Lectionary, as found either in the Roman Gradual or Simple Gradual or in another musical setting; or an antiphon and Psalm from another collection of the psalms and antiphons, including psalms arranged in metrical form, providing that they have been approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or the diocesan Bishop. Songs or hymns may not be used in place of the responsorial Psalm.

The third line is not from the psalm, and may or may not be from another psalm, but there appears nothing in the GIRM which allows lines not from the psalm to be inserted.

However, before getting upset about the rest of the psalm, which is truncated from Psalm 51 but recognizable, I would want to make sure that it is not a variation of Psalm 51 approved by the USCCB.

As far as what one can do, one can speak with the pastor, which may or may not be a satisfactory conversation depending on a multiple of causes.

If satisfaction is not achieved, one could attempt to bring the matter up with the bishop; the likelihood is that the bishop may never hear the matter, or hear it and decide he has bigger fish to fry, or he may privately contact the priest, which may or may not resolve the issue.

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