In this morning’s epistle reading (Ephesians 5:11-21) Paul urges his readers (v 19) to make plentiful use of “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs”. The word ‘psalm’ comes from the Greek psalmos, which originally meant a ‘twitching of the fingers’. This twitching occurred most typically during the playing of a stringed instrument, and so the word came to refer to the sound of the instrument. Songs were sung to the accompaniment of the instrument and so the word became applied to the songs themselves. In Christian usage, the Psalms refer primarily to the Book of Psalms of the Old Testament. The Psalms featured largely in the religious life of the monasteries, where it was the practice to recite or chant all 150 psalms weekly (later, monthly). Verse 19 underlines the association of the Psalms with music and singing, an association which continues to this day. The 16th and 17th centuries saw the hey-day of the metrical psalms – i.e. psalms sung in verse-forms with syllabic metres. Popular arrangements of metrical psalms were made by Sternhold and Hopkins (16th century) and, later, by Tate and Brady (17th century). Psalm 23 in its most widely known form is a metrical psalm from the Scottish Psalter of 1650, sung to the tune ‘Crimond’. The Anglican Church is fortunate in having its own tradition of chants for the Psalms.
A Word in Season