Chanting Universalis

Singing the office?


St. Basil the Great said that one of the main reasons for singing the psalms was to use the power of music to attach the text to the memory. He gives an analogy of smearing medicine with honey to get a child to eat it.

I am trying to pray the office  on my own as part of fulfilling an obligation as a Cistercian oblate. The idea of singing or even humming the office was a way to help learn the Psalter & fight distraction. For this purpose, varying the psalm tone is to help concentration & resist wool gathering.

If you do a web search on “custos psalm tones” one of the 1st links that will pop up is an article called “Gregorian Psalm tones with English texts” by A. Ruff OSB. He evaluates various ways people have tried to use the gregorian melodies with english & advocates the St. Meinrad Psalm tones. I have tried to chant the psalms in English with the standard gregorian melodies & he has a point.

I listened to the podcasts from the Benedictines in Clyde MO & learned the St. Meinrad psalm tones. However, when I asked the sisters about pairing which tone with which psalm, they could not explain how or which tones went with which psalm. GIA sells a card with the somewhat similar Conception Abbey tones for the Revised Grail psalter, so I asked GIA, the monks at Conception Abbey, the Abbot @ Our Lady of Dallas, & my own oblate mistress, & no one will discuss it. I felt like I had stumbled across the deepest taboo on the planet…

Then I looked at some of the liturgical resources online & found the ordo cantus officii, which pointed me at the Psalterium Monasticum.

At this point I stumbled across the Fr. Samuel Weber Psalm tones which seemed more like the Gregorian melodies

At the St. Meinrad web site you will find documents from Fr. Columba that explain the relationship between the St. Meinrad tones & moods. I applied these criteria  to the psalms and canticles one by one in an idiosyncratic manner.

For the Fr. Weber tones I simply applied the tones in the Psalterium Monasticum. I had to do a little research as the designations of the psalm tones seem to have shifted in the last 50 years. The main difference here with St. Meinrad is that he recommends a pause at the asterisk long enough to take a breath. Universalis has no asterisks, so you must go by the indentations.

The links in the sidebar are to pdf files of the results. Printed out & folded up like a greeting card they will fit in about any breviary. Shrunk to 50% & folded they are the size of a business card. You may have to click “Visit Site” in the upper right to see them.