The Grail Psalter

The Grail Psalter

Dear Daily Devotion

Over the last 6 years we have, each Sunday, worked our way through the Psalms.  First in the metrical version used by the Free Church of Scotland, then through a variety compiled together in the book Psalms for Every Season.  Now, for the next three years, we’re going to use the Grail Version in its 1986 inclusive language translation.

The Grail Psalms, first published in 1963 by the Ladies of the Grail (now called simply The Grail), were an English translation of the Psalms in the, French, Jerusalem Bible translated by Jesuit priest Fr Joseph Gelineau around 1953.  The Grail is an association of lay women grounded in the Catholic Church but has members from a variety of traditions.  Their Psalms were designed for worship where they were given a responsorial structure, with the congregation singing a repeating antiphon between the Psalm verses which are sung by a choir or cantor and a regular metre – rather like the metrical Psalms made popular at the Reformation.  The Grail version was already popular before the Second Vatican Council revised the Catholic liturgies.  The Council called for more liturgical use of the vernacular instead of Latin, and also for more singing and chanting.  As a result the Grail Psalms were utilised as the official Catholic liturgical Psalter by most of the English-speaking world.  A separate edition of the Grail Psalms, revised with inclusive language, was produced in 1986 but was expressly forbidden for liturgical use!  It is this version we will be using.  

Translators from one language to another have to wrestle with how best to go about their work.  Do they seek word for word accuracy from the source language (formal equivalence) or do they seek to render the original meaning in ways which make sense in the target language (dynamic equivalence), or strike a balance between these two?  Since the 1960s Biblical translations such as the Good News, Jerusalem, the New English, and New International Readers’ Version all used dynamic equivalence to try and ensure readers understood the meaning of the text.  On the other hand translations such as the New King James Version, Revised and New Revised Standard Versions and the Revised New Jerusalem version all use formal equivalence seeking to render an accurate version of the original languages.  Biblical translations such as the New Jerusalem, and New International Version try to marry these two approaches.  The differences over Biblical translation have also played out in the Catholic Church’s translation of the liturgy with the 1970s rite using dynamic equivalence from the Latin but more recent revisions have produced a formal equivalence version which, to my mind at least, seems rather more stilted and stuffy.  The Grail version now used in Catholic worship is a revision based on the principles of formal rather than dynamic equivalence.  

The Grail Psalter, like the wider Jerusalem Bible, strove to use a dynamic equivalence approach to translation seeking to make the words of the Psalms meaningful to modern readers.  Many of us will be unfamiliar with this version of the Psalms despite its past extensive use in Catholic worship.  I hope the translation will be fresh for us and help us appreciate, anew, the Psalter which has long served as the prayer book of both Synagogue and Church.

With every good wish


The Rev’d Andy Braunston
Minister for Digital Worship


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