Athanasius on How to Sing the Psalms

Now here’s something really immediate.

St. Cassiodorus quoted St. Athanasius’ letter to Marcellinus on the Psalms (trans. James J. O’Donnell):



“Whoever recites the words of a Psalm
chants them as if they were his own,

and each reciter sings them through
as though they had been written by him
and not someone else;

and not as if they referred to someone else,
but speaking as if about himself;

so the reciter utters these words
and utters these sentiments to God

as written in the Psalm,
but as coming directly from himself.”

Yes! That’s exactly how you do it!

And yes, “recite” in this context means to chant or sing, which is why the bard who was employed by an Irish poet to sing his works was called a “reciter.”

Here’s Athanasius’ whole letter, translated from the Greek “by a Religious of C.S.M.V.”. Athanasius also says:

“….because the Psalms thus serve him who sings them, as a mirror wherein he sees himself and his own soul, he cannot help but render them in such a manner that their words go home with equal force to those who hear him sing, and stir them also to a like reaction… and every other Psalm is spoken and composed by the Spirit in the selfsame way: just as in a mirror, the movements of our own souls are reflected in them and the words are indeed our very own, given us to serve both as a reminder of our changes of condition and as a pattern and model for the amendment of our lives.”

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