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Toward a New Anglican Psalter

Toward a New Anglican Psalter

March 13, 2018

The Anglican Church in North America's Liturgy Task Force is taking on an historic project that they hope will be a gift to the global communion and generations of Anglicans to come: the Renewed Coverdale Psalter.

Have you noticed that the Psalter texts in the Daily Office (Morning and Evening Prayer, Midday Prayer, Compline, and Family Prayer) and the Sunday Scripture inserts are different? Do you have any idea what the Coverdale Psalter is or what any of this means? Do you wonder why there is a change and, even more importantly, why it matters?
Well, this is an incredible project with historical roots and potentially a great future impact.

The Purpose of the Psalms

Every prayer book since the very first in 1549 has used a translation of the Psalter. The Psalter is a very important piece of Anglican liturgies and is an essential part of prayer disciplines worldwide. According to Archbishop Emeritus Robert Duncan, Chair of the Liturgy Task Force, the complete Psalter is the most frequently read book in the Bible and was, historically, read and sung in households and churches every month.
But if you read closely, the translation of the Psalter used in prayer book liturgies, is somewhat different from the English Standard Version (ESV) or New International Version (NIV) translation of Scripture commonly found in our pew Bibles.

These are differences not of substance, but of style. The Psalms were originally composed for worship. While a word-for-word translation from the Hebrew, such as the ESV, may be best for study, this type of translation can mute the rhythm, meter, and musicality original to the Psalms. Psalters designed for worship allow the verses to poetically flow or be sung, a quality that facilitates the beauty and wonder of worship often found in the Anglican liturgy.

A (Very) Brief History of the Anglican Coverdale Psalter

In 1539, under the direction of King Henry VIII, Miles Coverdale produced the Great Bible, within which was what became known as the Coverdale Psalter, the liturgical translation in every Anglican prayer book until the 1960s.

In 1963, the Church of England attempted to update the Coverdale Psalms to more modern language -- with a committee including notable members T.S. Elliot and C.S. Lewis -- but the Cathedral musicians opposed the revision [musical psalters would have to be rewritten] and their update was not adopted.

The older Coverdale Psalter continued to be used until the 1979 Prayer Book when a new liturgical translation was produced. Unfortunately, this translation was a break from the turn-of-phrase of every previous Prayer Book and from the global Anglican language for prayer. Sometimes even the new translation, while technically correct, was not as comprehensible to contemporary understanding. (See an example below).
Which brings us to the historic moment we as the Anglican Church in North America are currently in. The Lord has blessed us with gifted scholars who are willing to take on the challenge to renew the Coverdale Psalter translation with modern language, clarity, and musicality.

Toward A Renewed Anglican Coverdale Psalter

The Liturgy Task Force Psalter subcommittee, chaired by the Ven. Darrell Critch, a musically trained Anglican Church in North America rector, along with seminary professors and Old Testament scholars Erika Moore (Trinity School for Ministry), Travis Bott (Nashotah House), and John Crutchfield (Columbia International University), is building on the work of Lewis and Eliot to renew the Coverdale Psalter.
Archbishop Duncan detailed that "when we renew a Psalm, the scholars look at the Coverdale and ask 'is this an accurate or reasonable translation?' Then, they determine if it is understandable in modern English." Then they compare it to the 1963 version. They renew the translation accordingly.

Rather than creating a new translation, like the 1979 prayer book, the Task Force is seeking to update the Coverdale. Unlike the Church of England committee work in 1963, this edition replaces the "thees" and "thys" and 16th century verb forms with contemporary language.

The Renewed Coverdale Psalter is historic. And like the recent release of the Catechism, the Liturgy Task Force and the College of Bishops believe it will be "a gift to the whole Anglican world," said Archbishop Duncan.

The Task Force encourages you, the members of the Anglican Church in North America, to follow along with the renewal of the Coverdale Psalms. As of January 15, 2018, the Psalter subcommittee has produced 34 renewed Psalms. The scholars meet every week by conference call to review and produce two to four more renewed Psalms, prioritizing those that are most used and following the order of the Sunday lectionary (the leaflet Scripture inserts can be found here: http://www.anglicanchurch.net/index.php/main/tcp_leafleat_yearb/).

If you would like to send your feedback on your experience of the Renewed Coverdale Psalter, you can email the Liturgy Task Force at liturgytaskforce@anglicanchurch.net. The Task Force carefully reviews all comments received.

An Example From Psalm 95

Commentary from Archbishop Duncan: The 1979 Book of Common Prayer's translation of Psalm 95:8 refers to Meribah and Massah, which are names of places meaning, in Hebrew, provocation and temptation. As one submission of feedback pointed out, "provocation" and "temptation" are the way the Letter to the Hebrews refers to these places -- just as Coverdale did. In the 21st century, (just as in the 16th) these terms are more readily comprehensible to the lay person reading the psalm than "Meribah" and "Massah."

English Standard Version

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test

1979 BCP

Harden not your hearts, as your forebears did in the wilderness, *
at Meribah, and on that day at Massah, when they tempted me.


To-day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts *
as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness;

Renewed Coverdale

Today, if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts *
as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness.
To learn more about the Liturgy Task Force and providing feedback, click here. http://anglicanchurch.net/?/main/page/1598:


The Anglican Church in North America is invited to review the last of the working liturgy texts and submit feedback to the Liturgy Task Force for final revisions as publication and printing of the Book of Common Prayer 2019 nears.

Come Provincial Assembly 2019, the Liturgy Task Force plans to present to the Anglican Church in North America its completed, published, and printed Book of Common Prayer 2019.

To get there, the Task Force is seeking your help and participation. You, the member of the Anglican Church in North America, are invited to review the last of the working liturgy texts and submit your feedback to the Task Force for final revisions.

The Liturgy Task Force (LTF) was called and commissioned by the College of Bishops in 2009, at the very beginning of the Anglican Church in North America, to develop a renewed Prayer Book. Over the course of the last approximately 9 years, the LTF has made great strides to accomplish its task.

In 2013, the College of Bishops released rites for Morning and Evening Prayer and the Holy Eucharist. Abundant feedback was received. In 2017, the LTF proposed to the College of Bishops finalized Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Eucharistic liturgies, as well as the Collects for the Christian Year. In 2018, the LTF will finalize the rest of the liturgical texts and bring to the College of Bishops' meeting in January 2019 the final copy to be adopted and approved for printing.

The LTF consists of 12 sitting members, but has had over 60 people involved in the development of the renewed liturgies through subcommittees and translators.

From the beginning, the LTF has been carefully guided by four principles: Continuity, Memorability, Poetry/Musicality, and Clarity. Often, these principles play against each other which can be a challenge, but an effective prayer book, according to Archbishop Emeritus Robert Duncan, Chair of the LTF, should do its best to balance all four principles.

As it followed these principles and developed the liturgical texts, the LTF sought feedback from members of the Province, worked with the Bishops' Review Panel, and finally presented each liturgy to the College of Bishops as a whole.

"This has been the most participatory process of any prayer book in history," said Archbishop Duncan, noting the role the Internet plays in this reality.

The LTF receives feedback in collated form, considers it, evaluates it, and decides whether or not to integrate the suggestions made.

"The product of this process is immensely better than could have been done by any other means," he believes.

Now, as the process nears its long-expected end, the LTF is calling for another flood of feedback:

"The LTF is urgently calling for feedback on all the working texts not yet finalized, that is everything except Morning and Evening Prayer, the Eucharists, and the Collects of the Christian Year. There are three significant deadlines, and the earlier the feedback is received the better. The first deadline is April 6, the Friday in the first week of Easter," Archbishop Duncan explained.

The LTF will meet during the second week of the Easter season to review this feedback. It will receive feedback thereafter until August 15, 2018 when it will prepare the service final drafts to be presented to the College of Bishops in September. The final date for the LTF to receive feedback from you, the province, will be November 1, 2018. During November and December, the final revisions will be made in order to be presented to the College of Bishops' meeting in January for adoption.

Once adopted, the Book of Common Prayer 2019 will go to print just in time for the tenth anniversary Assembly (June 2019) of the Anglican Church in North America!

You are an integral part of this process and the development of the prayer book, and the LTF invites you to participate. One participant wrote with gratitude to the Task Force, "I cannot thank you enough for the improvements made in the services of Morning and Evening Prayer as presented in your January 2018 revision. It is apparent the committee duly noted the responses (including mine) you received to the previous revisions."

All working texts, deadlines, and liturgy resources can be found here. To share your voice with the LTF, email liturgytaskforce@anglicanchurch.net.

To learn more about the Liturgy Task Force's work on the Renewed Coverdale Psalter, click here.

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