If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you probably already know that I think one of the best things to happen in the wake of the Second Vatican Council was the revision of the Lectionary, with three cycles of Sunday readings (A, B, and C) and two cycles of Weekday readings (odd and even), with Sunday and holy season selections that are linked thematically and Ordinary Time selections that progressively step through different books of the Bible. Whatever questionable changes might have been made in the liturgical celebration of the mass (e.g., dropping Latin and chant, removing the altar rails, turning the celebrant to face the congregation rather than facing in the same direction as the congregation, etc.), at least they got the Lectionary changes right.
I’ll go a step further and say that I really like it when the Responsorial Psalm is sung. I know it’s a little thing, but singing the response adds just a touch of grace to a ritual that is already brimming with meaning. Unfortunately, it can also be a moment of severe disappointment when the psalm from the Lectionary is replaced by a different psalm that supposedly sounds better when sung, or with a “sung song response” that isn’t a psalm at all.
I believe that the governing document in this case is the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), paragraph 61 of which states, “The Responsorial Psalm should correspond to each reading and should usually be taken from the Lectionary…. However, in order that the people may be able to sing the Psalm response more easily, texts of some responses and Psalms have been chosen for the different times of the year or for the different categories of Saints. These may be used instead of the text corresponding to the reading whenever the Psalm is sung…. Songs or hymns may not be used in place of the Responsorial Psalm.”
So, it looks like substituting an arrangement of Psalm 51 during Lent (“Be Merciful, Oh Lord”) might be allowed, but I would still rather see the Lectionary psalm, since it was specifically selected for its complementarity with the other readings. In some cases, there is no discernible connection at all between the psalm that is sung at mass and the other three readings. This past weekend, that was true for the three verses that the cantor sang. The fourth verse, which refers to teaching transgressors God’s way and leading them back to Him, would have fit nicely with the second reading, unfortunately, the cantor did not sing it.
As for the song response used for Advent and Christmas (“Proclaim the Joyful Message”), the GIRM seems to explicitly rule it out.
Sometime, these attempts to reinvent the wheel (or the liturgy in this case) just baffle me. It’s already been done! It’s written down and approved! Just follow the instructions that the Church has provided, for cryin’ out loud! Nine times out of ten (or maybe 99 out of 100) your changes make things worse rather than better!