St. Francis of Sales on psalms
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 457
    I have a vague memory from years ago of reading a book written by St. Francis of Sales, which was a critique of protestantism (not one of his better known books of spiritual direction). In it, he criticized the protestant singing of the psalms (perhaps in their adaptation as popular hymns?), saying something like "A washerwoman or cobbler sits at their work singing sacred psalms, as if it's a ditty, with no respect for the holiness of Scripture and the reverence due the prayers."

    Does anyone else have any recollection of this? Perhaps I've mixed up the author or the details. I'd love to re-find the reference.
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  • vogelkwvogelkw
    Posts: 51
    St. Francis wrote numerous pamphlets when he was struggling to re-evangelize those who had become Calvinists in France south of Geneva. By this method he was able to reach souls and in four years was able to bring back to the faith almost all of the entire population of 72,000! These pamphlets have been collected in a book called "The Catholic Controversy."

    I suspected that what you are looking for might come from this work, and I did discover one chapter called, "On the Profanation of the Scriptures in the Versified Psalms used by the Pretended Reformers." In it Francis is concerned that the psalms have been altered into rhyming verse, often distorting their meaning. He also is concerned that these verses not only replace the praying of the psalms themselves in public worship, but that they are also sung in secular circumstances without thought to reverence for God and his Word. I don't know if the passage you are looking for is from that chapter, but it does express similar thoughts:

    But among all profanations it seems to me that this comes out above the rest, that in the temples publicly, and everywhere, in the fields, in the shops, they sing the rhymes of Marot as Psalms of David. ... The measure and restrictions of verse make it impossible that the sacred meaning of the Scripture words should be followed; he mixes in his own to make sense ... How many words and how many sentences has he secreted therein which were never in the Scriptures? ...

    And as to the fashion of having the Psalms sung indifferently in all places and during all occupations, who sees not that it is a contempt of religion? Is it not to offend His Divine Majesty to say to him words as excellent as those of the Psalms, without any reverence or attention? ...

    When we see at Geneva or elsewhere a shop boy laughing during the singing of the Psalms and breaking the thread of a most beautiful prayer, to say, What will you buy, sir? ... Is it not good to hear cooks singing the penitential Psalms of David, and asking at each verse for the bacon, the capon, the partridge! ... I consider who prays in public ought to make exterior demonstration of the reverence which the very word he is uttering demand, otherwise he scandalizes his neighbor...

    I hold, then, that both in singing as divine Psalms what is very often an imagination of Marot's, and in singing them irreverently and without respect, they very often sin in that reformed church of yours ... It is quite true that this impropriety of praying without devotion occurs very often among Catholics, but it is not with the advertence of the Church...

    (Saint Francis de Sales, The Catholic Controversy, Part II, Article I, Chapter XI.)

    https://www.tanbooks.com/catholic-controversy-a-defense-of-the-faith-4114.html

    I hope this is helpful. God bless,
    Fr. Vogel
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 457
    That's exactly it! Thank you, Father!
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,047
    An illustration of then closer to contemporary context:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJgZVi7zBz0
    Thanked by 1CatherineS
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 457
    I had occasionally remembered this story when dealing with sacredness/reverence in church here and now. I think I recall someone saying, too, that there are/have been contexts in which people did not rehearse the chant using the real words, as the rehearsal was considered a profane context, and it wasn't appropriate? I know some people who are not comfortable using their phone/ipad/etc for reading the Office or Scripture because it is also used for email, phone calls, surfing the web, etc.

    I once taught someone to sing chant only to discover later that he was using it in a blasphemous context, which made me rethink "walking down the street teaching a friend to sing chant" as perhaps something to be avoided in the future. It would be equally unsuitable to use chant as background music at a party.

    I grew up in a culture that doesn't have much sense of the sacred, so it's been interesting to immerse ever more in a (Catholic, Latin) culture that still (sort of mostly kind of) does.
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  • Elmar
    Posts: 237
    I know some people who are not comfortable using their phone/ipad/etc for reading the Office or Scripture because it is also used for email, phone calls, surfing the web, etc.
    I am one of those. A bible, missal, chant book or hymnal are sacred books to me in the same way as a church is a sacred building. Using an electronic device for singing in liturgy for convenience (lighting/weight etc.) to me is like using electronic instruments for that reason, or preferring a more 'convenient' building for mass to a church.
    I also hesitate to throw unused liturgical books in the recycling bin, the result can be seen on my bookshelf...
    Thanked by 2tomjaw CatherineS
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,974
    CatherineS - I recall that when a child my wife was instructed by the nuns not to rehearse chant to the proper words.
    My own problem is people rehearsing oaths, how can anyone say "I solemnly swear ..." one day and not mean it, and then come back the next day and mean it? And a parallel question :How can John Roberts stand with his right hand raised and say "I Donald John Trump ... , so help me God"
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  • Liam
    Posts: 4,047
    My variation on that was growing up in a family where my parents had a clear hierarchy of abuses of the gift of speech and worse. Putting aside lies as their own category, the lightest offense was vulgarity. Then profanity (the "bad words"). Then the big ones: taking the Lord's name in vain, blasphemy and, worst of all, maledictions aka curses. So, in our family exclaiming F*ck (like in response to hitting one's finger with a hammer) was no where near the capital offense that "D*mn you" or, worse still, variations on "G_d d*mn you" were. Because my parents thought carefully about language, rhetoric, purpose, et cet. and expected us to do the same.
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  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,302
    I recall that when a child my wife was instructed by the nuns not to rehearse chant to the proper words.

    Perhaps we ought to consider the practice of the "dry Mass" performed either as a devotional act by a priest in circumstances when he could not fittingly offer Mass; or as a deacon's rehearsal of Mass before being ordained a priest.
    Thanked by 2a_f_hawkins Elmar
  • Andrew Malton
    Posts: 833
    But that is for the excellent reason of avoiding stimulating a Sacrament or otherwise misusing the liturgical forms. I confess I find it a little precious, not to mention counterproductive, to rehearse chant without singing the words. @a_f_hawkins, can you say more? Could this have been for particular chants (eg the preface dialogue??) or particular contexts (don't sing chant on the playground??). It just seems to me so odd to avoid singing the words altogether except during the actual liturgy. May we not speak the words, either?
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  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,974
    Sorry, I can't recall any detail from a conversation 35 or so years ago. And, Alas, she died four years ago. I think the context was the one here, saying serious words without meaning them.
    Of course liturgical and social manners have changed since the 1950's. I dare say pupils these days no longer have to fear being seen in uniform five miles from school walking home from the station not wearing their (winter or summer) gloves.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,302
    Such a prohibition does seem overly scrupulous to me too.
    Thanked by 2tomjaw Elmar