Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Mundelein Psalter:a Chant-able breviary

Part 2 of my paean of praise to the Mundelein Psalter.

Moving past Father Douglas Martis' beautiful introductory essay about the Divine Office, which includes some basic instruction on how to read chant notation (using the do, re,mi method), we'll jump to the four-week psalter. Here is the the opening of Psalm 63:

The little piece at the top a line of music, called the  psalm tone. Every verse of the psalm is chanted to the psalm tone, thus you'll be repeating it over and over. Now, notice the text of the psalm. See how the word you is italicized? The italicized word signals you to move from the first note (called the "reciting tone") to the next 3 notes in the first part of the psalm tone. Then, after the asterisk, you go with the reciting note of part two of the psalm tone, and again, move to the next three notes starting with the italicized word soul.

Does that sound complicated? Or perhaps  you're  thinking, "But I can barely read regular music, much less Gregorian notes!"   Well, fear not!  The Mundelein Psalter comes with tech support. Go here and listen to an audio file to see how these notes should sound. Every psalm tone in the book--there's about 8 of them--can be accessed from this page. Just click on the "voice" option. Father sings the "Glory Be" for each tone.Once you've heard it a few times, it's not  hard to apply it to the psalms and canticles.

 These psalm tones are very simple to learn and to sing. This is not like the more complicated Gregorian  chant done by a schola during an Extraordinary form mass (if you've ever been so fortunate as to hear that.)It's basic and repetitive. Chanting has two purposes: to slow you down just enough (compared to reciting) to help you savor the Word of God, and to add the beauty of melody. These psalm tones fulfill those purposes perfectly.

And I almost forgot--for people like me who read regular music but are confused by Gregorian notation, you can also download the psalm tones in modern notation.  Thanks to this support site, the Mundelein Psalter isn't just a book, it's an entire  system for learning to chant the Divine Office. It seems  that, unlike publishers of other  breviaries, the editor, composer, and publisher of the Mundelein Psalter was actually  thinking about us poor lay folk rather than just seminarians and postulants who can learn directly from the more experienced. They were actually thinking about us, struggling alone at home or with the tiny group that stays after daily mass to do morning prayer.  Amazing.

So, if you think you are being called to explore chanting the Divine Office, the Mundelein Psalter is well worth the price. ($50 new, $37 used on Amazon).

One more nifty feature of this breviary is the hymns, but I'll save that for my next post. I'll also list  the possible drawbacks of the Mundelein Psalter.


  1. Do these psalm tones apply to the Grail translation of the psalms as is used in Australia?

  2. The Mundelein psalter uses the Grail Psalms. If you look at the snippet in the photo above you'll see it's the Grail translation. I believe Grail is used all over the English speaking world.

  3. The Benedictine Divine Office found here:

    is much more interesting I think. This is what I am hoping to create a psalter using the revised grail psalms to match.

    This english adaptation of the 2007 Antiphonale Monasticum preserves more elements of the pre-1962 Roman secular rite, while allowing them in english, as the benedictines were allowed to keep theirs more intact with less shortened forms and modifications. This is due to the fact that St. Benedict's rule specifies a certain arrangement of psalms and canticles as most ideal, thus very little tinkering was possible, as it would break with the spirit of his Holy rule and Holy tradition. It also allows much of the music found in Canon Douglas earlier work to be used. (his english adaptations of antiphons were in many cases perfected to a higher degree than Ormondes work)

    you may contact me at if you are looking for advice in english language chant resources that conform to fulfilling ones obligation to sing the divine office in conformance with your particular diocese/province/eparchy. SOme of it is very rare but profoundly interesting.

  4. I like your psalm tones very much, at least the simplest ones that I could readily read. I struggle with Gregorian notes after many years of singing from modern notation. Hard to teach an old dog new tricks. I'm familiar with the New Grail Psalms, and have just purchased a Kenyan breviary (2009) which uses these psalms already. May God bless you endeavors. My own musicianship is at the far end of "amateur" and I mostly pray the Office on my own, with only simple chant on the days I have time for it. But perhaps some readers will see this post and look up your other links.

  5. I have a question... I have the 4 volume LOH set... would it be ok to have this to and use both or would that be a foolish investment to have both? is there benefit in both? I like variety. May be a dumb question... I am just curious what you think. Thank you!!!