The Concordia Psalter
CONCORDIA PSALTER. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2015. 353 pages. $24.99
The Concordia Psalter is a single book containing only the Book of Psalms using the text of the English Standard Version of the Bible. What warrants spending an additional $25 on the Concordia Psalter when the identical full text is found in any published ESV Bible and in the Treasury of Daily Prayer?
Answer: the Concordia Psalter is specifically designed to aid the reader in intentionally incorporating the Psalms into their devotional life. In addition to the text of the Psalms, the Concordia Psalter is accompanied with many features that are absent from your Bibles, hymnals, or Treasury of Daily Prayer.
The preface to Concordia Psalter explains the unique role that the Psalms have played in the history of the church by being the “Church’s hymnbook” (p. 6). After the preface, there is an introduction into how the Psalms are pointed to be sung. The preface explains the differences in the Psalm tones that are provided and also provides a brief word about the Christian practice of concluding the praying of every Psalm with the Gloria Patri. The Gloria Patri is not printed at the end of every psalm as it is in the Lutheran Service Book or Treasury of Daily Prayer, but is printed and pointed for chanting in this “Singing the Psalms” introduction (p. 8).
There are three “Schedules” provided for making use of the Psalms. The first schedule is a “Schedule for the Psalms over Thirty Days” (p. 9). The second schedule is a “Schedule for the Psalms over Thirty Days—Daily Prayer” (p. 10–11). The third schedule is a “Schedule for the Psalms for the Daily Office” (p. 12–14).
The Psalms themselves are each preceded with two recommended Psalm tones. The first Psalm tone is designated with a letter (e.g., A–K) which corresponds to the Psalm tones found in the Lutheran Service Book. A second Psalm tone is designated with a number (e.g., 1–11). These numbered Psalm tones provide additional musical options for chanting the Psalms that are not found in the Lutheran Service Book or Treasury of Daily Prayer. The tones and the musicians responsible for composing them are listed in the back of the Concordia Psalter as an appendix. The Psalms are pointed for chanting.
Every Psalm concludes with a prayer. Most of these prayers were written by Rev. F. Kuegele and were originally published in Book of Devotion: The Psalms which was adapted for Reading the Psalms with Luther, copyright © 2007 by Concordia Publishing House. Some of the prayers are stanzas from hymns. For example, the prayer that follows Psalm 24 is stanza thirteen of From Heaven Above To Earth I Come (LSB 358).
Some of the lengthier Psalms have prayers inserted between verses. For example, in Psalm 68, a prayer is inserted after verse eighteen. Whenever a Psalm is interrupted with a prayer, a new Psalm tone is introduced. Sometimes the Psalm tone stays the same (as in Psalm 18), but sometimes it shifts; as in Psalm 68 where you start by chanting Psalm tone J but then switch to Psalm tone D after verse eighteen.
When these longer Psalms are interrupted, the interruption occurs at a place in the Psalm where there is a logical or thematic shift. Sometimes the interruption of the Psalm is cumbersome, but far more frequently it forces the reader to notice the shift in the logic of the Psalm that may never have been noticed before.
In the case of Psalm 119, each Hebrew letter gets its own Psalm tone and concludes with its own prayer.
I have personally found the Concordia Psalter to be a blessing to me in my devotional life. The Psalms were a bit of a blind-spot in my Biblical literacy, and having a tool like this has been a boon to my knowledge of the Psalms while also edifying my prayers.
My biggest criticism of the book is that the Psalms lack the “preliminary” information that is provided in your Bibles. If you read Psalm 29 in your Bible, before you get to verse 1, it will say, “A Psalm of David“. Before Psalm 47:1 it says “To the Choirmaster: a Psalm of the Sons of Korah.” Before Psalm 90:1 it says, “A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.” Because I use the Concordia Psalter almost exclusively now for my interaction with the Psalms, I don’t learn of the various authors of the Psalms because that information is not provided.
Additionally, the book of Psalms is traditionally divided into five “books.” Book One contains Psalms 1–41, Book Two contains Psalms 42–72, Book Three contains Psalms 73–89, Book Four contains Psalms 90–106, and Book Five contains Psalms 107–150. These divisions are not indicated anywhere in the Concordia Psalter.
A final criticism of the book is that the binding is very stiff and tight. I was given the Concordia Psalter as a gift for Father’s Day in 2015. I have used it consistently for a year, having worked through it four and a half times. I often leave the book open and face down when it’s not in use, and I still need something to hold it open. It doesn’t lay flat. It will not stay open if you set it on a piano to play the Psalm tones. After a year of heavy use, it’s getting better, and I’m confident that a year from now (if I continue to use it frequently) it will stay open on its own, but right now, this is not the case.
All in all, I heartily recommend the Concordia Psalter. It is a wonderful tool for any pastor or layperson looking to boost their knowledge of the Psalms by incorporating them into their daily prayers and devotions. Like most tools, its value is proportionate to its use. This is not a reference book. It’s meant to be used; daily. Don’t purchase it unless frequent use is your intent.
Rev. Timothy A. Koch, Pastor of Concordia and Immanuel Lutheran Churches in Cresbard and Wecota, South Dakota.