Joseph Gelineau, S.J. Requiescat
Some notice should be taken of the death of Fr. Joseph Gelineau, S.J., on August 8th, at the age of 87. In the 1950s the simple music to which he put the Psalms began to become known in the U.S. He had collaborated in the translation of the Psalms into French for the Bible de Jérusalem, which was eventually translated as the Grail Psalter. His melodies made the Psalms singable by an average congregation. Perhaps most familiar would be his version of Ps. 23: “My shepherd is the Lord; nothing indeed shall I want.” Or of Ps 136: O give thanks to the Lord for he is good; for his great love is without end.”
His book, Voices and Instruments in Christian Worship, written just before Vatican II, but updated in the light of the conciliar constitution on the liturgy, was considered one of the most important books of its kind. He believed that the most important criterion for judging music meant for worship was whether it expressed and assisted entry into the mystery of salvation. He later composed chants for the Taizé community with which he was associated for decades.
Someone else will have to give a proper musical appreciation. Our wonderful director of music and the choir at St. Joseph’s Seminary (Dunwoodie), Msgr. Richard B. Curtin, had begun introducing Gelineau’s psalms into the seminary’s worship in the late 1950s. In the summer of 1961 I found myself in Chartres Cathedral, at a Mass for handicapped children, at which a choir of young people were singing Gelineau Psalms. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.