One of the practices that came to prominence during the Reformation was the practice of communal singing during worship. John Calvin taught that singing of psalms in the vernacular by the whole community was a foundational aspect of church life. Music should not be restricted to the clergy or choir as it was in Catholic Mass at the time. Everyone can and should be encouraged to sing their faith.
In order for this to happen, the Genevan Psalter was compiled. In 1539, Calvin published the first version of the psalter with a limited number of psalms in metrical versions. The complete set of 150 psalms did not arrive until the 1562 edition.
The melody for our opening hymn this weekend first appeared in the 1551 edition of the Genevan psalter: Pseaumes Octante Trois de David (Eighty-three Psalms of David). The supervising composer for this edition was Louis Bourgeois, and he is generally credited with writing the new melodies that appeared in this version. The melody we now call Old Hundredth was actually paired with Psalm 134 in this book.
The metrical paraphrase of Psalm 100 paired with this tune was written by William Kethe and first appeared in the Anglo-Genevan Psalter of 1561. Very little is known about the date and location of Kethe’s birth, but he is believed to be a Scotsman who fled to Geneva during Queen Mary’s persecution in the 1550’s. While he created versifications for twenty-five psalms, his version of Psalm 100 is the only one still used today and has been included in numerous English hymnals ever since.
While it took a couple hundred years and the Second Vatican Council for Catholics to begin singing in the vernacular during worship, I hope this weekend you will hear and carry out the opening call of Old Hundredth:
All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.