Monday, April 23, 2018

Guest Post: One Approved Translation per Territory (w/ Fr. Neil)

Given some confusion in the discussion about the possibility of using the RNJB as the basis of a new Lectionary, I thought it might be helpful to explain a little the current rationale of having only one Biblical translation per language per bishops’ conference.  So that, for example, the Bishops’ Conference of Canada is welcome to have one Bible translation for their French Lectionary and another for their English, but is not allowed to use both the NRSV and the NAB and have two English language Lectionaries.

Immediately after Vatican II, the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) in Rome approved multiple lectionaries for the same region. So that in the United States three lectionaries were approved: The Jerusalem Bible, The New American Bible and the Revised Standard Version. In Ireland, England & Wales and Scotland, the Jerusalem Bible and the Revised Standard Version were both approved.  I am not sure which translations were approved in other regions. When the current US Lectionary that uses an adaptation of a revision (of a revision) of the New American Bible was approved in 1998 and 2001 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops themselves withdrew permission to use the three older Lectionaries (JB, RSV and NAB 1st ed.).

In 2001 the CDW published Liturgiam Authenticam the Fifth Instruction “for the Right Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council.”

This instruction radically transformed the translation philosophy of the Catholic Church. In number 36 this document says:

36. In order that the faithful may be able to commit to memory at least the more important texts of the Sacred Scriptures and be formed by them even in their private prayer, it is of the greatest importance that the translation of the Sacred Scriptures intended for liturgical use be characterized by a certain uniformity and stability, such that in every territory there should exist only one approved translation, which will be employed in all parts of the various liturgical books. This stability is especially to be desired in the translation of the Sacred Books of more frequent use, such as the Psalter, which is the fundamental prayer book of the Christian people. The Conferences of Bishops are strongly encouraged to provide for the commissioning and publication in their territories of an integral translation of the Sacred Scriptures intended for the private study and reading of the faithful, which corresponds in every part to the text that is used in the Sacred Liturgy.

This desire for a single translation was not retroactive.  But when any new liturgical book was approved in a region, permission to use any older translations was automatically withdrawn. However, in Ireland while the JB Lectionary is basically the only Lectionary used at the parish level, the current JB Lectionary pre-dates 2001, so the 1970 RSV Lectionary is still approved for use. However if a new Lectionary was approved for use in Ireland, the JB and the RSV would automatically be withdrawn.   

So from a technical point of view, the fact that the CDW has approved a Lectionary for one region, that permission does not carry to other countries. So if a RNJB Lectionary was approved in Ireland, technically it could not be used in a celebration in the U.S. This can be seen, for example, in the case of the RSV. Ignatius Press prepared a Lectionary based on their own edition of the RSV (The Second Catholic Edition). This was approved as the Lectionary in the Antilles. However many US parishes considered adopting it.  In the April 2006 edition of the Newsletter of the Committee on the Liturgy of the USCCB carried this clarification:

Approved Editions of the Lectioanry for Mass
The Secretariat has recently received many inquiries concerning the use of an edition of the Lectionary for Mass based on the Revised Standard Version of the Scriptures and available from Ignatius Press. This Lectionary has not been approved for use in the Dioceses of the United States of America. Only the New American Bible edition of the Lectionary for Mass, published in 1998 and 2001 may be used at celebration of the Liturgy in this country.

However, as I noted in my original post, Pope Francis has officially said that the translation principals of Liturgiam Authenticam are to be revised. So it is possible that a bishops’ conference could ask for more than one Lectionary to be used at the same time. There is no way to know what the guidelines that replace Liturgiam Authenticam will say in this regard. I personally hope that they will allow the bishops to make a pastoral decision that best suits their region. Although it is also worth noting that the market forces of printing Lectionaries, hand missals, devotional books, worship aids, etc. make it impractical to have too many editions in use in a given area.

At the end of the day, if the bishops ask for a particular liturgical bool to be recognized, the CDW may well grant their request. This is the case in English-speaking Africa. They use a 2012 edition of the RSV Lectionary (which form their website looks very like the Ignatius Press Lectionary and a 2009 edition of the Liturgy of the Hours, that uses the New American Bible. Surely Liturgiam Autheticam 36 mandated that they use one translation for these liturgical books that are boith almost entirely composed of scripture passages and published within 3 years of each other, and which must have been in preparation at the same time. This shows that even before Pope Francis said that Liturgiam Authenticam was no longer fit for purpose, during the time-period when many liturgists thought that the CDW was being very inflexible in their supervision of liturgical translation, that it was still possible to have more than one Scripture in use in a given region.

Neil Xavier O'Donoghue is a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey. He currently ministers in the Archdiocese of Armagh, Ireland, where he serves as vice rector at Redemptoris Mater Seminary. He has studied at Seton Hall University, the University of Notre Dame, and St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. He holds a Doctorate in Theology from St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.


JDH said...

Very informative! I think this is going to be a tough area for the bishops to navigate if the renewed possibility of multiple lectionaries develops. On the one hand, lots of parishes will have folks who want to go a particular direction (more conservative parishes will want the Ignatius lectionary; perhaps more liberal ones will want something else) while the average Catholic won't know or care about the differences of opinion. I think one of the strengths of the current system is that a person can get a missal as a gift or buy one at a bookstore and no matter which diocese or parish they are in the readings will match (assuming they don't go to a different country). Likewise, publications like Magnificat work because we have a standard lectionary. If there was a greater variety, you could still have different editions of those things, but the average person would just be confused as to why the readings don't match what's in their missal.

I led a Bible study during Lent and most of us were using the NABRE, but one young woman had an NRSV. So, when she read a passage out loud, it was slightly different. Afterwards, an older gentleman who had been a Catholic his entire life asked me why her Bible was different than his. It had never occurred to him that there were multiple translations out there. He just thought there was a Catholic Bible and a Protestant Bible.

Lots of Catholics, like those of us who hang around this blog, have strong opinions about translations, but I increasingly feel we need to take one for the team and accept the fact that our favorite version might not be read from at Mass. Making it as easy as possible for those who are less engaged to be drawn into deeper participation in the liturgy (and therefore into a deeper relationship with God) is way more important. Injecting unnecessary confusion and distraction into it isn't helpful.

Ronny Tadena said...

Here here JDH!

I've never been a NAB fan but its fine as a standard text. Can we all just please get on the same page and get back to the real work of prayer!

I love the RSV and the RSV2CE, but if I have to sacrifice them for the sake of a unified liturgical practice within the US, so be it! Think of how amazing it will be to be able to pick up a bible off a shelf and see all these passages that you instinctively already know from Mass, now in the wider context of the Bible itself. Imagine how much more biblical the Mass would seem to a Catholic who's never stat down to read the Bible before! Imagine what that could potentially do for that reader's appreciation of the Bible and the liturgy of the Church.

This is something too important to the life of the Church to be left up to translation tribalism!

Fr. Neil Xavier O'Donoghue said...


yes, it is a complicated area. It is easy to criticise and suggest different things, but it genuinely takes an enormous amount of work to prepare a Lectionary. However, I think that in places like Ireland where the JB is in use today in the current Lectionary, the easiest way forward would be to prepare a revised version using the RNJB.

Hi Ronny,

I agree with you that it is good to get "on the same page." However. as in the past, the bishops could discern that it might be spiritually beneficial for different congregations to use different biblical translations in their Lectionary. This would mean returning to the earlier practice of publishing multiple versions of the Lectionary. Yes, this would make getting a hand missal more of a chore. Not to mention the challenge for publishers to prepare multiple versions. On another small point, in the US multiple slightly different revisions of the NAB are in use simultaneously and, in fact, there is no published edition of the NAB in bible form that has exactly the same text as the version that was especially edited for the Lectionary. This is a pity as there is a value in being able to read the exact words you hear in Mass in your Bible. This was the thinking behind London's Catholic Truth Society's edition of the original Jerusalem Bible with the Grail Psalms. They wanted to publish a Bible that uses the text that people hear at Mass. As such I think it has proved quite successful It is a pity that this has not been possible in the US (there are many reasons for this and it is quite complicated and could form the basis of a whole new series of blog posts.

Devin Rice said...

I am concerned about how multiple lectionaries may feed into the ghettoization of American Catholicism. Already we have self-selecting parishes. I understand the concept of diversity in unity without uniformity, but some degree uniformity helps. The NAB is not my favorite translation but it certainly edifying and good enough for American use. That said, I don't know the situation in Ireland or the UK. Perhaps two lectionaries would not cause a problem.

That said I don't see an issue with different translations utilized in the LOTH (with the exception of the psalms). While there is an increasing number of laity praying the office, it is still primarily a clerical office. And the laity who do pray, will focus more on the psalms then on the brief scripture passage. And those who are committed enough to pray the Office of Readings probably handle a different translation then what may be used at Mass.

I could also see a separate missal approved for Children and Non-Native English speakers, perhaps the original JB or the New Living Translation.

If it is true that the English bishops are using the RSV-CE2 for the hours and missal translations, they could do so and then use the RNJB for the lectionary. As the RNJB uses inclusive language and has updated scholarship, I could imagine it being a selling point. Especially if the Grail Psalms are universally used.

Devin Rice said...

I also don't want to imply that the JB and NLT are "dumb down translations". Although they are simpler than say the NAB, they are still rich and can be challenging to children and also adults.

Michael Demers said...

Fr. Neil, this article refers to the Australians tinkering with the JB lectionary.

Fr. Neil Xavier O'Donoghue said...

Thanks for the ref. Michael. I had heard that the Australians were doing that, but hadn't seen it reported in the media.

But now that there is a viable successor to the JB, I think it would make more sense for them to use the RNJB which is, after all, a reworking of the JB. That way their Lectionary is based on an actual Bible translation and not a freestanding selection of texts that don't really come from any one Bible edition (as is currently the case in the US).

On another note, it has been very recently reported that the Church in India is working on an ESV edition of the Lectionary:

Michael Demers said...

Thanks, Father.

Michael Demers said...

Did you all see the latest comments on possible revisions to the Roman missal by Archbishop Gregory of Atlanta?