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Things get weirder with English Catholic lectionaries

January 15, 2012

The situation with English lectionary for Roman Catholics has gotten weirder.

As we discussed last month, Mark Coleridge, , Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, the chair of the ICPEL English lectionary project wrote:

Some years ago, I was asked to chair a commission which would prepare a new English-language Lectionary, using a modified form of the NRSV and a revised Grail Psalter. That seemed straight-forward enough, and the expectation was that the new Lectionary would be ready for publication at the same time as the Missal.

However, we struck problems with the copyright holders of the NRSV and have had some difficulties in our dealings with the Holy See. All of this so becalmed the project that there is now no hope that the Lectionary or any part of it will appear at the same time as the Missal. In fact, we have decided to move away from the NRSV and to prepare the Lectionary using a modified form of the English Standard Version (ESV), still with the revised Grail Psalter.

On this new basis, the project has progressed well; and the hope now is to have at least the first volume of the Lectionary (Sundays and Solemnities) ready for publication as close as possible to the appearance of the Missal.

The note is not obviously dated, but was written at the end of 2011 – so it likely appeared in late November or early December.

[UPDATE:  The web page from where this quote come appears to be inaccurate.  Please see this comment below from the SACBC Communications Office.] Meanwhile, in Pretoria, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (which comprises the bishops of Botswana, South Africa, and Swaziland) they have adopted the NRSV are implementing it effective Lent 2012.  In a note last updated on November 30, 2011, they write:

Phase 3 of the new translation process will see the introduction of the new Lectionary with its different translation of the Holy Scriptures….

The Catholic version of the New Revised Standard Version (called the Catholic version because it includes the few books of the Bible used since apostolic times by the Catholic Church but excluded by some of the Protestant churches), commonly referred to as the “NRSV”, has been approved by the Catholic Church for some years. The quality of the language and the scholarly accuracy of the translation have contributed to this. In addition, the NRSV has also been gradually adopted by the Anglican, Methodist and Lutheran churches and by a number of other larger Protestant churches. It was decided that the quality of the translation, its wide acceptance by Christians of all denominations (with its consequent contribution to Christian unity) and its scholarly accuracy make it the appropriate translation to use in future.

The English translations of the psalms used during Mass and also during the “Prayer of the Hours” (also known as the Divine Office) have been drawn from a newly revised Grail Edition that has been carefully developed to provide both accuracy and also a rhythmic word pattern that will lend itself to singing, chanting and reciting.

The new Lectionary and the new versions of the Psalms will be introduced in Lent 2012. The Sunday and Daily missals for use by worshippers assisting in the congregation at Mass will also be available in time for Lent 2012.

If the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship (which has approval over lectionary translations) can approve the NRSV for Southern Africa, why not for the ICPEL?

Meanwhile, Joseph Fessio, a Jesuit priest and the founder of Ignatius Press, has been announcing that several African dioceses will adopt Ignatius’s adapted version of the RSV, the “second Catholic edition” as a lectionary.  However, Ignatius has meanwhile discontinued its lectionary and has instead remaindered all copies to one of the new Anglican Ordinariate parishes, which is redistributing the text to other Catholic Anglican Use parishes.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the disparity between the Lectionary and printed Bibles has increased.  The US Catholic New American Bible saw a major revision last year – the NABRE or New American Bible Revised Edition.  But the approved US lectionary uses a version of the NAB that was never published as a Bible and the disparity is increased with the NABRE.

What is going on?  Is the NRSV an acceptable basis for the Catholic lectionary or not?  Will Australia and England really turn to the ESV for a lectionary?  Has the RSV-2CE really been adopted anywhere in Africa, and if so, who will print RSV-2CE lectionaries?  Will we ever see a version of the NAB in which the text of the lectionary matches what parishioners can find in their personal Bibles?

For such an important aspect of the Catholic liturgy, the situation with Catholic lectionaries is perfectly murky.  This cannot possibly be a good thing for developing high-quality learning materials and helping lay Catholics who want to study the Bible.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. January 15, 2012 3:18 pm

    It is quite strange that while there is uniformity with the new Third Roman Missal for all English speaking countries, yet there is still great diversity in the Lectionary. If this continues the way it appears it will, there will likely be no Catholic Bible anywhere that matches exactly what is heard at Mass, particularly with the use of the Revised Grail Psalms.

  2. Russ permalink
    January 15, 2012 10:01 pm

    Why the Revised Grail Pslams? I’m not familiar with them. Why not the Psalms from the NRSV or the NABRE? Are the Grail Psalms that much more “accurate” than say those found in the NRSV or NABRE?

  3. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    January 15, 2012 10:15 pm

    Here are a couple of related posts.

    The only explanation offered is that the copyright problem refers to not being able to revise the NRSV away from being gender inclusive. Expiation, the NRSV word, is prefered to the ESV propitiation, but that is not an issue. Gender inclusivity is not appreciated by the vatican??

  4. January 15, 2012 10:30 pm

    The Catholic Church has always had an uneasy relationship with the sacred scriptures, especially in relation to the question of the laity reading the same. Of course Rome has a problem with gender inclusive language, as it does with gender inclusive altar servers, and lay and ordained ministries. Ultimately these are questions which are at present on hold. We await – as ever – another Council.

  5. January 16, 2012 7:51 am

    The Comment about the Lectionary for Southern Africa referred to above are a mistake that was only picked up after publication. It is the RSV-2nd Catholic edition and has been approved for English Speaking Africa. It will be published by Paulines Africa. The Lectionaries are being printed and delivery is expected end Jan. Fr Chris Townsend. Office for Communcation and Media – southern African Catholic Bishops Conference

  6. January 16, 2012 11:24 am

    This cannot possibly be a good thing for developing high-quality learning materials and helping lay Catholics who want to study the Bible.

    Theophrastus, You make a good point. Wonder what is being purchased and/ or checked out from the libraries? The pew Bible is one thing, and the Vatican and/ or the various leaders of the different Catholic conferences around the world may have their say about lectionaries and readings of the scriptures in mass, but what about for Bible study?

  7. January 16, 2012 12:54 pm

    Timothy, yes, it is odd. Another alternative would be to go back to the system of allowing parishes to choose their own lectionaries from Bibles with imprimatur. But I do think that having Bibles that match what is said in Church is a good thing.

    Russ, my understanding is that all English language churches have switched to the Revised Grail Psalter as part of the 3rd English Missal.

    Suzanne, yes the issue of gender comes up as part of Liturgiam Authenticam. But there are other issues too, including the textual basis of the Deuterocanon and Christological language in the Old Testament. The NRSV has problems on all three fronts. You can read my discussion of the standards yourself here.

    homophilosophicus, both this pope and John Paul II have strongly encouraged greater Bible reading and study among the laity.

    Father Townsend, your information makes a great deal of sense. Thanks for the update, and I’ll note it in the main post.

    Kurk, Catholic Churches usually do not have pew Bibles; instead they have missalettes. But the situation with Catholic study Bibles is rather grim. The two leading contenders are Oxford’s Catholic Study Bible — which was not properly updated with the new NABRE (see here for discussion). Another is the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, which to date only has the New Testament and Genesis available. At the same time, we have seen numerous attractive secular, Protestant, Jewish, and even a few Greek Orthodox Study Bibles released.

  8. Francesco permalink
    January 16, 2012 2:53 pm

    Re: Revised Grail Psalms,

    You can find them on GIA’s website:

    In my parish we’re using the same lectionary (the 1998/2002 version) as before the switch to the new translation of the Roman Missal, and it has the old Psalms. Its been my experience, however, that cantors have wide latitude to use or not use the lectionary Psalms.

    The Grail Psalms are used in all the breviaries outside of Africa (Africa got its own breviary a few years ago, and it uses the RGP). The Introductory material to the RGP published by GIA says that they’re going to be the only liturgical psalms for the English language some day soon.


  9. January 16, 2012 4:12 pm

    It seems increasingly unlikely that any English speaking Catholic will ever be able to have a
    Bible that matches the lectionary they hear at Mass. So, just pick a translation, NABRE, NRSV, or RSV-2CE, and use it. Of course there is that wild cars ESV, but I have a number of questions about it.

  10. January 16, 2012 4:13 pm

    Make that ‘wild card’ ESV. 🙂

  11. January 16, 2012 8:06 pm

    Francesco, my understanding is the same as yours re Revised Grail Psalter.

    Timothy, I do not understand why publishers could not negotiate with copyright holders to publish a “Lectionary-equivalent” edition of a Bible that had all the biblical text from the lectionary. The CTS Bible was an example of this (matching the JB-version of the Lectionary), and I guess the RSV-2CE edition is one as well.

    I could even imagine a publisher producing a parallel Bible (here, I am using the NAB Lectionary as an example) which, for each section quoted in the lectionary, had both the lectionary and the matching NABRE text. I think you first brought my attention to this UK Bible that had both the NRSV-Catholic Edition and the Grail Psalter.

    In fact, I think that there would be a real demand for such a Bible.

  12. Chrysostom permalink
    March 1, 2012 4:22 pm

    Homophilosophicus: there’s already an ecclesial communion that has all of that, called the Episcopalians – Google it if you haven’t heard of them. They love the NRSV, have gender-neutral everything, preside over gay union ceremonies, and have a female presiding bishop, and don’t care much for historical Christianity (or, at least some of their leaders don’t, like Spong: even if he doesn’t reflect the opinions of most, he sure does leave a pallor over Episcopalianism). If you dislike the distinctives of Catholicism – staunch social conservatism, Papal authority, legitimate holy orders, and the Mass (the Orthodox have all of those too, except for Papal authority) – there’s plenty to choose from these days without having to rebel against the Established Church. (Unless you realize that all Christians must be under the authority of St Peter’s Successor – in which case, it is his authority, yes? If he can not exercise it, it is not auctoritas.)

    Here’s to the time between Trent and Vatican I being surpassed only by the time between Vatican II and Vatican III!*

    (I’ve had this tab open since this post was made, but it took me a while to get around to reading it with the 300-odd tabs I have open and my participation in the endless internecine feuding at Wikipedia, and computer hardware issues.)

    *That is, unless they want to return to Vatican I or Trent.

  13. March 1, 2012 6:41 pm

    Dear Chrysostom, I have no need to Google the Episcopalian Communion; as an Episcopalian am I very well aware of ‘their love of the NRSV.’ Indeed I love the NRSV. Yes, we Anglicans (Episcopalians outside of Britain and Ireland) have a number of female (read: human being) bishops, priests and deacons. We also have a good number of Gay and Lesbian (read: human beings) bishops, priests and deacons. Being neither a woman or a homosexual human being I am concerned at this dehumanisation of my sisters and brothers in the above comment. It would look altogether more offensive if perchance you wrote ‘Black’ (read: human being) other than ‘woman.’

    Being a Scot living in Ireland I am blessed with many Roman Catholic friends and neighbours, so I say the following with great regard and respect for the good human beings I know who happen to be Roman Catholic: I often wonder where we would be now if the Roman Catholic Church paid more attention to the human rights of clerical sex abuse victims than to its neurotic obsession with sexism and homophobia. That would be an interesting thought experiment. Thoughts?

  14. March 1, 2012 7:00 pm

    Chrysostom, Homophilosophicus: Please be nice.

  15. March 1, 2012 7:33 pm

    Dear Theophrastus, I believe that I have indeed been nice. I shall continue to be nice. I would like to know when defending the dignity and rights of other human beings became a thing of which its niceness could be called into question. I do understand that you don not want ‘trouble’ and this is perfectly clear to me. Thank you for the gentle reminder.

  16. laurie permalink
    April 7, 2012 8:06 am

    I have only recently been advised of this forum so much of the above is news to me. Many Catholics are not aware that a new lectionary is being prepared. I was aware that there would be changes to wording – no gender inclusivity, for example – but it has occurred to me that there might be changes in content, different readings altogether in some cases. Is this likely?

  17. April 9, 2012 11:42 pm

    Laurie — I do not believe that any of the readings will change, only the translation being used. Moreover, this change applies specifically to the ICPEL regions, which include Australia, Britain, Ireland, and New Zealand, but exclude the US and Canada.

  18. James Rinkevich permalink
    November 20, 2012 1:49 pm

    There are problem with all the recent bibles, I make a list for you:
    1. NSRV gender inclusive language, not suitable for liturgy (The Canadian version is explicitly disapproved by the Vatican)
    2. NJB, gender inclusive language, tetragammon use, violates LA and instructions from the CDW.
    3. NAB (completely revised), OT unapproved, NT needed changes for liturgy, psalms not approved either. Undergoing a new revision to NT.
    4. RSV-CE or SCE, needs fixing to better match OT to NT, and OT needs improvement. Approved for Liturgy and Church approved too. SCE modification for LA need to be implemented throughout as liturgical improvement are often made to only parts of the text.
    5. ESV. No Catholic approved edition. Not translated by any Catholics.
    6. CPDV. Translator lacks excellent English skills (see his use of conceived instead of begot/fathered in Mt-and worse, I told him it was bad English, he says it is as he desires it to be). Also translated from critical edition of Vulgate rather than Neo Vulgate. Not church approved.
    7 CCB – derives from La Biblia de Nuestro Pueblo, which is church approved in Latin America, not certain whether it is approved for Liturgy anywhere, but maybe the Spanish version was approved in Latin America, the Chinese and French versions have notable controversies.
    8 I am currently on a personal translation from a new Lithuanian translation which I am making as well. I’m not paid and not expecting to finish it any time soon or at all. It has a major advantage: the Greek participles are correctly translated in Lithuanian (which actually has participles to match everything in Greek plus some) and Lithuanian has a fairly rigid structure for translating them into English. For example in the Gospel of Mathew, when the Magi have left, see, the Lord’s angel appears in a dream to Joseph, and says “after having arisen, take the child and His mother and flee into Egypt! and stay there until I tell you!” In most English bibles the angel says “Arise! take the child and His mother and flee into Egypt! and stay there until I tell you!” The angel doesn’t tell St Joseph to get up in the middle of the night and flee but rather to do so in the morning when he would get up. If he left in the middle of the night, everyone would know and Herod’s men would track him down. And we can thank St Jerome or whoever translated that from Greek to Latin in the first place for them doing this. (Mt 28:19: translates a participle by another participle rather than the imperative used in this case – now all the English translators think that is correct to translate participles as if they had the (imperative) mood of the main verb, it isn’t.). And the worst part: the current Lithuanian (RK98, is translated from an English translation at least in the NT.

  19. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 20, 2012 7:10 pm


    Could you be more explicit in why you think gender inclusive language is not suitable for liturgy. I would think that is exactly where it is appropriate.

  20. January 31, 2015 3:33 am

    I bought a $3 one year paperback missal I saw in Barnes and Nobles in 2014, but ultimately found it unreadable due to the NAB. Later I ordered a permanent Canadian Sunday Missal (which uses the NRSV-CE) and found that although better, the translation is still too liberal. So I’ve decided to use the lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer 1928 instead, which uses the good old KJV. Honestly its a waste of time and money for them to be messing with all these goofy translations when they could stick with the best, and its public domain to boot.

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