Update on the Lectionary - 23rd February 2014

Three and a half years ago in this column, I wrote about the process of producing a new lectionary for Mass. As I explained then, the International Commission for the Preparation of an English Language Lectionary (ICPELL) was formed in 2003 to arrange for a new lectionary for Britain and Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, and other countries who wished to be included. It was hoped to use the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (NRSV) and a new version of the Grail Psalms.

Canadians had been reading the NRSV at Mass since 1992, when the first edition of the new Sunday Lectionary was published with approval from the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. It was only when the Canadian NRSV Lectionary for weekdays was published in 1994 that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith began to object to NRSV translations.

After many years of often divisive debate, the Vatican finally granted recognitio of the Canadian lectionary in 2007. It was hoped that other countries could adopt this version and have a new lectionary ready for simultaneous release with the revised Missal, but this did not eventuate.

The NRSV bible translation, first published in 1989, is considered by many to be the best choice for a lectionary for several reasons. It is “as literal as possible” in adhering to the ancient texts and draws on recently available sources that increase our understanding of many previously obscure biblical passages. It is also officially authorised for use by all major Churches and widely used across the Christian world.

Despite this, there has been ongoing criticism of the NRSV translation and doubts raised about its suitability for use in liturgy. Although the NRSV translators claim to have made “moderate use of horizontal inclusive language”, some scholars argue that substituting other words for “man”, “Son of man”, etc obscures the traditional Christological reading of the Psalms and other Old Testament passages.

After 10 years of unsuccessful efforts by ICPELL, it became apparent that the whole lectionary project was in serious jeopardy. It had proved impossible to find a lectionary that suits the Holy See, the copyright holders of the scripture translations, and bishops conferences. Another issue was that the Revised Grail psalms, which were planned to be part of the revised lectionary, have also lost support in some quarters.

At the end of 2013 the decision was made to dismantle ICPELL and leave each conference of bishops to make its own decision regarding a lectionary for Mass. Consequently, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference agreed to discontinue its involvement in the international lectionary project and to reprint the existing lectionary. It would contain a slightly modified version of the Jerusalem Bible currently in use and the Grail translation of the responsorial Psalms.

The general opinion is that some poor translations in the Jerusalem Bible are easily remedied and that other required changes to the text can be made fairly quickly. The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has established an editorial committee to oversee the editorial adjustment to be made to the current lectionary.

Hopefully new lectionaries will be available before the end of 2014 to replace the 1981 version which has been out-of-print for many years.

Elizabeth Harrington