News about the Lectionary project – from the Chairman of the Commission

Archbishop Mark Coleridge has provided a bit of news about the progress of the “International Commission for the Preparation of an English Language Lectionary” in his latest letter to his diocese, published on the Canberra-Goulburn Diocesan website. (HT to Joe for this link).

Here are the relevant paragraphs:

Some years ago, I was asked to chair a commission which would prepare a new English-language Lectionary[1], 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.[2] 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)[3], still with the revised Grail Psalter [4].

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[5].


[1] The “International Commission for the Preparation of an English Language Lectionary” includes Australia, Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales – NOT the US, which will continue to use the New American Bible (which is their own baby) or Canada (which has already published an NRSV lectionary…don’t know where that will go…). See here and here for more information.

[2] I gather that the difficulties were that what the Holy See required of the text, the copyright holders of the NRSV were not willing to allow. The problem with inclusive language would have been a start.

[3] This confirms what I had heard on the grape-vine. It appears that the NRSV just became too difficult. At the time of the establishment of the ICPELL, the ESV was not an option, as they didn’t have a translation of the so-called “deuterocanonical books”. Now we do: the Oxford edition ESV with the Apocrypha. It will be interesting to see what modifications are deemed necessary to the ESV.

[4] The Revised Grail Psalter is already available on line. That means that England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Australia will all be using the same texts for the psalms as the Americans. It leaves open the question of the psalm antiphons – will there be a universally agreed translation of those? One hopes so. Will this be the work of Archbishop Coleridge’s Commission?

[5] I can’t really imagine what the Archbishop means by this. The new Missal has already appeared on the altars of our churches. The people’s missals have already begun appearing, and incorporate the current Jerusalem Bible/Grail lectionary. Perhaps “as close as possible” might simply mean “when we have it ready”. Two or three years time could be “as close as possible”…

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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43 Responses to News about the Lectionary project – from the Chairman of the Commission

  1. Lance Eccles says:

    Why fiddle with these unsatisfactory recent translations. Surely someone has thought of using Mgr Ronald Knox’s elegant but neglected Bible translation of the 1940s.

    • Joshua says:

      Oh no! Forgive me, but in the modern Divine Office (the non-U.S. edition), passages from Wisdom, Galatians, and part of Romans are given in Knox’s version, and to hear them read – as I have, at St Dominic’s, East Camberwell, with the friars saying Office of Readings and Lauds – is very odd indeed. For instance,

      “Trust him you must, if find him you would… Death for its goal, is not life’s aim missed? Labours he well, that labours to bring doom about his ears?” (Week 30: Sunday; Wisdom chapter 1)

      I recall the Dominicans laughing in amaze at the oddness of this mannered englishing!

      • Schütz says:

        I agree with Josh – the Knox translation is very odd indeed. It has all the idiosyncracies of a translation by a single author (for comparison, try Luther’s German Bible). It can be beautiful, but as for accuracy… he was at times given to paraphrasing the text or – let us say – interpreting it poetically. One of my students used the Knox translation in my lectures on St Paul – it was always interesting to see how Knox translated the passage, but he was irregular and often he mistook Paul’s point.

        The ESV is actually very good. Try it and see. It’s up there with the RSV – in the same tradition too, so the text will sound familiar. Very sound. Which is why I am interested in what adaptions the Commission is asking for.

  2. Joshua says:


    Strange to say, I don’t have a copy of the English Standard Version – could you give some details of its provenance? Is it related to the R.S.V.?

    I recall a Lutheran site (L.C.M.S.?) that went through the pros and cons of different English translations from a conservative, dogmatic perspective… but I don’t recall which one the writer preferred.

    • Schütz says:

      Yes, the translators of the ESV decided to follow the provenance of the KJV/RSV, without going down the blind alleys of the NRSV. The language is not as archaic as the RSV either. The opinion of the Commission was, according to one of my sources, that it ticked all the boxes of Liturgiam Authenticam.

  3. Joshua says:

    Time to go buy a new Bible then!

    Hmmm, let me see what’s here so far (rummages around):

    Greek NT
    Nova Vulgata
    Douay Rheims
    Confraternity trans.
    RSV, CE
    Orthodox Study Bible (OT from Septuagint; NT from NKJV)

    • Stephen K says:

      What a riot. (Chuckles to himself -something of the same problem). No-one will be able to accuse you, Josh, of leaving a single stone unturned!

      • Joshua says:

        In reality, these days I use the Vulgate and Douay-Rheims available online!

      • Schütz says:

        Many of us have gone further than Josh along these lines. Not only do I own all these and more in hardcopy, but, like Fr John Corrigan, I own the Logos bible software which gives one access to dozens of biblical versions on your computer AND on your iphone/ipod!

  4. Peregrinus says:

    Not wishing to start a row, but can somebody remind me why the JB, as currently used, doesn’t seem to be on the horizon at all? Is it simply that scripture scholarship has moved on since 1966, and it is generally recognised that there are a variety of better English translations, or is there some other issue?

    • Schütz says:

      As briefly as I can answer on my iphone, it is because the JB isn’t a proper translation let alone a good one. It was a translation of the French JB, not of the Greek and Hebrew texts. The New JB was infinitely better, but stiil not in the ball park of the RSV. There are a bunch of idiosyncracies that make it unsuitable, including the use of YAhweh instead of Lord (corrected in the current lectionary in every instance) and the way in which righteousness is always translated as “justice” and the like. I will be glad to see the back of it.

      • Robert says:

        I must confess I have a great fondness for the NJV, barring the use of the divine name, particularly on account of its notes. By and large, at least in the Old Testament, it balances accuracy (notes being taken into account) with literary quality rather well. Reading the prophets, I got up to Ezekiel (starting with Amos, and going through them in chronological order) and “mortal” before getting frustrated with the NRSV and deciding to use the Nova Vulgata alongside the New Jerusalem notes, with an occasional peek at the translation.

        From what I have seen of the RSVCE, I think it is an unhappy compromise between literary quality, adherence to scholarship and going back to what the editors deemed the RSV should not have changed at all. I don’t have a problem with any of these, but I thought the resultant product suffered from general editorial shoddiness. I suppose my other major problem was with changes where there did not need to be any changes (Why for instance in Gen 6:6 do we get “The Lord was sorry” replacing Jerome’s heady impersonal paenituit “It repented the Lord”?). The NAB grates on my ears. For example, the translation of “good and evil” in Genesis as “good and bad”, and the similarly irritatingly daft replacement of “knew his wife” – Jerome’s cognovit with its marvelous representation of the change that the fruit of the tree had brought to the relations between the sexes – with “had relations with his wife”. I am not saying that the NJV is a wonderful translation (It has the equally over-obvious “had intercourse” in place of “knew”, but the slightly better “regretted” in place of the quite horrible “was sorry”, and I have to replace the divine name while reading it), but that its reputation as much worse than all the other supposedly accurate translations is undeserved. The NRSV in particular has a wholly unjustified reputation for accuracy. In a number of instances it fails to provide alternatives for the translation it offers, and does sneaky things behind your back (of which Ezekiel’s “mortal” is only the most glaring example).

  5. weedon says:

    Wow. So basically when the project is through, the RC’s and the LCMS Lutherans will be reading from the same Bible version during the Divine Service!

  6. Chris Burgwald says:

    Grrr… I *much* prefer both the ESV (with the Deuteros ;-) and the RSV (particularly the 2nd Catholic edition published by Ignatius Press) to the NAB, but it appears that we Americans are stuck with the NAB at Mass for the long foreseeable future…

  7. Christine says:

    Yes, unfortunately we in the U.S. will still be stuck with the NAB at Mass. I have an updated NAB version with scholarly notes on my Kindle that is actually quite good for research purposes, but for devotional reading I still prefer the Ignatius 2nd Catholic edition that Chris Burgwald refers to. I would certainly be open to an ESV edition modified for Catholic use.

  8. Charles G says:

    How interesting that ESV will be used! I can’t stand NAB, so once the English have a new CTS hand missal with the ESV lectionary, I’ll have to take a trip across the pond to the UK to get a copy. I don’t really understand what the issue with NRSV copyright is, though, since with the Canadian lectionary, the NRSV was revised with the recognitio of Rome, so presumably the copyright holders gave permission for that. Perhaps ICPEL wanted to do something radically different to the text than the Canadian bishops did? Also, who owns the copyright to ESV, and are they going to be any more amenable to the changes made to the text to compy with Liturgiam Authenticam?

    • Schütz says:

      “once the English have a new CTS hand missal with the ESV lectionary”

      The question is, when will this be? CTS already has a people’s edition of the Missal in the pipe with – as far as I understand it (see previous postings) – the JB lectionary in it – for both UK and Australia. So… are people going to throw away a perfectly good (and by all accounts beautiful) missal just to get the new lectionary? I don’t know how all this will work…

  9. kate says:

    Improving the translation will certainly help, but the real problem with the lectionary is more fundamental, and goes to the three year rotation and selection of texts.

    Because there isn’t enough repetion, and most catholics don’t read the Bible individually, the result is utter ignornace of the Bible on the part of many.

    What we really need is a return to a one-year lectinary for Sundays, combined with the NO’s rotating texts for weekdays (I do think it is a weakness of the EF lectionary that there is so little variation for daily mass goers).

    • Robert says:

      The other problem with the lectionary – and the breviary while we are at it – is its avoidance of problematic texts, so that you never get to deal with the problematic aspect of humanity which the Scriptures depict with such great faithfulness – the desire for blood and revenge, and so on.

      • Joshua says:

        Yes, this is a vital point. Apparently Paul VI insisted that the new Lectionary skip any such painful passages, which I think was a bad decision, since it seems to hide with shame part of the Word of God in a way that only sooky moderns would; mediævals would have been outraged.

        • Schütz says:

          I agree with this. The cut and paste approach of the current lectionary is a scandal. The new Revised Common Lectionary of the Protestants restores the missing verses. Why can’t we?

    • Peregrinus says:

      I’m puzzled, Kate. You say that “there isn’t enough repetition”, but the more repetition you have in the Lectionary the less of the scriptures you can include – reading one passage twice in the cycle must mean dropping another passage altogether to make space for it.

      And shortening the cycle from three years to one can only exacerbate this problem. It stands to reason that you can cover a lot more of the scriptures in 156 Sundays than you can in 52.

      If the problem is “ignorance of the bible”, isn’t reducing the amount and variety of scriptures that we read in church going to make that problem worse, not better?

      • Joshua says:

        I recall that the L.C.M.S.’s website deals with this question, and gives excellent arguments for less Scripture repeated more often (and so favouring the one year “historic” lectionary, in essence the same as that of the 1962 Missal) – see below…

        Wisely, moreover, it provides an Old Testament reading to be matched with each Epistle and Gospel pair, so that users of the one year lectionary will still hear from the O.T.

        Herewith, from their site:

        “The Lectionary Committee included the historic, one-year lectionary in the Lutheran Service Book for several important reasons:

        * We are an historic church and acknowledge the value of what has been handed down to us.
        * It is important to recognize the value of repetition. Given the increasing lack of biblical literacy within our society and even within the church, there may be a need in the future for a one-year lectionary, with its yearly repetition of key biblical texts.
        * The one-year lectionary is unique in that there are a number of older resources that support it, including hymnody, sermons by Luther and others, etc.

        “While relatively few of our congregations currently use the one-year lectionary, it is included in the hymnal in order to serve both those who still faithfully use it and those who may one day find that their situation could best be served by the repetition inherent in this lectionary.

        “Revisions to the one-year lectionary were very minor. The historic Gospels remain intact. Likewise, all of the historic Epistles are included. In a few cases, however, an alternate Epistle is provided. Since the historic lectionary did not have assigned Old Testament readings, the committee took greater freedom in choosing these texts. As with the three-year lectionary, the committee attempted to choose Old Testament readings that relate closely to the Holy Gospel. In addition, they attempted to provide a balanced selection of the various genres of Old Testament readings (e.g., prophetic writings, historical narrative).”

        I would certainly argue similarly that the current OF Catholic diet is too rich: as one author expressed it, people are puzzled by the O.T. and St Paul rather than enlightened by them; the O.T. pericope is often only obliquely linked to the Gospel, and the semicontinuous reading from the Epistles often doesn’t link at all, so no comments are made about the 2nd Reading.

        • Joshua says:

          P.S. Of course, the EF lectionary is the product of many layers of development, and is quite sparse as compared to the Byzantine Rite (which, while omitting the O.T. at the Divine Liturgy, does read through all the N.T. bar the Apocalypse each year), but that very sparse provision is actually another sign of its antiquity (cf. the Coptic lectionary, I think).

          Certainly, and I say this as one who attends the EF when possible and was a member of an EF parish for two years, there is something very comforting about the same readings recurring each year on the same Sunday, rather than being lost in Year A, B, or C on some Sunday of “Boring Time”, as a friend termed it.

        • Schütz says:

          Officially, the Lutheran Church of Australia still has the one-year lectionary as an option – even if it is rarely used. Maybe that might be a way forward in the future for the Catholic Church too to allow the lectionary of the EF to be used with the OF.

          The problem of passages of St Paul and the OT being confusing is often because of the lack of context and continuity. The Paul passages especially are too short to make sense.

      • Joshua says:

        In any case, Scripture read out in the course of the Liturgy ought serve the Liturgy and feed our prayer, rather than be an exercise in Bible reading; that is why (as was said in condemnation of Quignones’ Breviary of the Holy Cross) neither should the Breviary or Divine Office be turned into Bible study, since it too is prayer.

        Bible study, lectio divina, “searching the Scriptures”, should indeed be a delight to all and sundry, but turning Mass into Bible study conflates two different things. As it is, while more Scripture than previously is read at Mass, both some passages that are obscure pose concerns, and also passages that may have a harsh quality are skipped, which imparts a false sense of the Biblical message.

        Of course, as one who tries to attend daily Mass, and has done so for most of my adult life, and has only at certain times been able to attend my preferred worship in the EF, I have heard and read along while day after day we’ve ploughed through Years I and II, while Sunday after Sunday we’ve ploughed through Years A, B, and C, and I must say I think a lot of it could be omitted without loss.

    • Schütz says:

      I don’t agree, Kate. As one who teaches the Scriptures, I find that Catholics are generally fairly knowledgable about the Scriptures from “hear-say”. The words have sunk in over the years of the 3 year lectionary. (Let’s remember that the old 1-year lectionary wasn’t usually read in the vernacular). It’s just that they don’t know where they fit in the bible, because no Catholic actually reads his bible. So, six of this and half a dozen of that. Hearing the Word rather than reading it has worked for Catholics from one angle, and not from another. I don’t think going back to a one year lectionary (which for instance hardly ever had Mark’s Gospel included) would be an impoverishment.

      • kate says:

        Joshua has made the case for me I think.

        Those who are interested enough to turn up to your classes, I suspect, are likely to be more engaged with the Mass and may be even do some reading at home.

        Just go and have a read over at Cath News in the comments box and you will get a truer picture of the utter ignorance of Scripture on the part of those claiming to be Catholics!

  10. Peregrinus says:

    Are we leaving unremarked what I think is a point worth noting? Based on David’s points about the JB being an indirect translation, via French, and not even a particularly good example of that, one wonders why it was ever selected back in 1966? And the answer, I suspect, is because it came from a Catholic source. I think in the climate of 1966 it would have been very difficult for the Catholic lectionary to use a “Protestant” translation, so the options basically came down to the Douay-Rheims, Knox, and the JB. The RSV-CE also came out in 1966 but, despite the “CE”, it was a Catholic gloss on a Protestant translation, and the copyright was held by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (of which the Catholic church was not and still is not a member).

    Now, nearly 50 years later, we have a situation where the options being considered are all from a Protestant stable, and nobody considers the fact even worthy of remark.

    • Joshua says:

      Yes, very sadly true, P.!

      • Peregrinus says:

        I’m not sure why you think this is “sad”, Joshua.

        In many ways it’s an indicator of progress. The RSV, which wasn’t even considered in 1966, is now one of the favoured versions – and favoured, furthermore, by people who in other contexts would be described as “conservative” and who, in prejudiced stereotype, would be seen as suspicious of a “Spirit of Vatican II” approach to non-Catholic Christians. And the ESV, the other candidate, is basically the RSV with some tweaks.

        In other words, does this not indicate that as a church we can now consider the merits of a bible translation in a more open way according to how good they are, rather than dismissing or endorsing them simply on the basis of where they come from?

        Of course, you could say that it’s regrettable that Catholic translations are not among the first rank of English-language translations, and that may be your point. But I think we should remember that less than 10% of the world’s Catholics have English as their first language, and the great bulk of English-speaking Christians are Protestants, especially in the first world where the academic and financial resources for scripture translations are concentrated. You’d expect the English-language scripture translation business to be dominated by Protestants.

        • Joshua says:

          Sorry to be unclear – I meant:

          (a) it was sad that in the sixties a translation of a translation, and not a great one at that, was preferred simply for being Catholic, not Protestant;


          (b) today, it is a pity that there is no Catholic edition compiled, owing to the lack of Catholic translators – though I get your point about the minority status of Catholics among Anglophone Christians.

        • Schütz says:

          It is also a great testament to the beauty and durability of the language of the King James Version of the Bible, the 400th anniversary of which is celebrated this year. To be sure, the RSV and the ESV differ considerably from the KJV, but the basic rhythm and pattern of the words remains the same. Josh’s example of Psalm 130 is a case in point. I can pray it easily because it is so familiar to me. Admittedly, I was raised a protestant and on the RSV, but still…

    • Schütz says:

      Yes, I think this is entirely correct, Perry. Also, the JB in French had been a huge success from what I understand (I don’t read French so I have no idea of its accuracy or beauty – do the French still use it for their lectionary?). The RSV was just too tightly connected to the KJV with all the unpleasant memories that conjures up.

      Today we recognise that we have far more in common with our Evangelical brothers and sisters (and vice versa) than was perhaps recognised forty years years ago – or perhaps it is that we have come to have more in common than we did then. This is a happy thing, I think. Although the publishers of the original ESV steadfastly refused for quite some time to compromise their translation with the additon of the deutero canonicals. The Oxford University Press somehow convinced them that to have a separated edition that included them would be worthwhile. And it seems to have paid off.

  11. Joshua says:

    Addendum: I’ve just popped into Koorong (that Evangelical Protestant bookstore) and bought, for only $7.95, a handsome hardback “Holy Bible English Standard Version Anglicized Reader’s Edition” (236 x 170 mm, or 9.3 x 6.7 inches). Unfortunately, none of the many different editions of the E.S.V. on offer included the Deuterocanonical Books, but this will do for now. As a test case, I choose Psalm 129, I mean Psalm 130 in the Hebrew numbering:

    Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice!
    Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

    If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
    But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

    I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
    my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.

    O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.
    And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

    • Joshua says:

      P.S. I’ve just checked a verse notorious by reason of modernist scholars* refusing to translate it as it stands, because it so baldly declares Christ’s divinity – I refer to Romans 9:5. Apparently, so such men claim, St Paul would not have meant to say what he did! In any case, the E.S.V. renders it as follows:

      To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed for ever. Amen.

      No hesitancy over confessing Christ’s godhead on the part of the E.S.V.!

      *Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament ties itself in knots in discussing this passage (pp.459-62): as the minority in favour of actually reading the verse according to the natural acceptation of the words and syntax pointed out, any other reading is highly unnatural and awkward; while the majority took the view that the almost unanimous verdict of the Church Fathers was “of relatively minor significance”, and that, while the Apostle did say Christ was “in the form of God” (Philippians 2:6), of course they treated Titus 2:13 as deutero-Pauline, and came to their not unexpected conclusion that “it was considered tantamount to impossible that Paul would have expressed Christ’s greatness by calling him God blessed forever” – despite the fact that, in this very verse, he did!

      Fools and blind: as was said to the Apostle himself, “your great learning has driven you mad”.

    • Schütz says:

      One rather wonders why we couldn’t have adopted the ESV psalmody also, so that we had one version for liturgical use. I think about the only way to get the Oxford Edition is to order it in specially, or get it on the internet. I did the latter. Bookdepository will have it to your door in a matter of days. $7.95 is good money, though!

  12. kate says:

    Of course, in the light of the evidence emerging from the Dead Seas Scrolls on the superiority of the Septuagint over the (later) Masoretic Text), what one would really like to see is an altogether new translation based on the Greek, elucidated by the early Hebrew fragments now come to light…

  13. Michael Demers says:

    This is the most comments I’ve seen yet online on the ESV lectionary (ICPEL).

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