missal1This starts with a bit that some people will take for granted, and for others this may be new: when Roman Catholic clergy hear or use the word, “missal”, they think of the book with the regularly used, fixed parts of the Mass, and the varying prayers etc. for specific days. They do not think of the readings, which they think of as being in another book they call the “lectionary”. But when Roman Catholic lay people hear or use the word, “missal” they (mostly) think of a book many of them own which has the readings, the prayers, and the Mass parts, and often some of the sacramental and other rites, offices, and prayers. So many devout lay people own a “Sunday Missal” (with the Sunday readings in full) and a “Weekday Missal” (with the weekday readings in full).

When the Roman Catholic Church speaks of a revised translation of the missal, they are not talking about what the lay people mean.

Now you might think that, with all the emphasis on getting the English missal (clery style) translation exactly the same from Kenya to Kentucky, that lay-people’s missals are identical also all over the English-speaking world. You would be wrong. Readings in Canada are from the NRSV, in USA they are from the New American Bible, and in England they are from the Jerusalem Bible. And the Vatican doesn’t like NRSV (same reason that it didn’t like the first English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church).

Well there is a new Grail Psalter. But no new English translation of the Bible. Yet. So in NZ, it will be new Mass responses this year, new priest’s Mass parts probably next year, and then… some time… a new “lectionary” and then there can be new people’s missals.

While work on the revised English translation of the Missal is drawing to a close, the process of producing a new Lectionary for Mass continues.

The Lectionary is a book containing the extracts which have been selected from the bible for use in public worship. The selection of extracts will remain the same but a more accurate and contemporary translation of the scriptures will replace the Jerusalem Bible translation used in the current Lectionary.

The International Commission for the Preparation of an English-language Lectionary (ICPEL) 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 objected to NRSV translations. Interestingly, Pope John Paul II used the Canadian Lectionary at World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002.

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 piggy-back this version and have a new Lectionary ready for simultaneous release with the revised Missal. However, the response of the Holy See so far has been negative and it is now highly unlikely that a Lectionary will be ready for joint publication with the Missal translation. This creates problems for the publishers of people’s missals which usually include Mass texts and readings.

The NRSV bible translation, first published in 1989, is the best choice for a Lectionary because it is scholarly, ecumenical and widely used. It stands out among the many translations of the bible because it is “as literal as possible” in adhering to the ancient texts. It draws on recently available sources that increase our understanding of many previously obscure biblical passages.

The NRSV is an authorised revision of the Revised Standard Version which was published in 1952 and gained the distinction of being officially authorised for use by all major Christian churches: Protestant, Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox.

During the nearly 60 years since the publication of the RSV, many in the churches have become sensitive to the exclusively masculine-oriented language of the translation. The mandate for the revision of the RSV specified that such language be eliminated where it could be done without distorting the meaning of the text.

The NRSV therefore uses inclusive language for people, so that the readings do not refer to everyone as ‘brothers’, ‘sons’, ‘men’, etc as the current Jerusalem translation does. Male pronouns have been retained in references to God.

The NRSV is intended for use in public worship as well as in private study. The editors have tried to put the message of the Scriptures in simple, enduring words and expressions that are worthy to stand in the great tradition of the King James Bible and its predecessors.


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