New lectionary translation raises practical concerns

New lectionary translation raises practical concerns

Last week, the Irish bishops’ conference announced that Ireland will have a new translation of the lectionary, the book from which Holy Scripture is proclaimed during the celebration of Mass.

Following a public consultation that garnered around 220 responses, the bishops decided to replace the 1966 Jerusalem Bible translation with the 2019 Revised New Jerusalem Bible (RNJB).

It appears from a September 3 statement from the bishops that this edition was largely favoured due to its “inclusive language” (their emphasis) and gender-sensitivity.

Over 150 individual submissions, and virtually all the 20 organisations that submitted proposals, gave this as the reason for their preference.

This is curious, as the bishops do not cite concerns over inclusive language or gender-sensitivity to explain why a new edition was necessary in the first place, unless it comes under the “developments in the English language over this half century” that they allude to.

Instead, in the same statement, the bishops list a number of practical concerns.

For instance, new copies of the current 1984 print-run of the Jerusalem Bible are not readily available.

A simple reprinting would not suffice, as certain changes have been introduced to the Lectionary over the last 35 years, including replacing “This is the Word of the Lord” with “The Word of the Lord”, as well as new selections of readings from the National Proper for Ireland, among others.

This all makes sense, but there are concerns that in attempting to solve these practical issues, choosing the RNJB will cause new ones.

For instance, at the end of the statement, the bishops say they will explore collaboration with other English-speaking conferences regarding use of the RNJB.

It’s more than unfortunate, then, that our nearest English-speaking neighbours, Scotland and England & Wales, are already progressing a different lectionary based on the English Standard Version: Catholic Edition.

That means that Sunday Masses in Ireland will now differ from the UK’s. It also raises the spectre that Irish publishers will not be able to produce texts suitable for the UK and Ireland.

In addition, the bishops themselves note that this edition of the lectionary will take several years to prepare.

This process involves finding an English-speaking conference to join Ireland for the preparations, and there is no guarantee the Vatican will approve bishop’s our choice.

This raises the following questions: given that practical concerns motivate the change, why didn’t we simply join the churches in Great Britain in their choice?

Is it that the RNJB is better? If that is the case, how was that determined? Was it a democratic vote based on the edition that received the most submissions? Or was it the result of expert consultation?