UPDATE: New Lectionary & ESV: Some official clarification

Given the time we have devoted recently to the proposed new Lectionary based on the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible, including a brief comparison of an ESV sample text with other translations, and given the lively and interesting comments it has elicited, I made so bold as to email directly to the Most Reverend Mark Coleridge, the Archbishop of Canberra-Goulburn and Chairman of the International Commission for the Preparation of an English Language Lectionary (ICPELL), seeking some authoritative clarification on some of the questions raised in our discussions.

With admirable speed for a busy diocesan bishop, he very kindly sent a concise but richly informative reply which answers the questions I asked him, and also one I failed to ask him! Apart from chopping the head and the tail of the email which were brief and directed to me, I shall quote him in full:

…  In answer to your questions, the facts are these.  The ESV was chosen over the RSV because the ESV, in its 7% modification of the RSV, seeks to incorporate the fruit of more recent biblical scholarship, i.e. since the publication of the RSV.  In other words, the RSV is out-of-date.  We were looking for a more up-to-date version of the RSV; and when the NRSV proved impossible, we chose the ESV.  Unlike the copyright holders of the NRSV, the copyright holders of the ESV have shown themselves quite open to the kind of changes we would need or want to make for Catholic lectionary purposes; and the copyright arrangements for the project are now in place.  What will appear in the lectionary will be a modified form of the ESV.  This may in time look to the production of a Catholic edition of the ESV, though that is not decided.  I know too little of the permission given to the English ordinariate, but I doubt that it will have an effect on the lectionary we are producing.  That would depend on the Holy See.  It is very hard to say when the ESV lectionary will be ready for publication.  We have all but finished work on the first volume (Sundays and Solemnities), and it may be that the first volume will appear before the others.  But it depends on how quickly the bishops of the five Conferences get back to us within the process of consultation.  Many of them are keen to have a new lectionary as soon as possible, so it may be that we will have the entire new lectionary by 2014…


So the rationale behind the choice of the ESV is made clear. The ESV is a revision of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) that takes into account the latest insights of biblical scholarship and textual criticism, and only 7% of the RSV is actually revised in the process. Moreover, using the NRSV (New RSV) was not a viable option due to the copyright holders not being open to the Church making the necessary modifications to the text for our use. The ESV’s copyright holders are amenable to our need to edit texts for the purposes of the Lectionary, and to bring certain passages into line with Catholic tradition.

Answering a question I wished I had asked (but didn’t!), given comments made by Theophrastus in another post here, it is conceivable that a full-blown, standalone Catholic edition of the ESV could be produced, though no decision has been made on that. As suggested yesterday, given the international, large-scale diffusion of the Catholic Lectionary, a Catholic ESV should be a viable proposition, at least economically. This would address the concerns raised over not having a Bible edition that matched the the texts of the Lectionary.

Archbishop Coleridge also kindly gave us some sort of ballpark figure for when the Lectionary might be implemented, given the variables of the time needed to revise the texts and for the necessary episcopal consultation process: 2014. This is sooner than I had expected, and is very heartening. Given that these processes often take longer than first envisaged, perhaps 2015 might be a safer bet, but still that is much sooner than I had expected. 2014 would be just wonderful, even if it were only the first volume.

The Archbishop’s reply has addressed the major questions and concerns so far raised here, and filled in a few gaps as well. The speed and informativeness of his reply has left me feeling even more encouraged about the proposed new Lectionary. One gets the feeling that ICPELL is getting on with the task without fuss, and with a strong sense of service to the Church. The fact that ICPEL has a relatively low profile rather supports the intuition that its members are more interested in the work than in publicity. May God prosper their work, that it might bear much fruit to God’s glory.

UPDATE here – 6 August 2013

21 thoughts on “UPDATE: New Lectionary & ESV: Some official clarification

  1. What a nice man he sounds! (And a further prompt for me to start looking into the ESV more)

    By the way, did you see the Tablet’s headline re. Fr Paul’s appointment to the liturgy office?


    1. Yes, he is a very approachable bishop without any of the false matey-ness that often accompanies apparent approachablility. He is a biblical scholar by training and education so he knows his stuff.

      The Tablet headline did not escape my notice, and was typical, as was the selective content of the article. I may have something to say about that!

      Love to Jo and Grace.



  2. Thanks for this very informative post. It does seem, though, that Archbishop Coleridge does address the possibility of an ESV-CE:

    What will appear in the lectionary will be a modified form of the ESV. This may in time look to the production of a Catholic edition of the ESV, though that is not decided.


    1. Indeed – that was the very question I wished I had asked him, but which he answered anyway. For the reasons I state in the post, I feel fairly confident that an ESV-CE will appear in due course. If it gets free online resources like the standard ESV, then it will be a very valuable gift to Catholics.


  3. Salve !

    Goodness, Father Hugh has been busy these past few days ! (For which many thanks. I can’t imagine how he fits all this effort into the daily life of a monk.) This is most fascinating news which he has acquired from Archbishop Coleridge.

    It now sounds fairly certain that the ESV is set to be the version for the new lectionary. I only wish they had begun their work earlier. I had thought 2015 would be the soonest date : it still seems such long time to wait.

    Well, I will be happy to say farewell to the ghastly Jerusalem Bible translation. And I think we should be thankful that the NRSV ,with its inclusive language, is out of the question.

    Of course, the ESV is not totally free of gender inclusive language (which is ironic, given its genesis). I daresay I need not particularise. But it seems the best option, much better than the NRSV and much, much better than the JB. Stylistically, I suppose my preference would be for the RSV, but I can see how its archaisms would not do for a modern lectionary.

    (By the way, I really cannot see the point in using inclusive language even moderately. It will never satisfy the militant inclusivists for whom it is really all or nothing.)

    On the wider front, I see people in the blogosphere are getting excited by the Ordinariate calendar as a template for a reformed novus ordo calendar. I would agree, especially in light of the recent approval from Rome. The Latin Mass Society in its recent post makes the useful point that in this respect the Angliclan patrimony resembles the Catholic patrimony. Again, I would agree, but I would urge caution : there will be massive opposition from both sides to a convergence of the calendars, and even more so of the Missals. A hybrid Missal would be widely rejected. Well, who wants a tertium quid ?

    The future is in the Lord’s hands. But it is jolly interesting !

    Pax et bonum



  4. Salve Petrus!

    Not “fairly certain” – certain! The ESV (Catholicised) it is, and if we get in 2014 that will be quite a feat.

    It is not really an inclusivised translation. Check Matt 16:26, or Luke 18:27 – “man” and “men” used here, for example. You can be confident that Rome will not be allowing any excessive gender-inclusive language.

    As for convergence and mutual enrichment, as I wrote somewhere on the blog (! – it’s late) the enrichment seems to be getting up a head of steam from the Ordinariate side of things rather than the EF. That should make it harder to resist, though not impossible. A hybrid Missal is a long way off I should have thought. Much closer to hand is a mild reform of the 1962 with new prefaces and extra saints.

    Festina lente!



  5. Yes, I couldn’t agree more. I can’t think why the new prefaces and new saints have not yet been inserted into the 1962 Missale Romanum. It would be a fairly minor emendation. After all, they didn’t waste any time in changing the Good Friday prayer for the Jews.

    As to a reformed novus ordo calendar along the lines of the Ordinariate calendar, yes, I would certainly wish for this, but I have been giving it a lot of thought in recent days, and I wonder if there is not a degree of wishful thinking amongst enthusiasts for reform (myself included). Could it really happen ? I don’t see why not. And I hope it does, but I know it won’t be tomorrow or next week. I think Father’s advice is best : festina lente, and I am sure this is what Rome will do.

    I certainly would hope a hybrid Missal is nothing more than a vague possibility for the future, say twenty or thirty years, or more, away. Nevertheless, the idea of a tertium quid, as floated on certain blogs, fills me with foreboding. Father’s appraisal of the situation is most reassuring.

    Not to pre-empt the work of the Committee, but I would like to see a more vigorous debate in the wider blogosphere on the merits (and shortcomings, it has some ! ) of the ESV. I appreciate Father has given us a very useful comparison of the various bibles, and the ESV stands head and soulders above the versions widely in use, but as Ben Whitworth commented recently, it is just not receiving wide enough publicity. After all, we know it is coming. I certainly am not losing any sleep over its mainly protestant scholarship. I really don’t think this is an issue. My hope is that more bloggers, especiallly priest bloggers, take this up, and that there will be many people commenting
    It’s important !

    Pax et bonum


    1. Well, I think the rapid amendment of the Good Friday prayer served at least one more purpose than its obvious one. Certainly, the use of “perfidious” was inappropriate now. It too much speaks from another period in time, and such concessions to the spirit of the age are exactly what inform so much of bad recent liturgical practice. Following St Paul, we should see the Jewish people as our older brothers in faith, who have not yet been able to see that their Messiah has, in fact, already come. Perhaps a large part of the fault there lies in the poor witness of Christians throughout the centuries. Anyway, we should never revile our brothers – we should pray that they might see what we see.

      But perhaps also Pope Benedict was signalling right from the outset that the 1962 Roman Missal was not going to be set in stone. As we know, even after the reforms effected by Pope St Pius V, the Missal was more than once modified, in small ways to be sure, but they were changes nevertheless. Likewise, the EF is not to be a museum piece in the care of nostalgic liturgical sensibility; it will be modified as the need arises, and in a way consistent with its nature. In other words, it will undergo what has been termed “organic” development.

      The relative lack of interest in the new Lectionary confuses me too. Perhaps the big name bloggers have not picked up on it yet. Small-scale bloggers like me are perhaps not loud enough to raise its profile, so all we can do is keep plugging away. Perhaps also it reflects the various mindsets in the blogosphere. Those attached to the EF would find the question of the OF’s new lectionary irrelevant: they will continue to use the 1962 readings.

      Maybe too some people are more than a little put out at the provenance of the ESV as a Protestant-produced Bible. That would be unfortunate, especially if those same people champion the RSV, which is exactly also a product of Protestant scholarship originally. The parallels go further: just as the RSV was revised for Catholic purposes, so too the ESV is being revised on Catholic lines. There will be no PC gender issues involved. The language will be dignified but somewhat less archaic than than the RSV, while being faithful to the original texts. This really is a winner for non-American anglophone Catholics.

      And that too may be an issue – since this will not affect the Church in America, it does not arouse the interest of American bloggers.



  6. At the risk of beating a dead horse: the analogy

    RSV : RSV-CE :: ESV : ESV-Lectionary

    is not perfect.

    Vatican II opened the doors for Catholics to participate in ecumenical translation with Dei Verbum. Before Dei Verbum, there was no general permission for Catholic scholars to participate in ecumenical Bible translation. By the time of the second (1971) edition of the RSV, there were six Catholic members of the RSV translation committee.

    In 1946, the bar to Catholic participation in the RSV translation committee came from Catholics. That bar was removed by Vatican II, and Catholics then joined the translation committee.

    In 2012, the bar to Catholic participation in the ESV translation committees appears to come from Protestants. It is far from clear that the bar will ever be removed.

    (I would like to take this opportunity again to thank you for this fascinating post.)


    1. Thanks, Theophrastus. An opinion politely expressed is always welcome here, where I agree with it or not!

      I take note of the import of what you are saying, though I add a caveat. I am not so certain that Catholics have been barred from the translation by a positive act. It seems more likely that a group of like-minded Protestants decided to revise in the RSV in line with the latest developments in textual knowledge, and drew on scholars in their circle. This intuition seems reasonable in light of the ESV copyright holders having put up no obstacle to the Church revising the texts for our needs. That to me sounds ecumenical in the best sense: no tokenism, just practical cooperation in areas where we can validly cooperate.

      It is relatively early days yet for the ESV in comparison with the development of the RSV. Who knows but after the lectionary process is complete a Catholic or two might be asked to join the ESV team. Maybe we could pray that it happens, to the glory of God.



  7. I only just heard about this ESV-based lectionary today, and I’m gobsmacked. It’s great news and I’d love to see something similar here in the USA. Which of course will never ever happen.

    But I wonder — before choosing the ESV, was the NABRE or the RSVCE 2e from Ignatius considered? The latter seems quite close to the ESV, and as for the former, well, maybe it could be revised and released as the New Australian Bible, LOL.


    1. Alas for you, Frank, the US bishops are wed to their own version for the lectionary, so indeed there will be no change there.

      Certainly other versions were considered, and some no doubt quickly discarded. The trouble with the RSV (which we still use here as we always kept the original English lectionaries) is that the copyright holders are not amenable to what we need to do to the text to make it fit our lectionary. In themselves they are minor changes, but there are lots of them and, from what I heard, they volume of changes worries the copyright holders. There may be a less charitable reason too! Anyway, Ignatius may have obtained a copyright concession for their version of the Bible, but that concession did not extend to a lectionary, which required a separate concession, and the RSV were not too willing to play ball.

      The ESV, on the other hand, a revision of the RSV, has copyright holders who are far more willing to accommodate our needs. So the ESV it is. You only to see their online resources and the range of editions of the Bible they offer (only one so far with the Apocrypha, but a Catholic Edition is highly likely in the wake of the new lectionary): on Amazon, there is an “Economy” edition of the ESV Bible which is only £1! The ESV are not so interested in profits as spreading the word of God. Being in origin the result of a Protestant initiative (as was the RSV, to be fair), it also allows us to do some positive and constructive ecumenism.

      More news if and when I get it.



      1. Didn’t Ignatius produce an RSVCE2e* edition for the West Indies? If I remember right, it was also adopted by some of the Ordinariates for Anglican-use Catholics.

        [* RSVCE2e: EIEIO.]


      2. Indeed there were a number of unsold RSVCE2 lectionaries produced by Ignatius (though I did not know they were for the West Indies. It was the remaining stocks of these that were bought up by the Ordinariate. The ESV is being pursued because there are no copyright hassles, as with RSV, and because the ESV is, essentially, an update of the RSV according to more recent biblical scholarship. We should be quietly confident about the ESVCE1 (!) lectionary, and be gracious towards the Jerusalem as it heads into retirement.

        It is about time I got an update about the ESV lectionary, come to think of it…



  8. Yes an update would be most welcome.
    I’ve heard a priest say that The lectionary has been to the Vatican for approval, and is now having their comments considered for further edits, but I have no Idea if this is true or not. That priest was rather pessimistic and suggested that it had stalled at that point.


    1. Hello.

      Well I emailed Arhcbishop Coleridge (who since last contact has been translated to Brisbane) a few months asking for a report on any progress, to the extent that he was free to do so. Alas I have not heard back from him. IN fact it has gone very quiet on the lectionary front. One of our monks from Rome, a liturgist, is back for a few days soon so I will ask him if there is any news about the traps.



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