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  In other words, the RSV is out-of-date.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

Liturgy news: liturgical time and concelebration

For a minute the sheep must step aside to allow more serious matters some time. Today two pieces of news emerged, small in themselves but which may be of significance in time.

The Ordinariate

The first is an announcement from the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham that Rome has issued a decree approving its liturgical use of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) – Catholic Edition of scripture, as well as approving its own proper liturgical calendar. One of the problems the broader anglophone Church had was getting copyright issues sorted out with the copyright holders of the RSV, which is a major factor in the planned use of the English Standard Version in the revised Lectionary yet to be implemented, and which I mentioned here back in December. One can only assume that either the Ordinariate has managed to overcome these issues, or that it will publish its own lectionary for use in its churches; or perhaps they have managed to get hold of a stash of the original lectionaries for the post-conciliar liturgy which were RSV, and which we still use at Douai Abbey. Whatever the reality, it is heartening to see that they will be able to use a more elegant, accurate yet comprehensible translation of scripture in their worship, and which will complement the revised Missal. Indeed, they will be ahead of the rest of us.

If it turns out that copyright issues have been overcome, the question could then be asked whether the ESV will be dropped and the RSV adopted for the new Lectionary. The ESV is a revision largely based on the RSV so it will still be a massive improvement on the current Jerusalem version that is predominantly in use, and it may well be that planning is too far advanced for a change now. But this is pure speculation.

The approval of the Ordinariate’s liturgical calendar is significant because, while it is overwhelmingly consistent with the calendar used by the rest of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, it does not refer to “Ordinary Time” but to, for example, “Sundays after Trinity” as in the Anglican communion (whereas the Catholic Church used to refer to “Sundays after Pentecost”). Last month, when discussing the -Gesima Sundays before Lent that were a feature of the pre-conciliar liturgy, I lamented the loss in the modern calendar of liturgical time being linked explicitly to salvation history. To save you going back I will quote the relevant section:

… one the least satisfactory aspects of the new liturgical calendar: Ordinary Time. Before the post-conciliar reform of the Calendar the Church had no concept at all of any time being ordinary. Of course, the reformers did not intend the more banal meaning of the word to apply, but for the common Catholic it does, more often than not. All time, including that we call ordinary or “throughout the year”, is salvation time. “Now is the acceptable time” says St Paul (2 Cor 6:2), “this is the day of salvation”. In the old calendar all time was labelled in reference to one of the great moments in salvation history: Advent, the season preparing for Christmas and also for the Second Coming; Christmas; Epiphany and the days counted after Epiphany; the season of the -Gesimas, easing us out of Christmastide and preparing for…; Lent, the season of re-conversion in preparation for…; Easter and the days counted after Easter; Pentecost, the feast of the establishment of the Church as the enduring and saving presence of the Body of Christ in the world, and the days counted after Pentecost.

Every day was thus anchored to salvation history. No day was ordinary, none humdrum. Every day was a call to experience more fully an aspect of our redemption, and the mystery of God’s love for us revealed in that chapter of salvation history. While the reform of the Lectionary is a far richer gift to the Church, expounding in greater detail the biblical aspects of salvation history throughout the liturgical year, nevertheless we consciously mark the time by its liturgical title, not firstly by the readings of a particular day. So, hearing a Sunday called the fifth in “Ordinary Time”, with no explicit anchorage in salvation history, will usually lead the unwary into considering that day to be, indeed, ordinary, humdrum, of no great consequence.

Could that, perhaps, be part of the reason why ours has become a Church of Christmas-Easter-wedding-and-funeral churchgoers? At least those times sound special. It is a question worth pondering.

So the question that must be asked here is this: with the revised Lectionary, when it comes, will there be also a revised calendar that restores the traditional way of marking liturgical time, and abolishing the fruitless novelty of “Ordinary” time? It would be wonderful if it were so.

[UPDATE – read a clarification about the Ordinariate’s RSV lectionary here]

Cardinal Cañizares and Concelebration

The second news item from Zenit concerns a paper presented by the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, Antonio, Cardinal Cañizares, at the launch in Rome of a new book the title of which, in English, is Eucharistic Concelebration: From Symbol to Reality. What he says does not affect the normal parish, but it does have a resonance for religious communities with a number of priests, like Douai Abbey. He clarifies the issue of concelebration in the modern context but from an historical point of view (with my emphases):

It is in this context that we should understand the question posed by the Holy Father regarding concelebrations with a large number of priests: “For my part,” said the Pope, “I have to say, it remains a problem because concrete communion in the celebration is fundamental, and I do not consider that the definitive answer has really been found. I also raised this question during the last Synod but it was not answered. I also had another question asked regarding the concelebration of Mass: why, for example, if a thousand priests concelebrate, do we not yet know whether this structure was desired by the Lord?”

The question is precisely one of keeping “the structure desired by the Lord”, because the liturgy is a gift from God. It is not something fabricated by us men; it is not at our disposition.   ….

The historical panorama that Msgr. Derville offers us, even if it is —as he modestly points out— only a brief summary, is sufficient to let us glimpse areas of obscurity, that show the absence of clear data on Eucharistic celebration in the earliest times of the Church. At the same time, and without falling into a ingenuous “archaeologism”, it does provide us with enough information to be able to state that concelebration, in the genuine tradition of the Church, whether eastern or western, is an extraordinary, solemn and public rite, normally presided over by the Bishop or his delegate, surrounded by his presbyterium and by the entire community of the faithful. But the daily concelebrations of priests only, which are practised “privately”, so to speak, in the eastern Churches instead of Masses celebrated individually or “more privato”, do not form part of the Latin liturgical tradition.

Moreover, the author seems to me to succeed fully when he examines in depth the underlying reasons mentioned by the Council for extending concelebration. This widening of the faculty to concelebrate needs to be moderated, as we can see when we read the Council texts. And it is logical that it should be so: the purpose of concelebration is not to solve problems of logistics or organization, but rather to make the Paschal mystery present, manifesting the unity of the priesthood that is born of the Eucharist.    ….

As Benedict XVI stated: “I join the Synod Fathers in recommending ‘the daily celebration of Mass, even when the faithful are not present’. This recommendation is consistent with the objectively infinite value of every celebration of the Eucharist, and is motivated by the Mass’s unique spiritual fruitfulness. If celebrated in a faith-filled and attentive way, Mass is formative in the deepest sense of the word, since it fosters the priest’s configuration to Christ and strengthens him in his vocation.”    ….

the limits of a right to concelebrate or not, which also respects the right of the faithful to take part in a liturgy where the ars celebrandi makes their actuosa participatio possible.


This is a highly significant statement coming, as it does, from the man responsible under the Pope for the regulation of the Church’s liturgy. Just as significant is that he ties his comments closely to those of the Pope, which suggests that he is speaking with the approval, implicit at least, of Pope Benedict. Priestly concelebration has been a muddy issue since its more liberal use was allowed (before the post-conciliar reforms it only occurred at priestly ordinations). All too often it has become a means whereby a priest can say a Mass each day without much effort or organisation. As a symbol of priestly unity under the bishop, concelebration as practised today largely fails. This is because it happens even without the bishop present, and this is most of the time. And also because such unity is undermined when, as often happens here, half the priests present at Mass are not concelebrating. Is the answer to force all the priests to concelebrate? The Cardinal clearly implies it is not. He clearly acknowledges elsewhere in his paper the option for a priest to attend Mass without exercising his ministry.

Yet the Cardinal’s quotation of a recent statement by the Pope, in accord with the Synod of Bishops, “recommending ‘the daily celebration of Mass, even when the faithful are not present’”, sends a clear message: the preferred and traditional practice of the Church is for a priest to offer daily the Mass, be it with or without a congregation, because, as the Pope notes, it builds and strengthens the priest’s vocation. Furthermore every Mass has a value in itself for the whole Church, for every Mass also builds and strengthens the unity of the entire Church (cf Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium, #26). If a priest has to make an extra effort to offer Mass daily as the celebrant, then surely that is a light and joyful burden that comes with ordination as a servant of Christ and his Church (and not servant of himself).

The closing reference in the quote to the faithful’s right to have the manner of liturgical celebration facilitate their real and  fruitful participation is worthy of note too. One might wonder if, among the issues he might have in mind, is that concelebrated Masses might often look like a clerical ‘love-in’ at which the people might feel like mere spectators. This is not the case ever, of course, in truth. Nevertheless, if even a few people sincerely experienced it as such it might point to a subtle form of modern clericalism.

Perhaps there will be more to be said from Rome about concelebration and the desirability of every priest offering Mass daily. Watch this space.