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  In other words, the RSV is out-of-date.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

New Lectionary – Update

The Archbishop of Canberra (Australia), Mark Coleridge, is chairman of the committee that is preparing the New Lectionary for the Church in the anglophone world (apart from the States, which will stick to its own New American Bible [NAB], and Canada, which has already implemented a New Revised Standard Version [NRSV] lectionary, though this may turn out to be an interim arrangement). The version chosen from the outset to base the new lectionary on was the NRSV. This version is a vast improvement on the currently widely-used Jerusalem version that has become the de facto lectionary in most of the non-American anglophone Church. The Jerusalem version is bare and often banal in its translation, and makes some dubious editorial and translation choices. The RSV was always a more elegant and timeless translation (and we still use it here at Mass and at Office), and more faithful to the original texts.

Or rather, more faithful to the particular manuscript versions used in the translation process. If I remember rightly the RSV employed the received texts, which are not now accepted by all as the best versions from which to translate. Moreover, some argued that the translators at the time adopted a more liberal hermeneutic to inform their translation choices. The NRSV maintains the more elegant style but makes some concessions to modern socio-political concerns (such as the greater use of inclusive language). With both versions of the RSV there has always been tensions with the copyright holders, who have been loathe to let the Church make small modifications to the text to suit the demands not only of the Catholic Faith but employment in a lectionary (which necessarily does not read biblical books continuously from start to finish).

These troubles have not abated and now Archbishop Coleridge has announced that the new lectionary will be based on the English Standard Version (ESV), a modern revision of the RSV by evangelical scholars. For some time the absence of an ESV version of the Apocryphal books (omitted in Protestant bibles on the whole) precluded its being considered for the lectionary. But there is now an ESV translation of the Apocrypha, and so it is able to be used for the lectionary. It would appear that the copyright holders for the ESV are more amenable to Catholic needs and proposed small modifications. The ESV is widely available now in various formats, including versions with the Apocrypha. Often smaller hardback editions can be found remaindered at excellent prices at sites like Postscript. Of course, you can look at it online.


For a more thorough intro to the ESV go here.