The revision of the Lectionary in the English-speaking world has been a long haul. The United States uses a version of the New American Bible, English-speaking Canada uses the New Revised Standard Version. English-speaking Africa and the Ordinariates for Catholics coming from the Anglican tradition use the Second Catholic Edition of the Revised Standard Version. India has recently adopted a Lectionary based on the English Standard Version.
That leaves Ireland, England & Wales, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand. These countries are still using an old Jerusalem Bible Lectionary that everyone agrees needs to be revised. Many different translations have been tried and, so far, nothing has worked. The new edition of the Lectionary has had very bad luck suffering setbacks for many different reasons. I almost feel that Netflix could produce a documentary series about the travails suffered by those attempting to produce a new Lectionary for Mass in these countries!
I have made no secret of the fact that I personally advocate adopting the Revised New Jerusalem Bible in the countries that are currently using the original Jerusalem Bible. My main reason for this choice is that it would guarantee a high level of pastoral continuity and avoid the danger that Pope Francis warned of in his letter Aperuit Illis. Here he warned the Church that “the Bible cannot be just the heritage of some, much less a collection of books for the benefit of a privileged few. It belongs above all to those called to hear its message and to recognize themselves in its words. At times, there can be a tendency to monopolize the sacred text by restricting it to certain circles or to select groups. It cannot be that way. The Bible is the book of the Lord’s people, who, in listening to it, move from dispersion and division towards unity. The Word of God unites believers and makes them one people.”
I feel that many people were alienated by the 2011 translation of the Roman Missal and that the ESV will also have that tendency. When I proposed that we should consider adopting the Revised New Jerusalem Bible in the Tablet last summer, Professor Eamon Duffy, the renowned Cambridge Church historian, publicly disagreed with my proposal in the Tablet’s Letters’ Page (31 August). He claimed that the RNJB is a poor choice as it “falls so far short of versions given familiarity and valency by their presence in cultural touch-points like Handel’s Messiah or the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Such echoes and associations matter a great deal in liturgy. In electing to use the ESV, the bishops,intentionally or not, are reconnecting Catholics to a deep-rooted dimension of anglophone culture.” I feel that this only validates my point. The Mass-goers that I know are not really familiar with Handel’s Messiah and have never attended a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. I think producing a Lectionary that can be easily understood by those who attend our parishes is a much more important goal. This is what ought to motivate the decision of which Biblical translation to use and not the cultural preferences of the “privileged few.”
However, today I learned from London’s Tablet that the Scottish Bishops Conference has voted to adopt the ESV in their Lectionary (full statement available here). The Scottish Bishops do say that their colleagues in England & Wales have already adopted the ESV and I have heard rumours to that effect. But I have not been able to find confirmation of this on the webpage of the England & Wales Conference or that of their Liturgy Office. The Liturgy Office has been using the ESV a lot in recent prayer texts it produces, but the ESV is not included on its list of approved Biblical translations for England & Wales.
Barring any more unforeseen developments on the Lectionary roller-coaster, it now seems that the Catholic bishops of the three countries of Britain have decided to adopt the ESV. The question that now remains to be answered is if the Irish, Australian and New Zealand bishops will follow their British counterparts or decide to do something else.