(One of the new series of posts you will see from time to time in 2012 is called 7 Questions. The purpose of 7 Questions is to highlight those people who are actively involved in producing, promoting, and supporting Catholic Bibles and study materials. For our inaugural edition Mary Sperry, who is no stranger to this blog, graciously took the time to respond to my questions. Mary Sperry is the Associate Director for the Utilization of the NAB at the USCCB.)
1)I wanted to start by having you tell us little bit about your job with the USCCB? How long have you been involved with the promotion of the NAB? What are some of the parts of the job you enjoy most? Least?
I came to work with the NAB 15 years ago – in early December 1996, shortly after completing my masters’ degree in liturgical studies at the Catholic University of America. (For 2 ½ years before I came to this job, I worked in the USCCB’s then-Secretariat for the Liturgy.) For the first 5 or so years, most of my work was legal and administrative, overseeing permissions and licensing, paying bills related to the NABRE translation, and reviewing manuscripts. Over the years, the job slowly evolved to focus increasingly on promotion of biblical literacy in general and the NABRE in particular. The promotion activity came to a head in spring 2011 when the NABRE was released.
I love the parts of the job that allow me to help people discover the wonders and richness of the Scriptural text and to meet Jesus in Scripture. A project I’m especially close to is the podcast of the daily readings. With tens of thousands of downloads each day from around the world, it’s a clear sign of people’s love for the Word of God. Least favorite: meetings, especially about administrative tasks. The only way meetings are good is if there are refreshments.
2) What interested you in working in the area of promoting the NAB?
I have always loved the Bible. My parents had a picture Bible that I can remember “reading” before I was 7. I still have vinyl records of audio versions of Bible stories that I received as Christmas gifts as a child. That love for and knowledge of Scripture grew through my years in Catholic grade school and high school. After graduation, I stayed involved with Scripture as a lector and in Bible studies. I kept buying and reading books about Scripture and taking classes. Even in working toward my liturgy degree, I took Scripture classes and stayed immersed in the Word.
The opportunity to work with the biblical scholars in preparing and promoting the NABRE is kind of a dream come true for someone who loves Scripture. I get to spend my days introducing people to the love of my life!
3) Perhaps you could share some information about the long process of finally getting the NABRE published?
It is a long process with a LOT of steps. First, the scholars of the Board of Control had to recommend preparing a new translation. These scholars based their decision on the availability of new scholarship and manuscript editions that allowed significant refinement of the text. That recommendation had to be approved by the bishops of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD). Only then could a budget and schedule be developed. Of course, the CCD had to approve those too.
The editorial board was selected in collaboration with the bishops who oversee Scripture translations. Those editors then identified possible revisers – all of whom had to be approved by the bishops.
Then, the revisers did their work, consulting the various manuscript traditions to get to the best possible version of the original. When the reviser finished, a member of the editorial board (“the shepherd”) reviewed it very carefully and raised any questions and concerns. Once those were resolved, the shepherd presented the text to half the editorial board which gave additional review and suggested any necessary changes. The board was divided into two groups to allow faster progress. Once each book had been completed and reviewed, the entire editorial board reviewed the complete text one more time before forwarding it to the bishops’ Scripture subcommittee.
The bishops then sent each book to at least one censor (I have no idea who the censors were for any given book as they remain anonymous. However, all censors are Catholic and approved by their local bishop. Usually they are professors of Scripture at Catholic universities and seminaries, though I think some may be retired.) The bishops then review the censors’ comments and may choose to forward them to the editorial board as suggestions for consideration or as required changes. The editorial board responds to each comment. That conversation goes back and forth until the bishops and the editorial board reach agreement. Only then does the bishops’ subcommittee recommend that the Administrative Committee recommend that the USCCB President grant the canonical rescript allowing publication. Only the NAB has to go through the USCCB Administrative Committee. Other translations go from the subcommittee to the President directly.
After that process was completed for most of the Old Testament, the bishops decided that they wanted a revision of the Psalter. That meant going through the process again, except with a single book. That took another 2 years.
Only then could the publishers finalize their settings of the NABRE and begin preparing auxiliary materials.
4) How's the reception been for the NABRE, since its publication on Ash Wednesday?
So far, it seems to be going well. We will have a better sense of diffusion of the text by Spring 2012 as our reports on such things always lag.
There was some confusion about the release of the NABRE and new Roman Missal (though they are completely unrelated projects), but that will diminish as the Missal becomes more familiar.
A new Bible translation taking hold happens over a period of time, not all at once. We expect that we’ll be working on promoting the NABRE for at least 3-5 years.
5) What is it like working with both Bishops and Biblical scholars?
Challenging for someone as impatient as I am! Neither bishops nor Bible scholars are noted for working in haste (nor would we want them to be).
It’s actually very inspiring to work closely with them. The sheer amount of knowledge that they possess is is overwhelming. Their commitment to conveying the text accurately and helping people to understand God’s Word is really a model for everyone who wants to teach and live the Gospel.
6) In general, is there anything that you would like to tell my readers about the NABRE?
Give it a chance. Read it for its own value, not only as it compares to other texts. And read the notes and cross references with care. You’ll be amazed at the insights you’ll discover and at how much more attuned you will become to canonical exegesis.
7) Finally, do you have a favorite passage or verse from the Bible?
That’s like asking a mother if she has a favorite child! I think I’ll go with the Gospel passage from which my parents chose my name: Luke 1:39-56.