Greg Pierce is President and Co-Publisher of ACTA Publications. Back in the summer of 2013, I interviewed Greg concerning the publication of The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition. I contacted Greg recently to see if he would answer some follow up questions about how The Message was being received by the public, as well as to discuss some of the other upcoming publications from ACTA.
1) It has been almost two years since the publication of The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition. How do you feel it has been received by the Catholic community?
It took a while for Catholics to understand what The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition is and how it is meant to be used. There was some confusion as to why it is not an "official" Church translation of the Scriptures. But as they began to understand that The Message is a translation into contemporary American English from the original ancient texts that is meant to help people understand what the Bible means and to inspire them to delve further into what it means for their own lives, then it began to gain traction.
When I first started showing it to Catholics, their reaction was "What is this?" Now it is more, "Yes, I've heard of this, let me take a look at it." And once they get the idea, many of them--especially young people--love it. We are planning our second printing next year, and we authorized a special edition of 10,000 copies of our Catholic edition that is being distributed by the Claretians in Africa and Asia. Many Protestants are buying our edition as well because they want to read the Deuterocanonical books in The Message voice for the first time.
2) What challenges are still out there in getting The Message known about, and more importantly read, by more Catholics?
That is the real issue, isn't it? How do we get Catholics to read the Bible at all? I maintain that before people want to study the Scriptures, they have to fall in love with them first. How do they do that? One of the ways is to read the Bible the way it was written and originally heard: in vibrant, contemporary language, without footnotes or explanations. That is what The Message is designed to do. It is, first and foremost, a "Reader's Bible," one meant to inspire, enlighten, and--yes--entertain the reader. One of the lines we use is that The Message is "a Bible anyone can read and understand." What can possibly be wrong with that? Some Bible scholars and Church officials scoff at The Message, and a few even claim that people should only read translations such as the NAB or the NRSV. But I ask them if The Message were to bring even one person to Christ wouldn't that be a good thing. Many people, especially young people, find the Church-approved translations difficult at best and incomprehensible at worst. It is almost as if they need to learn a whole new language before they can really enter into the Scriptures. I believe that if people read The Message and like what they read, they will be more open to reading and studying the more traditional translations, footnotes and all. And that, too, would be a good thing, wouldn't it? Most people in ministry who "get" The Message know how to use it to help others understand the Bible. I just have to help them "get" it, and that is what I've been trying to do for the past couple of years.
3) Over the past year, I have noticed an increased integration of The Message into a number of ACTA's books and prayer resources. Now you are beginning a new series of books called Literary Portals to Prayer. Could you explain to my readers what this series is about and how The Message is incorporated into it?
Early on, I realized that we would have to give Catholics "free samples" of The Message and that the best way to do that was to incorporate its fresh, compelling, challenging, and faith-filled into other things that people were reading or doing. So one of the first things we did was develop a 45-minute presentation called "The Message Proclaimed" that is written for and performed by a group of young adults. This has turned out to be a great way to introduce The Message to people who might otherwise never experience it. By watching a group of talented young people proclaims 10-12 passages from the Bible in language of The Message, people experience the Scriptures as they were originally "heard"--live and passionately--not as something stuck inside a 2000-year-old book that needs to be "unpacked" for them. We are now offering the script and a DVD of the performance to any diocese, parish, or organization that wishes to put on a performance of "The Message Proclaimed" at no cost. We'll even help train their own young adults to perform it!
We have also incorporated The Message into a variety of books by ACTA Publications (and other publishers as well) so that people could experience the translation in small pieces and wonder "Does the Bible really say that?" We have booklets for Advent and Lent produced by The Pastoral Center that are affordable to be handed out for the entire parish. Last year, we sold 10,000 of them for Lent, and this year we are following the them of Pope Francis' Year of Mercy in the booklets. We have also used The Message in books for the average person such as Great Men of the Bible by Fr. Martin Pable, This Transforming Word by Alice Camille, Christian Contemplative Living by Thomas Santa, Explain That to Me by Joeph McHugh, and Faith, Fun, and other Flotation Devices by Michelle Howe. We also have a new book called Yes, It Is So! 50 Call-and-Response Prayers from The Message for Gatherings, Meetings, and Small Groups.
Finally, you mention our new series Literary Portals to Prayer. I am very excited about these new books. I think they are one of the few truly new resources for personal prayer in many years. My twenty-something daughter, Abby, who is our marketing director and is also researching a volume on George Eliot for this series, calls it "A New Way In." The idea is fairly simple: We take 50 passages from a writer who has stood the test of time (e.g., Shakespeare, Melville, Alcott, Austen, Dickens, Gaskell, Hans Christian Andersen) and pair them with a well-chosen biblical passage from The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition that illuminates the secular quote and takes the reader off in new directions of meditation. Each book is only 120 pages and is produced both in a pocket size (5 x 7") for personal use and an enhanced-size version (7 x 10.5") for public display, performance, and prayer. There is something very grace-filled about the result, and I hope that it will be "a new way in" to prayer for many people and in the process will introduce them to the insights that the Bible can bring to literature and vice versa.
4) What other resources utilizing The Message can we expect in the coming years? Any chance we may see The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Editionpublished in a variety of styles and sizes in the future?
We have entered into a new partnership with Tyndale House Publishers to produce and sell the "Catholic Message" to an international and multi-denominational audience. This will include experimenting with new styles and sizes of both the full Bible and individual books. For example, I am interested in doing an illustrated version of the Book of Job, using The Message translation, which has allowed me to understand that great ancient story for really the first time.
5) Finally, does the future look bright for The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition?
I already told my wife, Kathy, that when I die I want her to put on my tombstone: "He always was too optimistic!" I will say that publishing a Catholic/Ecumenical edition of The Message is the most important thing I have done as a publisher in my 30 years in the business, and I believe that this book will inspire many people, including many Catholics and especially many young-adult Catholics to read the Bible for many years. The Holy Spirit will do the rest.