Given some confusion in the discussion about the possibility of using the RNJB as the basis of a new Lectionary, I thought it might be helpful to explain a little the current rationale of having only one Biblical translation per language per bishops’ conference. So that, for example, the Bishops’ Conference of Canada is welcome to have one Bible translation for their French Lectionary and another for their English, but is not allowed to use both the NRSV and the NAB and have two English language Lectionaries.
Immediately after Vatican II, the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) in Rome approved multiple lectionaries for the same region. So that in the United States three lectionaries were approved: The Jerusalem Bible, The New American Bible and the Revised Standard Version. In Ireland, England & Wales and Scotland, the Jerusalem Bible and the Revised Standard Version were both approved. I am not sure which translations were approved in other regions. When the current US Lectionary that uses an adaptation of a revision (of a revision) of the New American Bible was approved in 1998 and 2001 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops themselves withdrew permission to use the three older Lectionaries (JB, RSV and NAB 1st ed.).
In 2001 the CDW published Liturgiam Authenticam the Fifth Instruction “for the Right Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council.”
This instruction radically transformed the translation philosophy of the Catholic Church. In number 36 this document says:
36. In order that the faithful may be able to commit to memory at least the more important texts of the Sacred Scriptures and be formed by them even in their private prayer, it is of the greatest importance that the translation of the Sacred Scriptures intended for liturgical use be characterized by a certain uniformity and stability, such that in every territory there should exist only one approved translation, which will be employed in all parts of the various liturgical books. This stability is especially to be desired in the translation of the Sacred Books of more frequent use, such as the Psalter, which is the fundamental prayer book of the Christian people. The Conferences of Bishops are strongly encouraged to provide for the commissioning and publication in their territories of an integral translation of the Sacred Scriptures intended for the private study and reading of the faithful, which corresponds in every part to the text that is used in the Sacred Liturgy.
This desire for a single translation was not retroactive. But when any new liturgical book was approved in a region, permission to use any older translations was automatically withdrawn. However, in Ireland while the JB Lectionary is basically the only Lectionary used at the parish level, the current JB Lectionary pre-dates 2001, so the 1970 RSV Lectionary is still approved for use. However if a new Lectionary was approved for use in Ireland, the JB and the RSV would automatically be withdrawn.
So from a technical point of view, the fact that the CDW has approved a Lectionary for one region, that permission does not carry to other countries. So if a RNJB Lectionary was approved in Ireland, technically it could not be used in a celebration in the U.S. This can be seen, for example, in the case of the RSV. Ignatius Press prepared a Lectionary based on their own edition of the RSV (The Second Catholic Edition). This was approved as the Lectionary in the Antilles. However many US parishes considered adopting it. In the April 2006 edition of the Newsletter of the Committee on the Liturgy of the USCCB carried this clarification:
Approved Editions of the Lectioanry for Mass
The Secretariat has recently received many inquiries concerning the use of an edition of the Lectionary for Mass based on the Revised Standard Version of the Scriptures and available from Ignatius Press. This Lectionary has not been approved for use in the Dioceses of the United States of America. Only the New American Bible edition of the Lectionary for Mass, published in 1998 and 2001 may be used at celebration of the Liturgy in this country.
However, as I noted in my original post, Pope Francis has officially said that the translation principals of Liturgiam Authenticam are to be revised. So it is possible that a bishops’ conference could ask for more than one Lectionary to be used at the same time. There is no way to know what the guidelines that replace Liturgiam Authenticam will say in this regard. I personally hope that they will allow the bishops to make a pastoral decision that best suits their region. Although it is also worth noting that the market forces of printing Lectionaries, hand missals, devotional books, worship aids, etc. make it impractical to have too many editions in use in a given area.
At the end of the day, if the bishops ask for a particular liturgical bool to be recognized, the CDW may well grant their request. This is the case in English-speaking Africa. They use a 2012 edition of the RSV Lectionary (which form their website looks very like the Ignatius Press Lectionary and a 2009 edition of the Liturgy of the Hours, that uses the New American Bible. Surely Liturgiam Autheticam 36 mandated that they use one translation for these liturgical books that are boith almost entirely composed of scripture passages and published within 3 years of each other, and which must have been in preparation at the same time. This shows that even before Pope Francis said that Liturgiam Authenticam was no longer fit for purpose, during the time-period when many liturgists thought that the CDW was being very inflexible in their supervision of liturgical translation, that it was still possible to have more than one Scripture in use in a given region.
Neil Xavier O'Donoghue is a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey. He currently ministers in the Archdiocese of Armagh, Ireland, where he serves as vice rector at Redemptoris Mater Seminary. He has studied at Seton Hall University, the University of Notre Dame, and St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. He holds a Doctorate in Theology from St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.