News Analysis

English and Welsh Catholics could be getting a new lectionary

Mass-goers will soon be hearing a different Bible translation used for readings, according to reports.

The current lectionary (official collection of Mass readings) is based on the Jerusalem Bible translation. But it seems the bishops want a new lectionary, based on the English Standard Version – Catholic Edition (ESV-CE).

In October, when the Bishops of England and Wales visited the Vatican’s liturgy congregation, Bishop Philip Egan tweeted: “It looks as if we might have a draft of the new ESV lectionary as early as next month.” The Tablet cites a spokesman for the bishops’ conference as saying that “the bishops had voted on and approved the ESV-CE as a basis for the new lectionary” but quotes the spokesman as saying there “still some way to go”.

The idea goes back a long way: ICPELL, a committee serving the English-speaking countries outside North America, had long planned to introduce the ESV. But in 2014 ICPELL was closed down – which was in keeping with Pope Francis’s desire to leave translations to individual bishops’ conferences. Now, the ESV is making a comeback.

What difference would the ESV translation make? Fr Hugh Somerville-Knapman, a Benedictine at Douai Abbey, welcomes the news. For one thing, he says, the ESV was originally the work of Evangelical scholars, so it has “a welcome and legitimate ecumenical aspect”. More importantly, the text combines “accuracy with a suitable register for the Word of God”, he says.

The new translation will also be an opportunity to change verses which have long jarred on Catholic ears. One is the Archangel Gabriel’s greeting to Our Lady, when he called her “full of grace”. The Jerusalem version awkwardly renders the phrase as “so highly favoured”. Fr Somerville-Knapman hopes and expects this will be remedied when the ESV-CE comes in.