The New Lectionary:
Weighing the Words
On Sunday, November
29, a new Word will be proclaimed in the Catholic churches of the
United States. At least, some words will be new. If publishing and
delivery schedules are met (and they were tight!), many parishes will
be using Volume I of the new Lectionary (Sundays and Solemnities)
for the first time. (Its use is not required until Volume II is also
What will be new and
different? What may be a throwback? Why is it happening at all? And
the ultimate question: Will this book make a difference in our lives?
New in the New Lectionary?
Advance notices for
the new Lectionary praise its extended theological introduction. The
expensive, beribboned editions are obviously not for circulation.
Yet the people in the pews need to know the substance of this theological
and explanatory introduction. Lectors and members of parish liturgical
commissions should read this explanation which readies Catholics to
sit at the table of Wisdom with the same appetite they bring to the
Catholics need to hear
from the pulpit the introduction's themes: the ongoing search to understand
the meaning of Scripture, the ongoing quest to express it well in
the language of the people and the desire of our bishops to set the
table of the Word with the very best offerings faithful scholarship
can provide. The 1998 Lectionary is a great teaching moment.
Rumor has it that feminists
dictated the terms of translation and adaptation. Not so. American
culture has certainly changed as women assume a greater role in public
life. That change is reflected in our language. Translators struggled
to provide accurate equivalences from the original text to formal,
In 325 instances, collective
words have been translated anew, harking back to the Greek or Hebrew
where evidence indicates that the writers intended the inclusion of
both sexes. Many women will welcome their inclusion as children (not
sons) and as persons (not men) in mostbut not allinstances.
It is certainly comforting
that the U.S. bishops and cardinals fought to ensure that American
Catholics could hear the gospel preached with a minimum of distraction
by such linguistic stumbling blocks. It is distressing that U.S. biblical
scholarship was not respected by the Vatican.
The Psalter actually
became less inclusive. For instance, on the First Sunday of
Advent, the last verse of the responsorial psalm will now use the
word brothers, though the 1970 Lectionary rendered it relatives.
For lectors, a helpful
change is that the readings are rendered in sense lines. This avoids
the perils of hyphenation and inappropriate breaks while encouraging
or Read or Both?
Parishes with those
beautiful, bound volumes of congregational hymns and readings (and
the "old" New Testament) will join some paperback missal users in
a period of confusionor enlightenment. Not all paperback missals
have elected to use the new text this year. One might well ask why.
If those who try to
follow the text as it is proclaimed are forewarned, they may hear
and appreciate the differences. The duality of reading and hearing
may underscore the vigor and timeliness of the new edition,
or the congregation will be quite confused.
This is a good time
to master the eccentricities of the parish sound system, to invite
full-throated proclamation by lectors and to encourage wholehearted
listening to words that surely arose from an ancient oral tradition.
New translations cause
discomfort: Words of comfort recast into a modern idiom don't always
comfort as well. Quoting the old favorites, even looking them up through
concordances, can prove difficult. Yet that very challenge can make
the Word new again, touch our hearts in new and tender places and
prevent us from treating it like a worn cliche or a secular fable.
A ceremony to welcome
the new books themselveslike the procession and welcoming of
the scrolls into a new synagoguewould be an excellent way to
remind Catholics of the treasure that is ours in both Testaments.
Long, O Lord?
From the outset, it's
clear that this is not the lectionary to end all lectionaries. English
is a living language, and living languages change and develop.
The book we will welcome
this month is not the text the U.S. bishops first sent for approval.
It isn't the book they judged best in the pastoral sense. That was
clear from the heated debate at the bishops' conference last year.
The compromise was an agreement to revisit their decision in five
By then, the revised
edition of the Old Testament, including the Psalms, may be available
for inclusion. Further evolution of the language may create a need
for other considerations as well.
During this next three-year
cycle of readings, then, Catholics should listen as though this were
a first hearing. Listennot to find fault with the translation,
but to find ways to live the Good News, rising above personal faults
and failures. Listennot to be agitated by exclusion, but to
be comforted by inclusion in the family of God. Listennot to
hear the struggles of translators and hierarchs, but to know the mighty
struggle of God to plant the Word in our hearts.C.A.M.