Commentary on the Revision of the Lectionary for Mass
On August 1, 1997, Bishop Anthony M. Pilla, President, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, announced the results of the vote on the following motion presented at the June 1997 plenary assembly of the NCCB:
Do the “de iure” Latin rite members of the NCCB approve the submission of Volume I of the “Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America,” second typical edition, to the Apostolic See for confirmation, and authorize, after a period of five years, a full review of the Lectionary with a view to its possible updating?
The motion passed with a vote of 199 in favor and 50 against. A two-thirds majority of the “de iure” Latin rite members of the NCCB, 174 affirmative votes, was required for passage.
As the manuscript for the first volume of the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America (LFM ), second typical edition, was prepared for submission to the Apostolic See for confirmation, the Secretariat for the Liturgy compiled the following summary of the decisions of the Working Group for the Final Revision of the Lectionary for Mass, which met in Rome from February 24 through March 8, 1997. The group was composed of representatives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Representing the NCCB were Archbishop Jerome Hanus, OSB, Archbishop William Levada and Archbishop Justin Rigali.
The primary goal of the Working Group for the Final Revision of the Lectionary for Mass was to produce an edition of the lectionary with maximum possible fidelity to the biblical text.1 Aware of the limitations of contemporary English, the Working Group sought a lectionary which would faithfully convey the meaning of the Greek and Hebrew scriptures as they have been proclaimed by the Church through the centuries. The Constitution on Divine Revelation teaches that “since the Word of God must be readily available at all times, the Church, with motherly concern, sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into various languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books.”2
Of particular concern was the translation of collective words or phrases indicating all human beings. The difficulty before the Working Group was not in determining the meaning of such biblical terms but in rendering them into contemporary American English. The Working Group recognized that English is sometimes poorly equipped to render universal collective terms accurately and unambiguously. As recent scholarship has suggested:
These generics . . . are not without controversy, for many of those that already exist in English are ambiguous, having both gender-neutral as well as a masculine or, more rarely, a feminine significance, and suggestions for new, unambiguously sex-neutral terms are usually met with stiff opposition.3
In addition, the rapid evolution of the English usage in the United States, especially in the adaptation of ideological vocabulary, made the task of the Working Group a particularly challenging one. The decision of the NCCB at their June 1997 meeting to revisit the lectionary texts in five years is therefore due not only to the projected completion of the revised New American Bible (NAB) translations of the Old Testament but also to the effect which continued changes in the use of inclusive language may have on American English.
With careful attention to the principle of demonstrating maximum possible fidelity to the sacred text, the Working Group adopted three base versions for the lectionary. First, the 1986 Revised New Testament of the NAB was chosen as a translation whose “primary concern . . . is fidelity to what the text says. When the meaning of the Greek is inclusive of both sexes, the translation seeks to reproduce such inclusivity insofar as this is possible in normal English usage, without resort to inelegant circumlocutions or neologisms that would offend against the dignity of the language.”4
Second, the Working Group adopted the 1970 Old Testament of the NAB, which was then modified for accuracy in rendering certain collective nouns and for the particular demands of public proclamation.
Third, the Working Group adopted the 1970 translation of the NAB Psalter rather than the 1991 revision of this work. Because of previous critiques by Roman congregations of the 1991 translation, the Working Group concluded that the 1991 Psalter was unacceptable for liturgical use.
The 1989 NCCB Criteria for the Evaluation of the Use of Inclusive language in Scriptural Translations noted that “the revealed word of God consistently uses a masculine reference for God.”5 Hence, the Working Group avoided any use of vertical inclusivity in rendering scriptural texts. Eighteen psalms were analyzed as a representative sample, demonstrating that the 1991 NAB Psalter contained approximately 70% fewer masculine pronominal references to God than did the New Revised Standard, New Living Light or the 1970 NAB translations. While it is true that the Hebrew Psalter contains few explicitly masculine pronominal references to God, the reduction in the number of masculine pronimnal references in the 1991 Psalter was considered to be the result of an attempt to achieve some vertical inclusivity.
Further, the Working Group observed that the changing of number or person of pronouns in the Psalter to promote greater inclusivity was inconsistent with maximum possible fidelity to the scriptural text. Number and person were taken as essential structural elements in conveying the multi-layered meaning of scriptural texts.
In approximately 325 instances, the 1970 edition of the Lectionary for Mass (LFM ) was emended in the interest of achieving a more faithful rendering of horizontally inclusive words or phrases in the original Greek or Hebrew text.
- Translation of adelphoi
- Translation of uios
- Translation of anthropoi 13
- Translation of anthropos 16
- became a living being,”
- the last Adam a life- giving spirit.
- Translation of Masculine Pronouns
- Editorial Changes
Thirty-six of these changes involved the translation of the Greek term adelphoi which in the past has been translated as brothers or brethren. While the 1986 Revised New Testament of the NAB judged the word brethren to be archaic, it consistently translated adelphoi as brothers, as explained in its own Preface:
The translation of the Greek word adelphos, particularly in the plural form adelphoi, poses an especially delicate problem. While the term literally means brothers or other male blood relatives, even in profane Greek the plural can designate two persons, one of either sex, who were born of the same parents. It was adopted by the early Christians to designate, in a figurative sense, the members of the Christian community, who were conscious of a new familial relationship to one another by reason of their adoption as children of God. They are consequently addressed as adelphoi. This has traditionally been rendered into English by brothers, or, more archaically, brethren. There has never been any doubt that this designation includes all members of the Christian community, both male and female. Given the absence in English of a corresponding term that explicitly includes both sexes, this translation retains the usage of brothers, with the inclusive meaning that has been traditionally attached to it in this biblical context.6
Recognizing that translations of scriptural texts intended for liturgical proclamation must be capable, as far as possible, of conveying the full meaning of scriptural terms without ambiguity, the Working Group reviewed the thirty-six occurrences of adelphoi in the vocative case.7 “These texts when proclaimed in the living worshiping community, are directed to the entire congregation, just as the incipit at the beginning of the reading is directed to the entire congregation, and not just to the male members of the congregation.”8 As Archbishop Jerome Hanus, OSB, commented in his remarks to the NCCB Administrative Committee:
In some modern languages, a single word (fratelli, for example, in Italian) refers either to brothers and sisters or to brothers only (i.e. male siblings). Hence, it makes sense to ask an Italian, Quanti fratelli ha, e quanti di quelli sono maschi? A similar question in English, How many brothers do you have, and how many are male?, does not make sense. But even Italian usage has been affected by the practice of Pope John Paul II, who from the first moment of his pontificate, addressed the faithful with the vocative, Fratelli e sorelle!9
All other texts in the 1986 Revised New Testament of the NAB were accepted for incorporation into the LFM (1997), with the exception of six passages, three of which deal with divine filiation, as can be found in Galatians 4:4-7:
...when the fullness of time had come,
God sent his Son, born of a woman,
born under the law, to ransom those
under the law,
so that we might receive adoption
( — adoptionem filiorum)
As proof that you are children,
( — filii)
God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts,
( — Filium)
crying out, "Abba, Father!"
So you are no longer a slave but a child,
( — filius)
and if a child then also an heir, through God.
( — filius)
When the fullness of time had come,
God sent his Son, born of a woman,
born under the law, to ransom those
under the law,
so that we might receive adoption as sons.
As proof that you are sons,
God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,
and if a son then also an heir, through God.”
The meaning of this passage is that the relationship of Christ to the Father (sonship) is reproduced in all the baptized, in filios Dei regenerati.10 Thus all the baptized share in this divine filiation, enabling each “to be a son, in the likeness of Christ . . .”11
The 1986 Revised New Testament of the NAB renders uioi as children rather than sons (as in the 1970 edition) in an attempt to convey inclusively the association of each baptized person with Christ’s sonship. The Working Group's analysis of the translation issues in Galatians 4:4-7 began with a careful study of why St. Paul chose to use the word uios (son), rather than teknon (child).
In the Greco-Roman culture of St. Paul’s day, inheritance was a process almost exclusively limited to fathers and sons. Further, adoption was the conventional mechanism whereby an adult male could adopt another male as a son. Neither Roman law nor custom, then, would have provided St. Paul an opportunity to speak of the inheritance of children. For the Galatians to recognize St. Paul’s analogy, the word sons was crucial.
Secondly, a close look at the text of Galatians 4:1-7 shows that St. Paul has set up a series of analogies, in which key terms such as son, slave, heir, guardian, minor and adoption all combine to deliver a stunning message: that though our adoption in Christ, everyone — slave or free, man or woman, Greek or Jew, rich or poor, eldest son or orphan — inherits equally the rights of God’s own first-born son, Jesus Christ. Here, St. Paul radically claims that all the baptized are deserving of the same regard which would have been preserved only for a first-born male. It is a dramatically inclusive image of salvation.
In the interest of maximum possible fidelity to St. Paul’s words, the Working Group therefore chose to translate uios as son. At the same time, the Working Group recognized that appropriate homiletic commentary should explain St. Paul's radical application of the culturally limited categories of Greco-Roman adoption to all the baptized. For it is precisely where St. Paul's words can appear to be exclusive, that his message is most radically inclusive, proclaiming that all believers share in the Son's relationship with the Father through their adopted likeness to his own sonship.
Finally, it might be noted that in ten texts not involving divine filiation, a previously exclusive rendering of uios as son was rendered more inclusively, as in Acts 10:36:12
This is the message
he has sent to the sons of Israel...
You know the word
that he sent to the Israelites...
Eighty-one changes in the LFM (1997) involve a more inclusive rendering of the word anthropoi. The general practice of the 1970 edition of the NAB was to translate anthropoi as the English word men. In the interest of a more faithful rendering of the inclusive character of this word, the 1986 Revised New Testament of the NAB typically renders anthropoi by a word other than men where it is clear that the biblical author intended such a meaning. The following passages from the LFM (1997) exemplify this practice:
|1 Corinthians 4:114
Men should regard us as servants
and administrators of the mysteries
Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ
and stewards of the mysteries of God.
|2 Peter 3:8-1415
Since everything is to be destroyed
in this way,
what sort of men must you not be!
Since everything is to be dissolved in this way,
What sort of persons ought you to be,
However, in those instances where it is clear that anthropoi refers only to males, the word men is used. This is found, for example, in Acts 6 where the first deacons are about to be chosen. The LFM (1997) renders Acts 6:3,6 as: Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men...They presented these men to the apostles. Likewise, the title for the reading (Elegerunt septem viros plenos Spiritu Sancto) is rendered: They chose seven men filled with the Spirit.
The singular word anthropos, like the Hebrew adam, has been customarily rendered as man or mankind or in variations such as freeman or kinsman. The ambiguities in the use of the English word man as a universal collective have been a source of controversy for more than a century,17 as commentators on the history of language have noted:
Perhaps most troublesome to linguists, feminists, and usage critics alike has been the use of the word man itself, in phrases such as the man in the street and compounds like mankind and chairman. Some authorities argue that man, at first a word in which both genders were combined, now refers primarily to males, while others claim that the neutral sense of man is not dead and that the word still retains the primary meaning of ‘human being.’ In any case, one must admit that in actual use it is often unclear whether man refers to people in general or to men only.”18
The Revised New Testament of the NAB (1986) has rendered anthropos with a word other than man in most instances. As the Preface to the Revised Edition of the New Testament of the NAB (1986) remarks:
Although the generic use of man is traditional in English, many today reject it; its use has therefore been generally avoided, though it is retained in cases where no satisfactory equivalent could be found.19
Further, the Working Group agreed with Cardinal Ratzinger that it is difficult “to find substitutes for the generic word man which has captured so many important levels of meaning [in Christian anthropology].”20 Nevertheless, the Working Group did not hesitate to retain the 152 instances where the 1986 Revised New Testament of the NAB translated anthropos by a word other than man.
|1 Corinthians 6:1821
Every other sin a man commits is outside his body,
but the fornicator sins against his own body.
Every other sin a person commits is outside the body,
but the immoral person sins against his own body.
Give to all who beg from you.
When a man takes what is yours,
do not demand it back
Give to everyone who asks of you,
and from the one who takes what is yours,
do not demand it back.
In a limited number of instances, despite the admitted ambiguities in the use of the word man, no adequate equivalent term could be found which sufficiently conveyed the multiple meanings of this word, as in the following cases:
Genesis 1: 2723
1 Corinthians 15:32, 4524
God created man in his image;
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
It is written, “The first man, Adam,
1 Corinthians 15:32, 4524
The use of masculine pronouns to refer to all human beings is widely debated today as the 1986 Preface to the Revised Edition of the New Testament of the NAB notes:
English does not possess a gender-inclusive third personal pronoun in the singular, and this translation continues to use the masculine resumptive pronoun after everyone or anyone, in the traditional way, where this cannot be avoided without infidelity to the meaning.25
The LFM (1997) follows the practice of the 1986 Revised New Testament of the NAB in this regard. An attempt was made to render third person masculine singular pronouns inclusively whenever possible in the English translation. There are forty-two instances of such changes in the LFM (1997). If an adequate English equivalent could not be found — generally in the use of the resumptive pronoun (e.g., Sirach 3:3,6: Whoever honors his father atones for sins;) — where a biblical author clearly intended an inclusive meaning, the masculine pronoun was retained. In the following texts, the opening words of each verse from the LFM (1997) demonstrate equivalents for the exclusive masculine pronoun, while retaining the use of the resumptive masculine pronoun where unavoidable:
he who loves me will be loved by my father.
I too will love him and reveal myself to him.
and whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love him and reveal myself to him.
He who honors his father atones for sins;...
He who reveres his father will live a long life;
Whoever honors his father atones for sins;...
Whoever reveres his father will live a long life;
Editorial considerations and emendations to non-scriptural texts were also developed by the Working Group. Such changes were made to scriptural citations, titles of readings, alleluia verses or verses before the Gospel and the General Introduction to the LFM (1997).
All citations were brought into correspondence with the Ordo Lectionum Missæ (1981). In addition, a careful comparison of citations in the Ordo Lectionum Missæ and LFM (1997) was made. Those instances in which the LFM (1997) departs from the Ordo Lectionum Missæ were noted. Whenever a shorter form of a reading is provided, the longer version has been presented first and the shorter version second.
Capitalization of Spirit or Holy Spirit and wisdom was brought into accordance with the usage in the Neo-vulgate. Alleluia verses and titles of readings were revised with due regard for the translations adopted from the LFM (1997) and in correspondence to the citations and Latin texts in the Ordo Lectionum Missæ. Finally, six minor modifications were incorporated into the translation of the General Introduction to the LFM (1997).
This brief summary of the final revisions of the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition, is but a small indication of the intensive work of scores of bishops, scholars and staff members of the Secretariat for the Liturgy and of various Roman congregations over the past ten years. The Committee on the Liturgy is very grateful for all who have so generously placed their gifts at the service of the Church, in order that the words of the General Introduction to the LFM (1997) might come true:
In the celebration of the liturgy the word of God is not voiced in only one way, nor does it always stir the hearts of the hearers with the same power. Always, however, Christ is present in his word; as he carries out the mystery of salvation, he sanctifies humanity and offers the Father perfect worship....The word constantly proclaimed in the liturgy is always, then, a living, active word through the power of the Holy Spirit. It expresses the Father's love that never fails in its effectiveness toward us.28
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