The Catholic Register: After years of inclusive language war, Bible gets Vatican recognition
TORONTO, Canada (The Catholic Register) – Eighteen years into a sometimes divisive debate, the Vatican has put a final stamp of approval on the Canadian lectionary – granting a recognitio to the inclusive language of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible in English.
“That this has come is obviously a positive thing, not just for women but for all people,” said feminist theologian Doris Keiser, a lecturer in theology at the University of Alberta’s St. Joseph’s College. “When we’re moving forward in the world and allowing our understanding to open up, everyone benefits.”
Canadians have been reading the NRSV at Mass since 1992, when the first edition of the new Sunday lectionary was published with approval from the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The Canadian NRSV lectionary for weekdays was published in 1994. It was only then that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith objected to NRSV translations.
The NRSV uses inclusive language, referring to both men and women, when the text refers to people. References to God in the NRSV use the pronoun “He.”
In the Pauline letters, this sometimes results in forms of address to a group of people which reads “Brothers” in Greek rendered “Brothers and Sisters” in the NRSV.
Without the recognitio, Canadian Mass texts were left in the position of being the only approved texts for English-language Masses in Canada, but at the same time lacking final Vatican approval. At World Youth Day in 2002, Pope John Paul II used the Canadian lectionary.
“The main issue was not the question of inclusive language,” Archbishop James Weisgerber, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops vice president, told The Catholic Register.
The Vatican’s concern over NRSV translations has been a matter of technical issues and accuracy, said Archbishop Weisgerber.
“There is a concern that when you try to make the scriptures speak inclusively it’s important to be accurate,” he said.
A special committee of Canadian bishops has been meeting regularly with Vatican officials working on the details of the text since 2003. With the recognitio in place, the bishops can begin publishing a second edition to the books already in use, starting with Year B, Nov. 30, 2008.
Though it’s been a battleground between right and left in the church for almost a generation, Archbishop Weisgerber doesn’t think most Catholics will even notice the changes.
“The ordinary person in the pews, the ordinary celebrant, would not even notice it,” he said.
With most of its inclusive language intact, and an 18-year fight behind it, theologians were careful about the question of who won the language war over the Canadian lectionary
. “I don’t know who won and who didn’t,” said Archbishop Weisgerber. “I actually think it’s kind of a compromise, and kind of a happy compromise between our tradition and more modern kinds of translation.”
“The big question is how it affects people in the pews, because it’s their lectionary,” said theologian Keiser.
“It’s an encouraging kind of decision,” said St. Paul University theologian Cathy Clifford.
The slow pace of decision making between the conference of bishops and the Vatican should surprise no one who really knows the church, said Keiser.
“The reality is that the church is not a fast-moving entity. Things take time,” she said. “Even though in my life time 20 years is a long time, in the life of the church it’s a drop in the bucket.”
With the question of which Bible we read in church out of the way, the left and right in the church will likely find new topics for debate, said Archbishop Weisgerber.
“I suspect other issues will emerge and we will divide in similar ways,” said the archbishop.
“If we can’t have that conversation, then there’s something wrong with the way that we’re perceiving ourselves as faithful persons,” said Keiser.
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Michael Swan is the associate editor of The Catholic Register.
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Republished with permission by Catholic Online from The Catholic Register (www.catholicregister.org ), the largest circulation national Catholic newspaper in Canada, a Catholic Online Preferred Publishing Partner. To subscribe to The Catholic Register, click here.
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