The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has announced the release on this coming Ash Wednesday (March 9th) of what amounts to the completion of a Revised version of the New American Bible, which will be known as the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). I should be happy to see the publication of what is being touted as a more formal translation of the Old Testament for the NAB, but I can’t help but feel that the USCCB has bungled this.
This will be the fourth release of the NAB family of translations. The original translation was completed in 1970, and then a second edition containing a Revised New Testament was released in 1986. Five years later, the NAB was released in a third edition with a revised Psalter, and this fourth release now replaces both the 1991 Psalms, and the rest of the 1970 Old Testament – while retaining the 1986 Revised NT translation.
The problem I have with the NABRE stems from the relation of the New American Bible, as published, to the readings in the Lectionary, which is the primary locus of engagement with the Scriptures for most faithful Catholics. The bottom line is that the faithful in the pews, by and large, want to be able to read and study an edition of the Bible that corresponds to what is read from the Lectionary during Mass. This NABRE revision not only does not accomplish this humble and worthy goal, but it further exacerbates the alienation between the two sets of texts.
The Lectionary was revised in 1970 to comply with the significant changes in the liturgy instituted during the Second Vatican Council, and it utilized the original NAB edition for its text. A revision to that was produced following the two revisions to the NAB text, but liturgical Scripture translations are held to a different standard within the Church than are translations for personal use, and the revision work was determined to be not of sufficient quality, mostly owing to a perceived need among a dominant faction within both the hierarchy and American Catholic academia to appease the sensibilities of the victimhood-crazed political correctness speech police of the so-called progressive element in society. The reader knows of whom I speak.
The result was a squishy text (especially the Psalter – the NT was actually mostly an improvement over the 1970 text) that was eventually rejected by the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith. The work had to be modified and corrected under the auspices of the CDF, and then sent back to the US bishops, and only one volume has even been approved. See this excellent site by Felix Just, S.J. for everything you want to know about the Lectionary.
The end result today is that we have one volume of the Lectionary (i.e. the Weekday readings) which is based entirely on the 1970 NAB, which itself has been unavailable since the revision to the NAB NT 25 years ago; and another volume (i.e Sundays & Solemnities) based on the 1970 OT, a modified version of the 1986 NT, and a version of the Psalms that I don’t believe reflects any published version. And now, as of the beginning of Lent, the published version of the NAB will also have a newly revised OT, therein severing any remaining translation consistency between the Word proclaimed in the liturgy, and the Bibles available to the faithful for their personal use.
It might be suggested I’m being unfair to the USCCB by indicting them for simply wanting to release the Revised NAB as soon as it is ready, rather than waiting for what we now know can be an excruciatingly long process of getting a corresponding revised Lectionary approved to go along with it, but a couple of factors mitigate against that suggestion.
The sharpest argument is that the USCCB is publishing the NABRE without the modifications to the revised NT demanded by the CDF for use in the liturgy. I cannot fathom that. That is a clear indicator that neither the USCCB nor the Catholic Biblical Association (CBA: the translation committee for the NAB) considers a unified text a serious priority, despite the desires (and legitimate needs) of the laity.
The other factor is that the history of the work of the Americans with these translations should not fill anyone with confidence that the OT work they’ve just completed will be completely satisfactory. Given the lack of new direction in American Catholic leadership over this period, even if a new Lectionary edition based on the NABRE was produced and submitted for confirmation in short order, how much confidence should we have that we wouldn’t be undertaking a repeat of the ridiculous 1998 process?
And really, without a unified text for both liturgical and personal use, of how much use is the NAB – or NABRE – for personal use? Aren’t there significantly better options, in both Catholic and ecumenical packagings, of the Sacred Word?