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Online Edition - Vol. II, No. 1: March 1996

AB Readers Ask: Which Books Shall We Use?

(Editor's note 7-26-99: We have updated this article in a few places to take account of changes since it first appeared, most notably the appearance of the new Lectionary in the fall of 1998. However, the basic dilemma it describes still holds. Readers should check all publication information; in this high-speed age, editions go out of print much faster than they used to.

Editor's note 7-6-05 - See Letter to the Editor, Choosing a Bible published in the July-August 2005 edition)

Adoremus has received numerous requests for suggestions about good prayer-books, Missals, hymnals, etc. That this has become a serious problem for Catholics is ironic in a culture glutted with print, with so many Catholic publishing companies churning out titles, and with newly updated versions of the Bible appearing at an alarming rate. We are in a difficult situation at present. But there is hope. Before the Catechism of the Catholic church provided a reliable compendium of Catholic teaching, many Catholics searched in vain for such a resource.

Although promotion of sound and useful texts is one of Adoremus's objectives, we do not have very many sources to recomment at present.

For Catholic Scripture study, we suggest that families should have at least two translations: the historic Douay-Rheims, and the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition. The Douay-Rheims was the Catholic Bible in English for about three hundred years, and is part of our Catholic heritage. It was translated from the Vulgate in the 17th century and its classic, if archaic, English may still be the best for reading aloud especially the Psalms. However, it is not a reliable study Bible, because in addition to being difficult to understand, it contains some inaccuracies which subsequent studies of the original texts (Hebrew, Greek) have revealed, and the Latin Vulgate from which the Douay was translated has been revised. The Second Vatican Council said that "since the Word of God must be readily available at all times, the Church ... sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into various languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books" [Dei Verbum 22].

The RSV Catholic Edition is the most accurate of all contemporary translations, and the most literal translation from the original texts. It has the advantage of the best biblical and linguistic scholarship of the 20th century, without any of the "political corrections" which now disfigure many later revisions and paraphrases of the Scripture. Although its language may not be as beautiful or poetic as the classic English of the Douay or King James Version, the accuracy of the RSV makes it indispensable for study, and it is the version most often recommended by reliable Scripture scholars. The RSV-Catholic Edition has also been approved by the Vatican for liturgical use.

One of the most encouraging stories of recent years concerns the near rescue of the RSV-Catholic edition in the United States. This Bible has been removed from publishers' lists after the New Revised Standard Version was approved by the bishops. The RSV was rescued from oblivion by Ignatius Press and was re-published in 1994 as the "Ignatius Bible".

Another contemporary English version is the New American Bible, published by the Catholic Book Publishing Company. This is the version which appears in printed misallettes, the breviary "Christian Prayer", and in the most widely used current Lectionary (readings at Mass). (Editor's note: The new Lectionary, approved by the NCCB and the Vatican after lengthy negotiations and numerous changes, appeared in the autumn of 1998.) The NAB might be useful for those who want to read the Scripture readings at Mass in a more complete form using the same translations. However, it is important to note that all presently available editions of the NAB have the 1991 "inclusivized" Psalms of the Revised NAB. The entire NAB Bible is being revised for the purpose of "inclusivization". So far the RNAB Psalms and the New Testament have been completed. But both have been denied approval by the Vatican.

Some people like the Jerusalem Bible, produced by a committee of Catholic and Protestant scholars. But an "inclusivized" version, the New Jerusalem Bible, has replaced the original translation, which is no longer available in the U.S.

Two prayer-books especially for lay Catholics are worthy of brief mention here. One is Handbook of Prayers, excellent for private use, which contains not only the Order of Mass in both Latin and English, but also many classic litanies, devotions, prayers, and hymns. Published by Aletheia Foundation in the Philippines, it is available from Opus Dei. The second is a breviary, A Shorter Morning and Evening Prayer, a non-ICEL English translation of the Liturgia Horarium (Liturgy of the Hours, or Divine Office), using the RSV for Scripture texts. It is published by Harper-Collins, Glasgow.

This breviary is used in all English-speaking countries except the United States and Canada where it is not approved for liturgical use. But it can be used for private prayer and study, of course. (Why this prayer-book was not approved by the U.S. bishops is a fascinating story.)

The complete Liturgy of the Hours (1-volume and 3-volume editions) approved for England, Ireland and Wales, is also available, and it is permitted to use it privately, either individually or in groups. It is available from Veritas Publications in Ireland.

Adoremus plans to continue our review of hymnals, missals, and prayer-books, and the results of our investigations (along with our recommendations) will appear in future issues of the AB. We also invite suggestions from our readers.

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