Vol. XIV, No. 8
A New Liturgical Psalter for the United States Would Signal Progress in Reform
by Helen Hull Hitchcock
Among the liturgy items the US bishops will consider at their November 10-14 meeting in Baltimore is a new version of the Psalms for liturgical use in the Liturgy of the Hours and at Mass, proposed by the Committee on Divine Worship (BCDW).
Selecting a revised version of the Psalms was the first item discussed at the June 2008 meeting of the BCDW, as reported in the July 2008 BCDW Newsletter. Two new versions were reviewed: the Conception Abbey Revised Grail Psalter (CARG) and the Revised New American Bible (RNAB) Psalter.
The BCDW heard presentations by Abbot Gregory Polan, OSB, on the Revised Grail Psalter, and Father Joseph Jensen, OSB, on the re-Revised NAB Psalter. Abbot Polan heads Conception Abbey in Missouri, and Father Jensen is a longtime board member of the Catholic Biblical Association (CBA), the organization that produced the RNAB.
The merits of both works were reviewed by the BCDW, and the committee decided to ask the USCCB to approve the Conception Abbey Revised Grail Psalter for liturgical use in the United States. This requires approval by two-thirds of the Latin Rite bishops of the USCCB with subsequent confirmation by the Holy See.
Currently, two Psalters are approved for liturgical use in the dioceses of the United States: the Grail Psalter (1963) for the Liturgy of the Hours, and the original NAB Psalter (1970) used in all other liturgical books.
Assuming the USCCB approves the new CARG Psalter, it may be another signpost on the path to recovery of liturgical and musical integrity — and progress in overcoming the persistent problems with Scripture translations.
Problems with “Inclusivized” Versions
An “inclusive language” version of the original 1970 NAB Psalms appeared in 1991, and was incorporated into an updated edition of the New American Bible. This version of the Psalms, however, was expressly rejected by the Holy See for use in the Lectionary for Mass in 1994, although this flawed 1991 version still appears in all complete editions of the New American Bible.
Indeed, there is no edition of the Bible at present that corresponds to the Lectionary for Mass. All the current editions of the complete NAB — including the online versions on the USCCB and Vatican web sites — contain the 1986 Revised New Testament (which required amending before including it in the Lectionary) and the 1991 RNAB Psalms.
Father Jensen was a member of the CBA’s board editors that produced the defective RNAB Psalms, and he was also on the CBA board that issued a statement sharply critical of the Vatican’s 2001 Instruction on translation, Liturgiam authenticam. The CBA statement said that dire consequences would ensue if Liturgiam authenticam’s norms for translating liturgical texts are observed, and if only one Scripture translation in each language is used for the liturgy. “This administrative fiat would doom all Catholics to the use of a Bible that fails to live up to the normal requirements of modern biblical scholarship”, the CBA statement said.
Liturgiam authenticam requires “faith, fidelity and exactness” in translation, that “the liturgical texts should be considered as the voice of the Church at prayer” (§§ 20, 27), and it addressed in some detail the problem of gender-neutering biblical and liturgical texts (§§ 29-31).
It also said that texts that are to be sung at Mass (as, for example, Responsorial Psalms),
should be translated in a manner that is suitable for being set to music. Still, in preparing the musical accompaniment, full account must be taken of the authority of the text itself. Whether it be a question of the texts of Sacred Scripture or of those taken from the Liturgy and already duly confirmed, paraphrases are not to be substituted with the intention of making them more easily set to music, nor may hymns considered generically equivalent be employed in their place. (§ 60)
The Grail Psalter has also undergone earlier revisions that were judged unsuitable for liturgical use. The Conception Abbey’s new version of the Grail Psalter is not the same as either of two earlier revisions of the 1963 Grail Psalter that had been proposed to the US bishops for use in the liturgy.
Both these earlier revisions employed “inclusive language” and other unacceptable elements, and both were expressly rejected for liturgical use by the US bishops, in November 1984 and November 1993, respectively.
The latter version, called The Grail Psalter (Inclusive Language Version), had been re-revised to reflect the US bishops’ 1991 “Criteria for the Evaluation of Inclusive Language Translation of Scriptural Texts for Liturgical Use”.
Before the bishops’ conference voted against it in 1993, this “Inclusive Language Version” had already received an imprimatur (approval for printing based on a text’s freedom from doctrinal error), on the advice of the Ad hoc Committee on the Review of Scripture Translations. This committee was created in 1991 to grant the imprimatur on behalf of the entire conference; however, it does not have the power to authorize Bible texts for liturgical use.
Unfortunately, the distinction between declaring that a translation is free from doctrinal error, and that it is authorized for use in the liturgy has not always been adequately explained or understood.
For example, it is confusing to find The Grail Psalter – Inclusive Language Version listed on the US bishops’ web site among “USCCB Approved Translations of the Sacred Scriptures, 1991-Present” — along with several Protestant versions of questionable use to Catholics, as well the New Revised Standard Version-Catholic Edition (NRSV-CE), which was forbidden for liturgical use by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1994.
What does “approved” mean?
Toward a Uniform Liturgical Psalter
After more than 20 years of attempts to revise the 1963 Grail Psalter, perhaps now they’ve finally got it right. Produced by the monks of Conception Abbey in Conception, Missouri, the newest revision of the Grail Psalter is said to conform to the translation principles of Liturgiam authenticam. According to the July 2008 BCDW Newsletter, it has been approved by the Ad hoc Committee for the Review of Scripture Translations, which affirmed the accuracy of the translation.
The BCDW recommends this liturgical Psalter based on its scriptural, liturgical, and musical characteristics, the Newsletter said. “Musical characteristics” is a key consideration. Indeed, one of the reasons the Holy See granted early approval of the new texts for the Order of Mass was so that musical settings could be composed using the authentic texts. There has never been a uniform liturgical translation of the Psalms meant for singing at Mass — a situation that has led to confusion and abuse because the Responsorial Psalm is ordinarily sung, and various versions have been set to music without adequate (and necessary) approval.
The new CARG Psalter has already been adopted by the bishops’ conferences engaged in the International Commission for the Preparation of an English-Language Lectionary (ICPEL), representing Australia, England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and New Zealand. Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Canberra-Goulburn is chairman of ICPEL, and Father Henry Wansbrough, OSB, of Ampelforth Abbey, is its secretary; both were involved with Conception Abbey in producing the new Psalter. (ICPEL hopes to produce a uniform Lectionary that would be used in all their countries.)
The US bishops are also in the process of revising the Lectionary for Mass. Approving a good new liturgical Psalter would be a welcome step in the right direction.