day 24 – fishers of men, or people?

English-speaking Catholics use different versions of the bible for their Lectionaries – the scriptural readings used in the liturgy. In Canada we have been using the New Revised Standard Version since 1992. In Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, The Jerusalem Bible is used. Our American sisters and brothers use the New American Bible. The gospel reading from Matthew 4:12-23 shows an example of translation variations. The NAB reads `Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.` The NRSV reads `Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.`  

Debates continue between national conferences of Bishops and the Vatican over which bible can and should be used. Permission was first given by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship for liturgical use of the NRSV. By the time the week-day Lectionary was published in 1994, it was objected to by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith because of worries about its inclusive language and theological integrity. But, our Lectionaries had already been printed and distributed. While the discussions continue, Canadian Catholics still use the NRSV and I think we are the only English-speaking country to do so. (I am happy to be corrected.) Canadians aren`t often the rebels! 🙂

The Lectionary debates reflect two larger debates going on in the church. Who holds the right to approve local translations of the Lectionary – Bishops or the Vatican? And is inclusive language necessary in our worship?

The first issue, one of collegiality and subsidiarity, is being played out on many levels at the moment. This includes the soon to be released new translation of the Sacramentary, or Missal. For some, it is another example of top-heavy leadership from the Vatican. For others it is a question of universal unity in all things liturgical, and a belief that all these decisions should be overseen by the Vatican.

Inclusive language, unfortunately, is often perceived as a liberal agenda promoted by feminists yet it is important to many men and women alike. For others, there is no issue since words like man and mankind already include women. What`s the big deal? (For the sake of transparency, I think it IS a big deal and we must continue working to make our language more inclusive without losing its integrity.)

Politics aside, some translations just sound better than others. I used to love the reading from Proverbs 31: 10, about the `perfect wife – who can find her.` Each time it was read in church I happily reminded my husband of his good fortune. The NRSV now reads `A capable wife who can find`. I`ve been down-graded! 😉

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