Pastoral translation OK for Bible but not for Mass

Secular news outlets surprisingly picked up a story on the new revision of the Old Testament in the New American Bible, which is owned by the U.S. bishops and will be sold beginning on Ash Wednesday. Headlines are focusing on the replacement of the world "booty" from the 1970 translation with "spoils" (as in war)–a tacit acknowledgment that "booty" has acquired a certain sexual connotation in contemporary English. Smart translators!

Other concessions to the times have been made: the replacement of "holocaust" with "burnt offerings," out of respect for Jewish concerns about the words connection to the Shoah; the title of a passage from Proverbs becomes "A Poem on the Woman of Worth" rather than "The Ideal Wife."

Why? "We needed a new translation because English is a living language," said Bishop Richard Sklba, former auxiliary bishop of Milwaukee, who is on the committee that edits the New American Bible, according to USA Today.

Right on–so why are we getting ready to implement a liturgical translation that does just the opposite? If the word of God in scripture can have an up-to-date translation, why can't the liturgy, which is after all not divinely inspired but a continuing work of tradition?

My theory, quite frankly, is that the NAB translators have chosen a pastoral principle to guide their work, which nevertheless has produced an accurate translation. Those at work on the new liturgical translation have abandoned the pastoral approach to the liturgy required by the Second Vatican Council for something else altogether, as I argued in my December column.

But the fact remains: The English-speaking people of God (and every other language group for that matter) deserve a Bible translation that speaks clearly in today's living English. They deserve a liturgical translation that does the same.

About the author

Bryan Cones

Bryan Cones is a writer living in Chicago.