Since the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE) was released in 2011, the Catholic Bibles Blog has hosted multiple discussions of its excellence as a translation. The one that stands out most in my memory is Carl Hernz’s guest post in 2015 entitled “The NABRE: A Masterpiece in the Making?”. Carl masterfully elaborated the NABRE’s virtues in that piece. As someone who is familiar with the biblical languages, Carl also provides a valuable perspective of the NABRE’s accuracy and faithfulness to the original texts, while retaining good readability (and even beauty) in English.
Throughout the many discussions of the NABRE, though, I find relatively little mention of the NABRE Psalms, which I find particularly beautiful. In fact, I’d classify them among my favorite translations of the Psalms in existence. Their lyrical rhythm is unmatched by any other translation I’ve seen, aside from the Grail Psalms.
I suspect the main reason for this lack of attention is that the NABRE Psalms have been eclipsed by the Revised Grail Psalms, which were approved by the Holy See in 2010 — just one year before the NABRE was released. Since the original Grail Psalms have long been used in the English Liturgy of the Hours, and since the 2001 directive Liturgiam Authenticam mandated a single translation for liturgical use, the Revised Grail Psalms were an obvious choice. Many Catholics long for a future when they can have a bible that matches the lectionary at Mass, and with the approval of the Revised Grail Psalms, the NABRE psalms seem like an afterthought.
Futhermore, the Psalms in the New American Bible have a complicated history. The original translation, published in 1970, was apparently used in the NAB English Lectionary until 1998. In 1991, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved a revision of the psalms, which used gender inclusive language. This version was rejected for liturgical use in 1994 by the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome, due to inclusive language in reference to God and inclusive language in passages that have been traditionally understood in reference to Jesus. This debacle undoubtedly left a bad taste in the mouths of many Catholics. Since the Revised Grail Psalms were specifically translated to be in line with Liturgiam Authenticam, they come with a respectable repuation.
All of these considerations threaten to overshadow a truly masterful translation of the Psalms. Even the Revised English Bible (REB), which is my favorite translation of the Bible and renders poetry in the prophets with beauty and eloquence, does not match the beauty of the NABRE psalms, in my opinion. Consider the opening verses of Psalm 17:
Hear, LORD, my plea for justice; pay heed to my cry; Listen to my prayer from lips without guile. From you let my vindication come; your eyes see what is right. You have tested my heart. searched it in the night. You have tried me by fire, but find no malice in me. (Psalm 17:1-3 NABRE)
The text has a rhythmic quality that is not quite matched by the REB:
LORD, hear my plea for justice, give heed to my cry; listen to the prayer from my lips, for they are innocent of all deceit. Let your judgement be given in my favour; let your eyes discern what is right. You have tested my heart and watched me all night long; You have assayed me and found no malice in me. (Psalm 17:1-3 REB)
Consider another example from the royal wedding song of Psalm 45:
My heart is stirred by a noble theme, as I sing my ode to the king. My tongue is the pen of a nimble scribe. You are the most handsome of men; fair speech has graced your lips; for God has blessed you forever. Gird your sword upon your hip, mighty warrior! In splendor and majesty ride on triumphant! In the cause of truth, meekness, and justice may your right hand show your wondrous deeds. (Psalm 45:2-5 NABRE)
Once again, the REB chooses vivid vocabulary, but it does not match the NABRE’s rhythm:
My heart is astir with a noble theme; in honour of a king I recite the song I have composed, and my tongue runs swiftly like the pen of an expert scribe. You surpass all others in beauty; gracious words flow from your lips, for you are blessed by God for ever. gird on your sword at your side, you warrior king, advance in your pomp and splendour, ride on in the cause of truth and for justice. Your right hand will perform awesome deeds (Psalm 45:1-4 REB)
The NABRE Psalms are truly a hidden gem — a masterpiece filed away and rarely mentioned. They are a great resource for anyone who wants to read or pray the Psalms.
10 thoughts on “The NABRE Psalms: A Hidden Gem”
What edition of the NABRE do you have in the picture? It doesn’t look like any of the ones I have.
It’s the Catholic Study Bible (third edition) by Oxford University Press.
1. What Bible is that on the right of the banner on top of the page? So that I can search it up and wish I had it?
2. So glad to see the NABRE psalms getting some love. I personally find that it’s use of language lends itself to memorization. Maybe 2025’s psalms will get the attention if it meets LA? (Even with the pain of possibly having to change from the Grail for LOH. :c )
1. The Bible on the top right side of the banner is the HarperOne NRSV Standard Bible with the Apocrypha. Here are a couple links from Amazon and Christian Book Distributors:
HarperOne also publishes a Catholic edition with the same layout (ISBN 978-0061689833). I have both editions, but I prefer the “with Apocrypha” edition. The Catholic edition was printed on really thin, translucent paper. There is serious ghosting from text on the other side of the page, as well as subsequent pages. The paper in the “with Apocrypha” edition seems more opaque, and the text is line-matched (unlike the Catholic edition), meaning that the lines of text on each side of the page line up perfectly. The better paper and line-matching make for better reading with less ghosting.
2. I was thinking along the same lines! I would be happy to see the NABRE psalms used in the Liturgy of the Hours. It would fulfill the dream of having a one-stop Bible that corresponds to the liturgical text, and it’s a beautiful translation to boot!
It is funny that you write this, as the NABRE Psalter has been my companion recently. It certainly seems that it shares a selling point with the Revised Grail Psalms: fidelity and vividness while maintaining the rhythm and flow of the poetry.
Many who turn their noses up at the New American Bible would probably be surprised that its Psalter contains phrases like “they have pierced my hands and feet”, “Blessed is the man”, “valley of the shadow of death”, etc.
Very true, Bob. If anyone has passed over the NABRE Psalms because of the storied history of revisions, I encourage them to take another look. Not only did the translators fix the problems from the 1991 Psalms, but they created a masterpiece. It’s truly a Psalter that could be used for prayer for years to come.
For the upcoming One New American Bible to Rule them All, does that mean that the NABRE Psalms will be removed, in favor of the Revised Grail Psalms? Or could the NABRE Psalms get approved for liturgical use?
I’ve never been a fan of the NAB/NABRE, but seeing all the praise for it on this blog makes me think I should take another look.
Honestly, the NABRE is a horrible translation. I cringe every time it is read at Mass. The USCCB should approve the RSV-CE or the NRSV-CE. IMHO.
I suppose it depends on what you expect in a translation. For technical accuracy and scholarly excellence, the NABRE is quite good. As I understand it, the NABRE is a fairly literal translation, contrary to popular opinion which was based on the original 1970 NAB and continues to haunt the NABRE despite considerable improvements with the recent revisions.
But for overall ease of reading and quality of English, the NABRE is definitely not at the top of my list. There are plenty of clunky phrases that could easily be translated differently to make the English flow better. Ironically, this is probably a side-effect of the NABRE’s literal accuracy (at least in some cases). One that grates on me the most is the incessant use of “said…in reply” in the New Testament. For example in Matthew 17:4, after witnessing the transfiguration, the NABRE says: “Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents…'” It would have been easy enough to say “Peter responded” or “Peter reacted.”