February 11, 2011


Are you reading the Bible?

When Pope Benedict XVI chose the topic for his first World Synod of Bishops in October 2008, he chose “The Word of God in the life and mission of the Church.” This indicated the importance that he gave to Scripture.

The pope has had a love for Scripture from his earliest days in the seminary. In his memoirs, Milestones, he wrote, “Exegesis [interpreting Sacred Scripture] has always remained for me the center of my theological work.”

When he closed that synod on Oct. 27, 2008, he said that it had helped the Church focus on the importance of Scripture, and he urged participants to return home and launch a program of scriptural renewal in their dioceses and parishes.

So have you been reading and studying the Bible more often since the synod ended more than two years ago?

The pope was concerned that Catholics are not as familiar with the Bible as they should be.

Yet the Bible is the Word of God for us. Through it, God speaks to us. The ancient Church leaders spent a considerable amount of time determining what sacred writings should be in this book, and we Catholics should know what is in it.

There was a time when the Church didn’t emphasize the Bible for fear that Catholics might misinterpret what they read. That should have changed, though, after the Second Vatican Council produced its document “Dei Verbum,” the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.

However, there is every indication that modern Catholics are no more familiar with the Bible than earlier generations. Those earlier generations, by the way, were familiar with Bible stories even if they weren’t encouraged to read the Bible itself.

Father William C. Graham recently contributed a column to Commonweal magazine on this topic. Among other things, Father Graham teaches Catholic Studies at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minn. He said that his students “are largely ignorant of Scripture.”

He wrote, “At the beginning of a recent semester, a student told me there were five Gospels, though he couldn’t name one. When I asked one of my classes what happened at Cana, only two of the 24 students had heard of the story—and even those two couldn’t say anything about it.” Yet these students grew up as Catholics, and received some kind of religious instruction.

He continued, “Never before has it been so easy for lay Catholics to read and study Scripture, and yet Catholic children are now less familiar with the Bible than Catholic children were before Vatican II.”

It is not only children either. Polls indicate that, when adults are quizzed about Bible stories, they often do abysmally.

Yes, Catholics hear Scripture read whenever they attend Mass. However, what they hear over the three-year cycle of Sunday readings, or the two-year cycle of weekday readings, is only a small part of the Bible, especially of the Old Testament.

Jesuit Father Felix Just analyzed the Lectionary used at Mass, and found that only 3.7 percent of the Old Testament is used in the readings for Sundays and major feast days. If you attend Mass daily, including weekends, you would still hear only 13.5 percent of the Old Testament proclaimed.

We have a suggestion. Each week, The Criterion publishes the “Daily Readings,” the biblical readings proclaimed during Mass the following week. If you can’t attend daily Mass, perhaps you could at least read those readings each day.

But we suggest that you do more, even those who do attend Mass daily. Those daily readings usually omit much of the material in the chapters of the books from which they are taken, whether in the Old Testament, the Gospels or other readings from the New Testament. Perhaps you could read the parts that are omitted. We know people who do exactly that, and they become much more aware of what the Bible contains.

The Church is not as concerned as it once was that Bible readers might misinterpret what they read, mainly because there are so many good Catholic Bibles today. Those Bibles almost always have footnotes that explain difficult passages, and serious Bible readers should make it a practice to study those footnotes.

Catholic Bibles are available at Catholic bookstores or through the Internet. If you don’t already have one, then purchase a Bible today.

—John F. Fink

Local site Links: