Some of our protestant brothers and sisters refer to themselves as “Bible Christians.” I suppose they do that to differentiate themselves from “non-Bible Christians”. That would be us. There’s a wide-spread myth that Catholics are not Bible readers. I’m sure you’ve heard some people criticize us saying that Catholics don’t own Bibles, or that we own them but don’t know where to find them. On the surface, this myth may have some basis in truth. But, lets look at the facts.
First and foremost, there’s the mass. Just counting weekend masses, there are four selections from Scripture in the Liturgy of the World: One Old Testament reading; a responsorial Psalm; a New Testament reading; and a reading from the Gospels. Over 52 Sundays, that’s a total of more than 200 readings. There is some duplication, and there are some Sundays when a second NT reading takes the place of the usual OT reading, but if you attend mass every weekend for three years, you’ve heard more than 600 Scripture readings. Of course, if you attend daily mass, the total is much, much higher. Because we’re a Church of structure, every Catholic Church in the world is supposed to be reading the same readings on any given Sunday. Then there’s the homily where the priest or deacon, who is a student of the scriptures, relates the daily readings to our daily lives. (Most of the time. Nobody’s perfect.)
Some faith traditions give the minister the freedom to choose his own readings. Face it, there are an awful lot of readings that nobody would use if they didn’t have to, so these ministers tend to focus on a limited selections of readings.
When you pass a lot of churches on Sunday morning, you’ll notice that the worshipers are carrying Bibles. What’s up with that? Since the Catholic mass has defined readings, we’re able to publish booklets containing each day’s readings called missalettes. You don’t need a Bible because the readings are there for you in the pew. Very convenient. Of course, when you see a bunch of people walking around with Bibles in their hands, it’s not unreasonable to think of them as “Bible Christians.”
The prayers of the Liturgy of the Eucharist are very Biblical. The words of the Consecration are taken directly from Scripture. The Our Father and the Lamb of God are straight out of the New Testament. We’re constantly exposed to the depth and meaning of the Word of God. Of course, we’re expected and encouraged to explore the Bible on our own through personal and group Bible studies.
You are likely to run into a couple of arguments from your “Bible Christian” friends about Catholics and the Bible. 1. ” Catholic Churches used to chain down the Bible so the people couldn’t read it.” As I wrote just two days ago, prior to Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, all books (including the Bible) were very rare and expensive. Plus, there weren’t a lot of people who knew how to read. If a church was lucky enough to have a copy of Sacred Scripture, the wanted to be sure they kept it. Saying the Church discouraged Scripture study by chaining down the Bible is like saying the bank discourages financial transactions by chaining down the pens.
2. “At one time Catholics were forbidden to read the Bible.” Once Martin Luther opened the flood gates, there were a number of new, unauthorized translations of the Bible. By this time more people were learning to read but they might not have had the education or the experience to discern whether something called “The Bible” was the real deal. To protect the laity from being sold a bill of goods, the Church insisted that they get their Word of God from the Church.
The bottom line is that every Catholic should be familiar with the Bible. We’re encouraged to dig into the Scriptures. But if all you do is go to mass every Sunday and Holy Day, you will know what the Bible says.
That’s extremely cool!
Sidebar: To be a “Bible Christian” you don’t have to know what Scripture says, you just have to know where everything is. In a typical sermon, the minister will say, “Turn to the sixteenth paragraph of the third chapter of the Book of John (today’s Gospel, by the way). Then he’ll read it to you. If you haven’t been practicing, by the time you find your place, he will have moved on.