I received a Bible, probably at about age 9 or so, in Catholic Sunday School, or CCD as we called it. (This has now been changed to PSR, most likely because “Parish School of Religion” is much easier for a grade-schooler to say than “Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.”) By then, it was already too late for me. But it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. The Bible was something we carried to CCD, not something we actually used.
Without studying the Bible first hand, you don’t really know anything about the real Jesus, his inner circle of disciples, and how they gave birth to what is now known as Christianity. It wasn’t until I actually started to read the Bible that I realized that most of what I thought I knew about had been shaped not by the Church, but by popular culture. What faith I had was based not on the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but on that of Cecil B. Demille and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
As our pastors at Cherry Hills say, “You can’t be deeply influenced by something you don’t know.” The significance is that you can’t live out Jesus’ teachings without having read them yourself. And even reading about the teachings isn’t enough, because that’s just head knowledge.
But the Catholic Church doesn’t even allow for the head knowledge! If you can’t even go that far, then you are NEVER going to get to the place where head knowledge becomes heart-changing, life altering Truth.
And here is where Catholicism begins to break down completely. Catholics, historically, have not been encouraged to read the Bible. According to Monsignor Daniel Kutys:
Until the twentieth Century, it was only Protestants who actively embraced Scripture study. That changed after 1943 when Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu. This not only allowed Catholics to study Scripture, it encouraged them to do so.[i]
Although the pope issued this encyclical 70 years ago, there has not been much trickle-down to the laity (i.e. the folks in the pews). According to a 2012 survey commissioned by the Bible Society, in partnership with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, 57% of churchgoing Catholics don’t read the Bible week-by-week outside of a Church setting.[ii]
Since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s (known as Vatican II), the Catholic church has been on a mechanical three-year cycle of readings, called the Lectionary, in which they tell their followers that at the end of the three-year cycle, they will have covered all of scripture. Therefore, a faithful Catholic who attends mass every Sunday is under the impression that after three years, they have had the entire Bible read to them.
This is dangerously false. According to the Catholic Lectionary Website, only 27.5 % of the verses in the Bible are covered by the Lectionary. And that’s if you go to mass EVERY DAY! If you’re only meeting your minimum obligation of every Sunday and Feast day, that figure drops to 12.7%.
Understand, this is only since Vatican II, when the Magisterium began openly encouraging Bible study. Before that, when the mass was in Latin and only had two readings instead of three, the figures are even more shocking. Only 4.7% of the Bible was covered. Forty-five of the 73 books in the Catholic Bible were ignored completely, including all of the Historical and Wisdom books of the Old Testament and the book of Revelation. [iii]
But even if the Bible were being covered completely in the 3-year span, it wouldn’t matter to the congregation, because how is the Bible going to sink in if you’re having it read TO you?
Actually, that is possible in certain situations. For example, back in the Middle Ages, when most people were illiterate, the only way they could obtain knowledge from the Bible or any other book was to have someone read it to them. Indeed the worldwide literacy rate today is not much above 40%, with the exceptions of course being in developed nations such as our own.
If you were one of those people who could not read, then you would be ready to receive whatever was read to you, because you would know it was the only way you were going to learn. Your receptiveness would be even more acute if you were prepared specifically to hear what was in the Bible.
But this is overwhelmingly not the case in 21st-century America. I don’t know ANY Catholic who goes to church to hear what is in the Bible (there may be some, but I haven’t met them). They go because it’s what you do on Sunday (or Saturday night). It is all part of the tradition (more on this in Part 6).
Bible study simply isn’t part of the Catholic culture. It never has been.
The Word of God is proclaimed during the mass, but the people in the pews don’t have their own Bibles to follow along. At best, there might be a worship aid in the pew.
Without the opportunity or active encouragement to be in the Word first hand, Catholics disconnect from the readings. They are just waiting to hear “This is the word of the Lord,” so they can wake up and robotically respond “Thanks be to God.”
How rare is the priest who actually TEACHES practical application of the Bible readings in their homily (a commentary that is the ancient predecessor of the modern-day “sermon”).
(I did meet one priest that got it though. For a more uplifting story, come back for Part 5—Confession)