Some Christians believe that Catholics are not encouraged to read the Bible. In fact, the opposite is true…and why wouldn't it be, after all, the Bible is a Catholic book. What do I mean by that?
The Catholic Church, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote the Bible. The Catholic Church assembled the Canon (List) of books in the Bible, and the Catholic Church has safeguarded the Bible for 2,000 years. The Church treasures Sacred Scripture because it is the Word of God. The Church loves Holy Writ, so much so that she orders her prayer and worship around it.
First, let me dispel the idea that Catholics are not encouraged to read the Bible. On the contrary, we are exhorted to spend time in God's Word often. St Jerome, a famous Bible scholar (A.D. 342-420) and Catholic monk, wrote, "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." He translated the Bible into Latin, the common tongue of the day, and his translation (Latin Vulgate) was the translation for 1,000 years. Far from withholding the Holy Book from the people, the Catholic Church ensured that the Bible would be available to anyone who wanted it by preserving the definitive translation of it.
Listen to what the Second Vatican Council says about Sacred Scripture: "The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God's word and of Christ's body. She has always maintained them, and continues to do so, together with sacred tradition, as the supreme rule of faith, since, as inspired by God and committed once and for all to writing, they impart the word of God Himself without change, and make the voice of the Holy Spirit resound in the words of the prophets and Apostles" (Dei Verbum, #21).
Ah…I hear someone murmur from the back row…what about the Council of Trent? Didn't that council forbid Catholics to read the Bible? No, exactly the opposite. The Council Fathers wrote, "…the synod, following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety and reverence all the books both of the Old and New Testament, seeing that one God is the author of both…" (April 8, 1546). What the Council forbade was the reading of unapproved translations of Sacred Scripture since they could not vouch for the authenticity of any version not reviewed by Biblical scholars guided by the Magesterium of the Church. To do otherwise would have given the "seal of approval" to potentially heretical books masquerading as the Bible and in the theological and political turmoil of 16th century Europe, there were plenty of "Bibles" out there that didn't measure up. (If you have ever taken a gander at the New World Translation, the "Bible" of Jehovah's Witnesses, you would understand how egregious doctrinal errors can be spread through a faulty translation.)
The Second Vatican Council, echoing the constant teaching of the Church, decreed the necessity for the Bible to be accessible to the faithful and ecumenical if possible: "Easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful…But since the word of God should be accessible at all times, the Church by her authority and with maternal concern sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books. And should the opportunity arise and the Church authorities approve, if these translations are produced in cooperation with the separated brethren as well, all Christians will be able to use them" (DV #22).
Today, with the myriad of translations, the surest way to know that your Bible is trustworthy is to look for the imprimatur ("let it be printed") by a bishop on the inside cover.
Jesus Christ established the Church on Pentecost, under the leadership of the Apostles and the guidance of the Spirit. The Apostles and their followers are the ones who began to write the letters and books that would become the New Testament. Jesus didn't flip an armload of scrolls to His followers and tell them to "figure it out for yourself, you've got the Spirit"; He gave the Apostles the authority to teach and guide in His Name. Most of the books of the New Testament were written in the first 100 years after the Resurrection, by men who either met Christ in Person on earth, or by men who knew the Apostles. In other words, Catholics wrote the Bible under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
How did the Church assemble Sacred Scripture into the Bible we know today? The Council of Trent (A.D. 1546) decreed the definitive list, but the canon of Scripture they promulgated was merely formalizing the decrees of earlier synods of bishops on the same subject. The Synod of Hippo (A.D. 393) and the three of Carthage (A.D. 393, 397, and 419), where St Augustine likely played a leading role, drew up the canon of Scripture that Trent later ratified. Frankly, it wasn't until the 16th century that a decree from Rome on the Canon was even necessary, since almost everyone used the Latin Vulgate anyway.
To appreciate how much the Church treasures Sacred Scripture, one need only spend a day in prayer with her. The hours of the day are marked with Lauds, Vespers, and Compline, where Psalms and Canticles are sung and passages from the Bible prayed over. Other times of the day are marked with the Angelus or Regina Caeli, prayers that recount the joy of the Gospel's Incarnation and Resurrection narratives. Most importantly, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass immerses us in Scripture as we participate in the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. Most of the prayers and all of the four readings come from the Bible, a journey through salvation history at each celebration.
Finally, one last, and perhaps the most important, comment about the Bible. While it is true that the Church is immersed in Scripture, it is also true that Revelation is not confined to the 72 books of the Bible. The Bible itself records that Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his) disciples that are not written in this book (Jn 20:30).
Because the Bible is the Church's book, it is not intended to be read apart from the Liturgy and Sacred Tradition of the Church.
Immerse yourself in the Bible…it's a very Catholic thing to do!
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