Ignorance of Scripture is Ignorance of Christ

There is a myth that we must lay to rest, once and for all: Protestants are all about the Bible, while Catholics are all about the Sacraments.  While I can’t speak for my Protestant brethren, I can say this with certainty-the Catholic Church has never tolerated any such either/or.  Both Scripture and Sacraments are precious gifts from the Lord, gifts we desperately need.

“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ!” insisted St. Jerome, a father and Doctor of the Catholic Church from the 5th century AD.  Because of this, every liturgical service of the Catholic Church is full of Scripture.  Take Sunday Mass for instance.  First there are significant chunks of Scripture read aloud, just as we see in Nehemiah 8 or in Luke 4 when Jesus serves as lector at the synagogue of Capernaum.  But don’t forget the prayers and acclamations that are full of Scripture like the Holy Holy (a combo of Is 6 and Ps 118:26), the Our Father (Mat 6:9), and the Gloria (Lk 2:14).  Ironically, many “Bible churches” that accuse Catholics of being non-scriptural don’t actually read any Scripture aloud in their Sunday service at all!

So is hearing Scripture on Sunday enough?  Not by a long-shot.  Scripture, says the Second Vatican Council (Dei Verbum 21), is “food for the soul.”  Who eats just once a week?  To survive and thrive, you need daily nourishment.  You can have a steady diet of Scripture by attending Mass daily, participating in the liturgy of the hours, or reading Scripture in daily prayer.  Actually, all three make an unbeatable combination.

Frequently, though, when Catholics start reading the bible, they quickly run into trouble — usually in the first chapters of Leviticus!  Yes, sometimes it is hard to know where to begin, to fit it all together, and to interpret correctly some rather obscure passages, words, and names.  My father, who first attacked the Bible at age 63, discovered the book of Malachi.   Thinking the name was pronounced “ma-LA-chee”, he rejoiced that there was an Italian among the prophets.

There are great Catholic Bible studies on books, tapes, videos, and the web (see www.dritaly.com for suggestions and links).  Some are book-by-book commentaries.  Others are big-picture overviews of salvation history so that you can fit each book, character, and theme into the overall story of God’s dealings with his people.   Most are conveniently designed so that busy people with no background in the Bible can learn a lot without a huge time commitment.

Many of us spend 16 or more years of our life preparing for our secular career, then take continuing ed courses on nights and weekends.  In contrast, how much have we invested in our education in the Word of God, essential for our heavenly career?

The study of the Bible, is for one purpose, however.  So that, praying with Scripture, we may be better able to hear what God is saying to us here and now.  The writers of Sacred Scripture were inspired by the Holy Spirit.  But it is equally true that the Scriptures themselves are inspired.  The Holy Spirit has been “breathed into them” and resides within their words as in a temple.  When we approach the Scriptures prayerfully, aided by the same Spirit who dwells in them, reading Scripture becomes an experience of being filled and empowered by God’s Spirit, and we are changed.

Sometimes the Words of Scripture are encouraging.  Like when this Sunday’s second reading (1 Cor 12) tells us that no matter how insignificant we may feel, we each have an essential role to play as members of the Body of Christ.  But other times Scripture holds a mirror up to our face and we don’t like what we see.  In Sunday’s first reading, Nehemiah 8, the people wept at the reading of the word, because it made them realize their sin.  The Word is truth, and sometime the truth is painful.  But so is antiseptic on a wound.  Scripture challenges us only to heal us and call us to growth.  No pain, no gain.

Marcellino D'Ambrosio, Ph.D.


Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For info on his resources and pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 800.803.0118.

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  • Cooky642

    As a Protestant, I read the Bible from cover-to-cover 12 times in 12 years. That’s not bragging–it’s a fact. I always tell people who are amazed at such a feat that, in 12 years, they will be 12 years older than they are today; whether or not they will have read the Bible through–even once, much less 12 times–is totally dependent on them.

    Having said that, let me add that I could not survive, spiritually, without the Sacraments (particularly Reconcilliation and Eucharist). I thank God for the Catholic Church every day! I need Jesus living in me through the Eucharist to even ATTEMPT to live as a Christian. It really isn’t “either/or”! It really is “both together”.

  • dlapointe34

    Cooky642, that is an impressive feat. In those 12 years, were you able to pray and meditate on the Scripture you were reading, or did you find your Scripture reading was more like a chore, another task to check off on your daily todo list?

    Please don’t misunderstand my question. My intention is not to criticize your accomplishments, but rather to understand what your approach and intention was for those 12 years.


  • PRO305

    I, too, as a Protestant, read through the entire Bible, but only once, many years before my conversion to the TRUE faith. I HIGHLY recommend it, because it becomes the foundation upon-which to now actually LEARN the true Christian faith. And, I completely agree with Cooky642, that frequent Reconciliation, daily Mass (if at all possible) AND ROSARY, have become a basic necessary need in order to fully live-out my faith each day. While most Protestants have a far more thorough Bible knowledge than I do at this stage in my life, they are sadly missing Jesus, Himself, and so many gifts available to us in the Sacramental life!

  • noelfitz

    Dr D’Ambrosio has informed us that his father thought that Malachi was Italian. Here we consider Malachi or Malachy one of our own (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09565a.htm). There is a Church named after him in Cleveland, Ohio (http://www.stmalachi.org/contact-us/).

    I note in the replies the number of converts. Does anyone know the proportion of cradle Catholics and converts who participate in CE?

  • I doubt it. We’re not required to tag ourselves one way or the other. To my mind, that is a good thing. For one thing, there is no point in dividing up the Body of Christ. For another, almost any Catholic who participates here has very likely had some level of conversion.

    As for me, I was a cradle Catholic who lapsed. My reversion came about largely through evangelical Protestants and then Catholic converts (see http://arkanabar.blogspot.com/2007/07/obligatory-journey-post.html )

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