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Why Catholics Don’t Read the Bible

As Catholics, we’ve all heard it before, “Catholics don’t read the Bible.”, “Catholicism is unbiblical!”, “They don’t even have Bibles in their pews!”, followed by examples of Bible “abuse” in the past of the Catholic Church where she chained Bibles to the pulpits (true) so the faithful couldn’t study them (false), or burned copies of the Bible (true) because, again, the Church didn’t want the faithful to study them (false).  Allow me to explore this characterization, as it contains a bit of truth, along with some natural misunderstanding.

“According to the apostle Paul, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God and who does not know scripture does not know the power or the wisdom of God, then ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.

A.D. 408, St. Jerome, Father and Doctor of the Church

Children of God whom are nurtured by Sola Scriptura as their rule of faith have a very different relationship with Sacred Scripture than both modern and historical Catholics.  These devoted Christians have at least one copy of God’s Written Word, and many will lovingly delve into those pages daily for their source of God given nourishment.  They can’t imagine a spiritual life that isn’t drenched in the pages of Scripture.  “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5)  Thus, they are simply appalled that a Catholic may not own a Bible at all!  And again wonder, why are there no Bibles in the pews at a Catholic church?!

Modern Catholics do not share this same relationship with Sacred Scripture because historical Catholics did not.  Catholicism has a 2,000 year history, and due to this, the average Catholic has been brought up in the vestiges of an ancient faith that predates wide spread literacy and the printing press.  For the first 1500 years of the Church, all Bibles were hand written by scribes, to painfully exact standards.  If a scribe made a single mistake on a piece of parchment, the entire piece of parchment would be destroyed and rewritten, to ensure pristine copies of Sacred Scripture were released to the public.  These Bibles took years to complete and cost three years’ wages (like a modern day house, which we purchase with 30 year mortgages).  These copies of God’s Word were so expensive and rare, that the local churches would chain them to the pulpits to prevent theft, protecting the availability for all of the congregants.  The average layperson did not own one of these Bibles because of the expense and rarity, not to mention that person’s inability to read would have been troublesome even if they did have a copy.  Their daily spiritual lives did not revolve around individual study of Sacred Scripture, instead they found spiritual nourishment in other ways –  namely prayer and the Mass.  The historic Catholic would travel to mass (available daily) to hear God’s word read from the ambo, and explained in a homily.  His soul would be nourished not only by hearing the written word, but also by his prayerful presence with the Blessed Sacrifice of the Mass.  Outside of the Mass, his daily life would be sustained through a devotion to prayer.

God’s having allowed for the invention of modern technology has been fantastic for education and the spread of His Word, but it has also brought about changes in our relationships with Him.  When the printing press came on the scene in the 1400s copies of Bibles were being printed left and right!  And not at all with the same careful consideration the scribes had used.  The Church, in her effort to preserve the distribution of pristine copies of God’s Word, did indeed burn many poor prints or translations.  Around this time literacy grew and continued to grow, and soon the famous Reformation was born.  While our Sola Scriptura brethren grew in a faith formation focused on the pages of God’s word written in Scripture, our Catholic ancestors continued with their sturdy 1500 year old faith formation based on the mass and prayer.

Today, first world Catholics still may not own Bibles, though many do.  We’re still raised with an emphasis on mass attendance, frequency of sacraments, and a rich prayer life for our faith formation.  No, we still don’t have Bibles in our pews, but instead, we have missals which contain the passages to be read each day for mass.  These missals ensure that our priests are reading the same three to four selections of God’s written Word as all of the other priests in the other parishes that day.  The missal ensures that all faithful Catholics are read the entire Bible in three years of daily mass attendance, which makes for a pretty hefty emphasis on Sacred Scripture.

As God, in His providence, would have it, the latest advancements in technology have allowed for widespread conversions to Catholicism amongst many of God’s devoted children from the Sola Scriptura traditions.  These converts, having had their faith muscles strengthened on the written Word coupled with a vibrant passion for Christ, are uniting with the ancient Church and Her fullness of Christ’s teaching for an explosive combination!  God is showing us that we are weakened by our separation, and are strongest when we unite!  Our newest Catholics are inspiring us cradle Catholics to discover the Biblical Truth of Catholicism, providing us the knowledge armor of Sacred Scripture in conjunction with Sacred Tradition.  Study of the Scriptures in light of Tradition is eye opening and amazing.  But let us never forget that Holy Mother Church protected and provided these Scriptures for us.  We can never divorce the Scriptures from their Mother, for when we separate the two, we will be mislead by our own weaknesses.

Many thanks to the Holy Spirit for our Sacred Scriptures, and also, many thanks to all of our convert Catholics for bringing into the Church their passion for God’s Written Word!

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About Adrienne

Adrienne is a cradle Catholic married to a devout Evangelical Christian. They have been married eleven years and have three beautiful blessings, one boy and two girls. She spends her days homesechooling the kiddos and enjoys Catholic apologetics and photography. As a former Software Engineer, writing in the English language is not her strong suit, but she’s trying her best at Catholic Sistas, well, because they let her.

  • Hannah - Another interesting thing about the handmade copies of the Bible are the illustrations. There were pictures painted for many of the stories which could also be seen and help the understanding of those who could not read. Those bibles were/are beautiful amazing works of art!June 1, 2012 – 7:29 amReplyCancel

    • Adrienne - Hannah, I hadn’t thought about Bible illustrations when writing this piece, but I had thought of talking about stained glass windows for that very reason, thanks for bringing it up! Iconography is so rich as a communication aid, but us literate folk often dismiss pictographic communication too easily as ineffective. Such a shame! I’ve been growing more appreciation for these beautiful ways of spreading the Gospel.June 1, 2012 – 12:47 pmReplyCancel

  • Kim - I was once granted hands on permission to read through an illuminated Bible and it really was an experience second to none.
    And how I remember ‘Pew Bibles’. I came to know OF Jesus over thirty-five years ago through conversations with a Baptist minister here in the UK. After two years of exhaustive Bible reading I wondered why Mary was considered of so little worth in the sermons I heard and that’s how I became a Catholic; and to KNOW Jesus.

    I visited the Baptist Church when I visited my hometown as a Catholic of thirty-three years standing. No more pew bibles and no Baptist Union hymn books. Everything was projected onto an overhead screen. I don’t know what the worship was like but I could guess. It took a Baptist to get me interested in Jesus but The Catholic Church and her liturgy and the sacraments to make me a Christian.June 1, 2012 – 11:11 amReplyCancel

    • Adrienne - Kim, thanks for sharing your experience! I bet that Bible was amazing, a true work of art. As Mother Mary always points us onward to her son, I love how it was through curiosity of her, that you came home to Holy Mother Church and now know Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I hadn’t thought about projectors replacing the presence of Bibles in pews, but I could see that happening in “mega churches” too.June 1, 2012 – 12:42 pmReplyCancel

  • Courtney - Great post! As a recent convert back to Catholicism from Evangelical Protestantism (my mom left the Church when I was about 8). I think I have the best of both worlds! I went to a Christian college affiliated with the First Friends denomination and reading and studying the Bible was a huge integral part of the curriculum worked into most of the classes to some extent. I believe it has definitely given me an edge in dealing with Catholic apologetics as well.June 1, 2012 – 8:14 pmReplyCancel

    • Adrienne - Courtney, welcome back home! I am so amazed with the fire converts bring with them to the Church. The Evangelical Catholic has knowledge, tools, and passion that can’t be messed with! As God guides more of his faithful back to Christ’s Bride, Holy Mother Church, I can’t help but feel like He’s preparing for battle!June 2, 2012 – 7:51 amReplyCancel

  • jerry in md - Adrienne
    You should realize that reading the Old Testament part of the Bible at Mass only happened after Vatican II (1962-65). Before that Catholics were pretty much ignorant of the Old Testament. I speak having attended Catholic grammar school, Catholic high school and Catholic college from 1946-62 where I had to take theology every semester.February 1, 2014 – 4:46 pmReplyCancel

  • MJ - I came across this old post where the claim is made that the entire Bible is read through the course of 3 years. Do you have an actual study that backs up this claim?

    Note: I found the following posted online over ten years ago by Todd Easton that shows an estimated number of verses. I have not taken the time to actually confirm all the results, but his claim seems closer to the truth.

    Default Re: Reading the Entire Bible in 3 Years at Mass?
    The readings for Sunday Mass are repeated every three years. The reading for Weekday Mass are repeated every two years. The following table, based on my own calculations (and therefore likely not entirely error-free), will give you an idea of about what percentage of the Bible, Testament, or each individual book of the Bible, you might hear read at Mass over the course of any three-year period, based on the number of verses read. (Note: All optional Mass readings were included. Also, a verse was counted even if only part of verse is used.)

    Book(s) (verses) . . . . . . Sundays only . . Sundays & Weekdays
    Entire Bible (35478). . . . . . 14% (5035) . . . 30% (10722)

    Old Testament (27524) . . . 6% (1663) . . . . 18% (4830)
    Genesis (1532) . . . . . . . . . 8% (123) . . . . . 27% (420)
    Exodus (1213). . . . . . . . . . 10% (127) . . . . 20% (245)
    Leviticus (859). . . . . . . . . . 1% (8). . . . . . . 5% (41)
    Numbers (1288. . . . . . . . . 1% (17). . . . . . 6% (82)
    Deuteronomy (959). . . . . . 5% (52). . . . . . 13% (123)
    Joshua (657). . . . . . . . . . . 2% (10). . . . . . 7% (43)
    Judges (618). . . . . . . . . . . 0% (0). . . . . . . 8% (51)
    Ruth (85). . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0% (0). . . . . . . 25% (21)
    1 Samuel (809) . . . . . . . . . 3% (24). . . . . . 19% (153)
    2 Samuel (695) . . . . . . . . . 3% (21). . . . . . 15% (107)
    1 Kings (816). . . . . . . . . . . 4% (31). . . . . . 19% (158)
    2 Kings (719). . . . . . . . . . . 1% (14). . . . . . 16% (118)
    1 Chronicles (943) . . . . . . 1% (6). . . . . . . 1% (9)
    2 Chronicles (821) . . . . . . 2% (18) . . . . . . 3% (26)
    Ezra (280) . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0% (0) . . . . . . 8% (21)
    Nehemiah (405) . . . . . . . . 2% (9) . . . . . . 5% (20)
    Tobit (245). . . . . . . . . . . . . 0% (0) . . . . . . 32% (79)
    Judith (340). . . . . . . . . . . . 0% (0) . . . . . . 3% (9)
    Esther (272) . . . . . . . . . . . . 0% (0). . . . . . 6% (15)
    1 Maccabees (921). . . . . . 0% (0) . . . . . . 6% (53)
    2 Maccabees (556). . . . . . 2% (12) . . . . . 7% (38)
    Job (1060). . . . . . . . . . . . . 2% (17) . . . . . 8% (87)
    Psalms (2524) . . . . . . . . . . 26% (648) . . . 50% (1263)
    Proverbs (914). . . . . . . . . . 3% (24). . . . . . 6% (56)
    Ecclesiastes (222). . . . . . . 2% (4). . . . . . . 15% (34)
    Song of Songs (117) . . . . . 0% (0). . . . . . . 11% (13)
    Wisdom (436) . . . . . . . . . . 11% (50). . . . . 25% (109)
    Sirach (1372). . . . . . . . . . . 4% (54) . . . . . 16% (226)
    Isaiah (1281). . . . . . . . . . . 15% (192). . . . 26% (335)
    Jeremiah (1364) . . . . . . . . 32% (43). . . . . 12% (165)
    Lamentations (154). . . . . . 0% (0). . . . . . . 5% (8)
    Baruch (213). . . . . . . . . . . 13% (27). . . . . 22% (46)
    Ezekiel (1255) . . . . . . . . . . 4% (48) . . . . . 14% (172)
    Daniel (530) . . . . . . . . . . . 1% (7) . . . . . . 38% (204)
    Hosea (196) . . . . . . . . . . . 7% (13). . . . . . 19% (38)
    Joel (73) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16% (12). . . . . 44% (32)
    Amos (146) . . . . . . . . . . . . 9% (13) . . . . . 35% (51)
    Obadiah (21) . . . . . . . . . . 0% (0) . . . . . . 0% (0)
    Jonah (48) . . . . . . . . . . . . 13% (6) . . . . . . 90% (43)
    Micah (105). . . . . . . . . . . . 4% (4) . . . . . . 23% (24)
    Nahum (47). . . . . . . . . . . . 0% (0) . . . . . . 15% (7)
    Habakkuk (56). . . . . . . . . 9% (5). . . . . . . 18% (10)
    Zephaniah (53) . . . . . . . . 15% (8) . . . . . . 25% (13)
    Haggai (38) . . . . . . . . . . . 0% (0). . . . . . . 45% (17)
    Zechariah (211) . . . . . . . . 2% (4). . . . . . . 12% (25)
    Malachi (55). . . . . . . . . . . 22% (12). . . . . 36% (20)

    New Testament (7954) . . . . . . 42% (3372) . . . . 74% (5892)
    Matthew (1071) . . . . . . . . . . . 58% (623) . . . . . 87% (936)
    Mark (678). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61% (412) . . . . . 97% (656)
    Luke (1151) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60% (690) . . . . . 89% (1026)
    John (878) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62% (545) . . . . . 95% (833)
    Acts of the Apostles (1006) . . 18% (182) . . . . . 52% (525)
    Romans (433). . . . . . . . . . . . . 26% (114) . . . . . 53% (230)
    1 Corinthians (437). . . . . . . . . 40% (173) . . . . . 59% (259)
    2 Corinthians (256). . . . . . . . . 21% (53). . . . . . 50% (127)
    Galatians (149) . . . . . . . . . . . 28% (41). . . . . . 60% (89)
    Ephesians (155) . . . . . . . . . . . 59% (91). . . . . . 91% (141)
    Philippians (104) . . . . . . . . . . 47% (49). . . . . . 71% (74)
    Colossians (95) . . . . . . . . . . . 37% (35). . . . . . 68% (65)
    1 Thessalonians (88) . . . . . . . 44% (39). . . . . . 74% (65)
    2 Thessalonians (47) . . . . . . . 36% (17). . . . . . 62% (29)
    1 Timothy (113) . . . . . . . . . . . 18% (20). . . . . . 53% (60)
    2 Timothy (83) . . . . . . . . . . . . 30% (25). . . . . . 67% (56)
    Titus (46) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17% (8). . . . . . . 61% (28)
    Philemon (25). . . . . . . . . . . . . 32% (8) . . . . . . 56% (14)
    Hebrews (303) . . . . . . . . . . . . 26% (80). . . . . . 62% (188)
    James (108). . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29% (31). . . . . . 92% (99)
    1 Peter (105). . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37% (39). . . . . . 81% (85)
    2 Peter (61) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18% (11). . . . . . 33% (20)
    1 John (105). . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30% (31). . . . . . 100% (105)
    2 John (13). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0% (0) . . . . . . . 46% (6)
    3 John (15). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0% (0) . . . . . . . 27% (4)
    Jude (25). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0% (0) . . . . . . . 28% (7)
    Revelation (404) . . . . . . . . . . 14% (55). . . . . . 41% (165)April 12, 2016 – 6:48 pmReplyCancel

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