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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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No MisConception, Here!

Imagine for a moment that you could choose your mother. Unrestricted by time, out of all the women in the world, you can handpick the woman who will carry you, nurture you, and raise you to adulthood. Additionally, you know that, because of a hereditary disorder, she is marked for sickness and death. You have the power to save her from that and, in so doing, you can give her what she needs in order for her to cope with the sorrow you know will pierce her heart. If she were your mother and you had the power to do all of that, wouldn’t you do it?
Why is it so difficult to imagine that God has done that very thing for one very special woman,

His Own Mother?

Another Catholic Sista explained why Mary needed to be sinless as Jesus’ Mother and as witness to the Crucifixion of Christ. I will attempt to explain how it’s possible that she was conceived without sin, why it’s necessary, and why this is important to us all.
God is sovereign King of the Universe and as such is not bound by any laws. If He were subject to laws, He would not be GOD. God can create however He wills. He spoke, and there was light. God lovingly crafted Adam and Eve, sharing His own nature with them. He gave them many gifts – the most important of which was the gift of sanctifying grace, allowing His love (the Holy Spirit) to flow directly into them. God required only one thing from them in order for their children to inherit this gift as their birthright: a free act of the will. Adam and Eve had to choose all on their own to love God and to demonstrate this in obedience to Him alone. It was with complete clarity of mind, for there was no ignorance or weakness before the Fall, that they chose themselves over God. They were punished with suffering and death. As their descendants, we are born with the stain of that first sin, Original Sin.

Since God created Adam and Eve, only one human being (besides Christ!) has possessed a perfectly balanced human nature:

The Blessed Virgin Mary

 The stain of Original Sin would have been on Mary as well had Jesus not saved her.  From the instant she was conceived, Mary was in spiritual union with God. We call this her Immaculate Conception.

 

“He selected and purified a tabernacle for Himself, becoming the immaculate seed of the woman, forming His body miraculously from the substance of the Virgin Mary” (John Henry Cardinal Newman)

Mary’s Immaculate Conception was a special gift from God, a privilege He bestowed upon the Woman chosen to be His mother. Does this mean that Mary had no need for a Savior?

Absolutely not!

 

She did need a Savior. In fact, she has greater cause to praise Him than anyone, for she was rescued from the pit of sin before she ever fell in.
Mary, most blessed among women, being always free from original sin, was from the start filled with the sanctifying grace that usually comes with baptism after birth. She was so “full of grace” that she became defined by it and was troubled by the Angel’s greeting at the Annunciation. She had found favor with God and was destined to be the Mother of Our Lord. But note: predestination does not mean predetermination. She could have, at any moment, said “No”…but she didn’t. The Heavens waited with bated breath, and she said Yes.

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.”

God took great care in describing to the tiniest detail how He was to be worshipped. One can go cross-eyed reading about blue, scarlet, and purple stuff in the Old Testament. He designed the Ark of the Covenant and required that it be exactly the way He wanted it and placed in the Holy of Holies where no one might look upon it with irreverence. The point is: God is Holy. He cannot be treated as any common thing. We cannot use our everyday dishes during Mass. We go in our Sunday best to church. He is to be worshipped and adored with the very best we can offer, because He is God. Therefore, it stands to reason that not just any Tabernacle would do for the Son of the Living God. Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant because she carried within her the Word of God made flesh.  God’s eyes are too pure to look upon evil. His perfect Son could only be born of a virgin, pure, stainless, set apart. But just because one is a virgin, it does not mean that one is without sin. Mary was both, because God made her that way.

Some would argue that all of this about Mary is not explicitly mentioned in Scripture.  Just because something is not spelled out in the Bible in a straightforward way does not necessarily mean it did not happen, only that the author chose not to tell us about it. For example, if I tell you a story about my day yesterday, I might tell you that I got up, went to Mass, and then came home. You know that in order for me to go to Mass, I have to get dressed (you would hope!) and go out my door. I don’t have to tell you every detail. You know, without my having to say so, that I need to walk out of the church in order to come back home and that I need to walk through my door in order to get into my house. Now imagine that I wrote all of this down and gave it to a Catholic friend with whom I go to Mass. If you are a practicing Catholic, you know what happens during Mass and I don’t need to explain to you that I crossed myself with holy water upon entering the sanctuary, that I genuflected before sitting down, and that I received Our Lord in the Eucharist. The same can be said about Holy Scripture in that God’s Word is not contained in one book, but in fact it includes and is complemented by Sacred Tradition. St. Paul commends the keeping and passing down of oral tradition in 1 Corinthians 11:2 where we read, “I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you.” In 2 Thessalonians 2:14 we read, “Therefore, brethren, stand firm; and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or letter from us.”
Scripture was not written in a bubble outside of history, but goes hand-in-hand with Sacred Tradition and cannot be separated from it if it is to be rightly understood. Just as the Bible cannot be understood without Sacred Tradition to set it in context, so must one look to Tradition and the Church Fathers to understand that the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was upheld before she herself declared it to a young Basque virgin near Lourdes, France, and way before it was ever formally declared and defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854:
“…in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”

In honoring Mother Mary, we obey our Lord, who gave her to us all on Calvary as our spiritual mother.

The Catholic Church has us pause in the middle of Advent to celebrate the Mother of God’s conception (We celebrate her birthday nine months later on September 8.), not only because Mary’s identity is inextricably linked to Jesus’ identity, but also because the Church must obey God in valuing life and life begins at conception. We are each of us knit in our mother’s womb. Each of us is personally known and loved by God. A fertilized egg does not at some point become a human being, it IS human. And, as a human being with a soul, he or she has dignity and a right to live.

***

Mary, like Jesus, is prefigured in the Old Testament. She is the New Ark of the Covenant, the New Eve, the Gebirah or Queen Mother of the Davidic Kingdom. I am human, and I err…a lot. I encourage you to put my words to the test. Read the Bible, read the Catechism, research Sacred Tradition and the Church Fathers. If you need further assistance, there are several excellent Catholic sites in addition to this one that can explain further, such as Catholic Answers(www.catholic.com) and NewAdvent (www.newadvent.org). They are apologists; I am not. I am just a mom who has stayed up way too late to write about her Mother whom she loves dearly and talks to every day.