Dan Burke—Why Don’t Roman Catholics Read the Bible?

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Knowing you need to read the Bible and actually doing it are often two very different things. We are, as Catholics, a biblical people, after all. The Bible is the Word of God. Mass is grounded in scripture. Many of our prayers have biblical roots.

So what's the problem? Why do Catholics seem to have a reputation for not spending any time with the Bible, for not knowing it, and maybe for not even caring?

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life* Culture-WatchBooksReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesRoman Catholic* TheologyTheology: Scripture

11 Comments
Posted December 3, 2012 at 5:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Dan Crawford wrote:

Why read the Bible when you have the magisterium which answers all your questions and condemns you to hell if you don’t understand and do it its way?

December 3, 10:18 am | [comment link]
2. Pageantmaster [Katie bought Welby] wrote:

#1 Not sure that is a correct characterisation, but certainly people can take a rather mechanistic view of faith - turn up, pay up, tune out, but so can the rest of us.

I have found Bible study difficult.  The old services I was brought up with were great for coverage, with OT, NT and Epistle readings with a bunch of psalms each service.  The more modern ‘biblical’ evangelical services, give you one passage from the bible if you are lucky, but unless you are studying a book of Scripture, the picture can be disjointed with a passage from here, maybe a psalm from there, and no overall picture or even chronology established in the minds of the congregation.

Private study can be even more difficult, with the discipline needed for regular reading each day being a real challenge among all the other demands.  I also have to say, just reading the Bible as a book, my mind wanders after a few verses, and I find that I have taken in little of the concentrated information it contains.

The reading I have done has either been:
[1] with a guide at hand, such as +Tom Wright’s ‘[Name your Gospel] For Everyone’ guides, then more deeply with commentaries etc, or
[2] Using rigorously a slow disciplined way of reading such as Scripture Union’s method of praying before hand, reading, reflecting, considering how the passage applies, and then praying again to ask the Holy Spirit to open the passage to be absorbed and reflected in one’s life.

But I have no empirical evidence whether Catholics read the Bible less than they should, but I am certain the rest of us, by and large, don’t either.

It is like prayer - it needs support and encouragement from others, perhaps supported in a group, and gets easier as a pattern is established.

December 3, 11:09 am | [comment link]
3. Frances S Scott wrote:

I have not found Bible study difficult at all!  I was required to have a Bible as a textbook when I entered 3rd grade at St. Peter’s Lutheran School (LCMS) in 1944.  I read it, just as I read all my other books.  No, as an 8 year old I did not understand a lot of it; as a 76 year old there is still much that I do not understand.  I have been a student of the Bible for 68 years and have taught adult Bible classes for 48 years.  I’ve been reading through the Bible every year since 1983.  My husband and I read together almost every morning and are finishing our 8th read through.  We begin with Psalms, Genesis, Matthew, and Acts in January and finish with Job, the Minor Prophets, John, and Revelation in December.  I also spend time preparing for my weekly Bible class and doing research on various Bible topics for my students or for my own curiosity.  It is all one book, all inter-related.  It is amazing how many times 2 or more readings will cover the same topic!

Read it! You will be glad you did.

December 3, 11:46 am | [comment link]
4. Catholic Mom wrote:

Well, with all due respect to the author, I would argue that we have Bible study at least once a week.  It’s called “mass.”  There are co-ordinated readings from the OT, the psalms, the Epistles, and the Gospels.  Then the homily pulls it all together.  We have one priest at our church who gives a little overview of how the whole thing fits together before they even start the first reading.  On top of that, we have actual “Bible study” classes which run all year around—some directed at particular groups (kids, women, etc.) and others general. 

But it is certainly true that if you are brought up in a tradition in which 1) you are your own magisterium and 2) you believe your chances of going to heaven depend on a correct understanding of the Bible, which it is up to you go figure out—you are going to study the Bible a lot. 

OK, that last sentence may be an unfair characterization/stereotype but no more than the old “Catholics don’t read the Bible because they have the magisterium to do it for them.”

December 3, 12:13 pm | [comment link]
5. Keith wrote:

#1 Humm, Dan that was a little bit of hyperbole! As opposed to a “magisterium” in every pew ?

December 3, 12:17 pm | [comment link]
6. drjoan wrote:

I find it discouraging that Christianity, a “religion” based on God’s Word, Jesus Christ, so actively discourages learning more about that Word!  Bible reading is treated like a chore, a task that many “should” do but more are discouraged from doing.  I meet with a group of five women who are well educated, loving, open to knowing more about Jesus but who complain that they simply cannot read the Bible for even 10-15 minutes a day; their reasons vary from no time to no way to understand the Word.  But to give them credit, they have agreed to commit to a year long guided reading of the whole Bible.  This is because they have seen me, who has been reading the Bible in a year for years and have recently almost finished reading the same Bible in 90 days.  This is not to brag—only by God’s Spirit could I even begin to do that!  But it is to point out that it is an attitude NOT an aptitude that is the key to regular successful Bible reading (I’m not talking about study; that is another issue!) 
I am also active in Bible Study Fellowship, an International Program of Bible study which has in its midst students from EVERY religious background in addition to non-believers. 
By the way, most evangelicals would disagree with the idea that one is her own magisterium and needs to have a correct underestanding of the Bible to get to heaven; I know I depend on interpretations of the Church Fathers and modern Bible teachers as well as relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit—and I still have to spend time on certain passages to get “correct” insights and interpretations!

December 3, 1:41 pm | [comment link]
7. Keith wrote:

#6: What groups/denominations of Christianity actively discourage learning about the Word???

December 3, 2:37 pm | [comment link]
8. Katherine wrote:

#2 Pageantmaster, Cranmer designed the Prayer Book to do just that.  Used routinely, it provided extensive Scripture in addition to the liturgy, and of course Scripture plays a large part within the liturgy.  The design-it-yourself newer services tend, I agree, to cover less Scripture, although sometimes more intensively on a specific passage or topic.

Catholic Mom, you are fortunate in your parish.  The one I attended in support of my family for two years had no Bible study, and there is no sign of any on the website of the Catholic parish nearest me, the one I would consider if I made that change.  Nor do numbers of parishes have the coordinated messages which you describe.  I rejoice that you have such a good parish.

December 3, 4:22 pm | [comment link]
9. Laura R. wrote:

Catholic Mom, great post.  Since entering the Catholic Church I have had a similar experience in my own parish, with a very well-run and well-attended women’s Bible study program.  But as Katherine says, this may not be the case in many places.

December 3, 5:55 pm | [comment link]
10. Pageantmaster [Katie bought Welby] wrote:

#8 Katherine
“Cranmer designed the Prayer Book to do just that.  Used routinely, it provided extensive Scripture in addition to the liturgy, and of course Scripture plays a large part within the liturgy.”

Absolutely, and indeed if one turned up at church, every day morning and evening, one would cover all the Scriptures, or if you follow it individually.

I did once make a stab at following the old 1662 prayer book lectionary and table of lessons.  It set a cracking pace.  But a long weekend doing something else left me with a huge job to catch up.  I did also amuse myself, or perhaps perplex myself would be more accurate, by trying to follow the instructions for finding Golden Numbers and the two methods for calculating the date of Easter!

December 3, 7:01 pm | [comment link]
11. Katherine wrote:

#10 Pageantmaster, it’s hard to keep up with the entire lectionary including Daily Offices.  But even for Sundays the old lectionary, used in the Sunday services, provided a good deal of Scripture, and a balanced set of readings at that.  It was difficult for any preacher to avoid the tough issues.

December 3, 8:38 pm | [comment link]
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