Catholics And Scripture

If you are Catholic, while you sit in the pew, preparing yourself for an hour of liturgy each week. Perhaps you visit with the person next to you, or kneel and pray quietly.  If you have a few extra minutes to yourself, consider picking up the missalette. A missalette is the little book with readings, prayers, and hymns that the parish you attend puts out each Liturgical season so you can follow along with the priest as he “says” mass.  The readings are listed by date, so it’s easy to find them if you know what date it is that you’re attending mass.

Look at the readings of that Sunday, and read through them, at least once – twice to get a better sense of what they mean to you.

Even Pope Benedict XVI in his apostolic exhortation, Verbum Domini, re-emphasizes the importance of Scripture in our faith.  Specifically, Pope Benedict stated that we must embrace Scripture in our personal lives along side of the exposure we get through the liturgy. 

Some popular Protestant thinking has been, and even some Catholics may agree, that Catholics don’t read the Bible.  In fact, the entire Mass is Scriptural.  The Mass can be broken down into two parts:  The Liturgy of the Word, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  The first part of the Mass is the Liturgy of the Word, and each and every person who attends a mass can participate in this part of the liturgy, whether you are Catholic, Protestant or otherwise.

The new liturgical year begins with the first Sunday of Advent and continues until the following year, when it concludes with the mass celebrating Christ the King.  There are several liturgical seasons during the year, and three different cycles to the liturgical year.  They are known simply as Years A, B and C.   The reason for the separate cycles is that in the course of the three years, the Church actually gives you, the parishioner, the opportunity to experience, in the Sunday readings, the main themes, and the important teachings of Christ, with little repetition.  In three years, if you attended Mass every day (as the daily mass readings are different from the Sunday readings), you would have the opportunity to practically read the Bible in its entirety.

The Catholic Church breaks down Scripture into specific readings for each week of the year.  These readings attempt, at least, to pull a unified meaning from the Old Testament, or Hebrew Scriptures; the Psalms; the Letters, usually of Paul, or the Acts; and the Gospel readings.  I was told years ago that the best way to participate in the Mass was to sit and read the readings for the Mass prior to hearing them.  Listening, rather than reading along may help you to focus on the Word rather than the words.

Even many of the prayers and exhortations of the priest to the people are scriptural in the liturgy.  “The liturgy is the privileged setting in which God speaks to us in the midst of our lives; he speaks today to his people, who hear and respond,” Pope Benedict said. “Every liturgical action is by its very nature steeped in sacred Scripture.

 “The most profound interpretation of Scripture comes precisely from those who let themselves be shaped by the Word of God through listening, reading and assiduous meditation,” he said.*

As the priest moves into the homily (a reflection on the readings), he may focus more on what the Scriptures mean to the Church as a whole.  But if we reflect on what they mean to us as individuals, we may allow our lives to be transformed more fully.  It’s what many of our Protestant brothers and sisters have embraced since they were toddlers, and it’s something to which we, as Catholics can aspire. 

Beyond the Mass, we can also study Scripture on our own.  If you are uncomfortable or unsure of where to start, there are several good Web sites available where you can be guided to a study that will fit your understanding and personal needs.  American Catholic includes the Catholic Update, which is written by religious scholars who break down the Bible into bits that are easily digested.  Catholic.net contains information and Catholic news feeds that keep you informed of the Church in the world, as well as Scriptural guides for each season.  Agape Bible Study is another free Web site which contains free access to Bible study resources.

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