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Father Muench Says...
Catholics and the Bible

October 24, 2012

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

As I look back with you on the way the Second Vatican Council influenced the life of the Catholic Church and, also, my life as a priest, I would like now to consider the use of Sacred Scripture in our Catholic Church. 

Today, the Bible is an integral part of life for Catholics.  Priests use the Scripture Readings of the Mass as the basis for their homilies.  I often teach classes on the Bible, sometimes an introduction to the Bible – or focus on one of the Books of the Bible.  The last course I taught was on the Book of Revelation.

I have often taught high school students about how to read the Bible with understanding and devotion.  Many prayer groups use the Scriptures as a lead into meditation.  Personally, I often read and study the Bible to prepare myself so that I can better share the message with others, adults and students. 

Before the Council, I must admit, the Bible was not an important part of life for the ordinary Catholic – lay person or priest.  The Mass was in Latin so we didn’t even understand the Scriptures being read to us.  There were no Bible classes in religion programs.  In those days, many Catholics just assumed that their Protestant friends knew much more about the Bible than they did.

I do remember in my seminary days, before the Council, learning about the many Scripture Scholars in the Catholic Church and the efforts of many to make the Scriptures more a part of Catholic life.  There were many Catholic Scripture Scholars who were investigating and writing about Biblical questions.  My own first taste of real Scripture study was in my first year at St. Mary’s Seminary in Father Larry Dannemiller’s class.  His presentations challenged us with the glories of the Scriptures – and this truly began an exciting adventure for me with the Bible.

I continue to love the Bible. I enjoy the times I have to study the Scriptures; it is an important part of my spiritual life. 

I also learned that in earlier days Catholic Scripture Scholars were frustrated by restrictions placed on their work by Church officials.  It seems they were restricted by what sources they were allowed to use and quote. 

However, Pope Pius XII wrote a most important encyclical letter urging these Scripture Scholars to investigate all original sources so that their presentations would be as good and balanced as other scholars.  This was an important moment for Catholic Scripture study – as it became more firmly based on the most oldest and basic of sources of our present day translations.

The Second Vatican Council continued this effort to give importance to the Sacred Scriptures and urged the use of the Scriptures in the life of the Catholic Church.  The Second Vatican Council promulgated this in the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.  The Council emphasized the importance of the Sacred Scriptures as one of the fonts of divine revelation.  The Church has always recognized the importance of the traditional teachings of the Church through the centuries.  This was based on the Scriptures – Jesus gave teaching power to the apostles.  This was passed on to the Bishops, the successors of the apostles.

So, the Council in the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation affirmed the place of the Scriptures in association with the Tradition of the Church as the sources of Divine Revelation.  This was important – and placed the Sacred Scriptures in a place of importance in our Church more than ever before. 

So the Bible is an important part of Catholic life, a book that should be in all Catholic homes, a book that should be read by all Catholic families.  At Mass, the Liturgy of the Word took on greater importance. As a worshipping community we break open the Scriptures so that as we move into Eucharist we are prepared to welcome the Lord, coming to us in the blessed Eucharist.

The Gospel story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus tells that, after the Resurrection of Jesus, the Lord Jesus walked up and joined two of the disciples as they walked home discouraged by the crucifixion of Jesus.  So, Jesus teaches them – “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary for the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?  Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures.” 

As they came near to the disciples’ home, they invited this person who was Jesus – but they still did not recognize him.  They asked him to stay and have a meal. The Gospel then tells us, “while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.  With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”  The Gospel then tells us, “Then they said to each other – ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?’”

Would that this would be our story – and each time we read the Scriptures, our hearts would be burning within us.

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