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Father Muench Says...

Spending time with Sacred Scripture

February 8, 2023

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

The Second Vatican Council encouraged, even demanded, that Sacred Scriptures, be a necessary, important part of the life of the Catholic Church. I remember well that the Scriptures were an important part of my life. I grew up loving the Scriptures. As a priest, they are who I am. The council came at the beginning of my priesthood, leading me to never forget the importance of the Scriptures for my ministry.

Let me tell you about a conversation I had with a friend, a member of the Madonna House Community. She was telling me, and some others, about her conversion – her finding God. Someone encouraged her to read the Bible. So, she decided to accept the challenge and to read the whole New Testament. She said that after reading the whole New Testament, she didn’t understand. She thought maybe she missed something. So, she decided to read the whole New Testament again. After, she had to admit she still didn’t understand, but she also had to admit that she could truly say how much her whole life had changed – all for the good. She was a different person.

The Second Vatican Council had a profound effect on transforming the love and the reading and the studying of Sacred Scripture for all of us as Catholics. This was so truly needed. Before the council we, Catholics, were not good at talking about Sacred Scriptures. They were not an important part of our spirituality. We had the Scriptures – every time Mass is celebrated, since the earliest days, there are readings of several Scriptures. However, the Council Fathers realized that the Scriptures were not a good part of the life of the Church.

One of the documents published by the council is the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. In this document, there are four chapters that concern the Sacred Scriptures. The council begins this section by reminding us of our belief in the Scriptures. The Fathers wrote this: “For, since they are inspired by God and committed to writing once and for all time, they present God’s own Word in an inalterable form, and they make the voice of the Holy Spirit sound again and again in the words of the prophets and apostles.”

The Council goes on to make it clear that the Scriptures should inspire all the Church does and accomplishes. Here is another sentence from this document: “It follows that all the preaching of the Church, as indeed the entire Christian religion, should be nourished and ruled by Sacred Scripture.” Since the days of the council, priests and deacons are encouraged and required to begin preparing for the celebration of Mass by studying and praying over the Scriptures assigned for that Mass. We speak now of a homily at Mass, intended to help the people of God to understand the message of this day’s Scriptures, bringing the people to the Word of God. Pastors are encouraged by the council to open wide the Bible to the people of God.

The council also gave full support to the many professional Scripture Scholars and their efforts as they accept the challenge to determine the meaning of the Scriptures. There have been controversies in times past whether it is good to allow certain intellectuals to work on the Scriptures, the Word of God. In the words of the council, “This Sacred Synod encourages these sons of the Church who are engaged in biblical studies constantly to renew their efforts, in order to carry on the work they have so happily begun, with complete dedication and in accordance with the mind of the Church.”

Personally, my priesthood began with and was profoundly influenced by the Second Vatican Council. So, the Scriptures have been and continue to be important and profoundly influence all that I have done as a priest. My homilies and my retreat talks begin with the Scriptures. St. Jerome wrote, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

One more thing from the Council, “Let them (all of us) remember, that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and man.”

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