Monday, May 7


Loving the Word

In the beginning, I misunderstood,
But now I've got it, the word is good.
- The Beatles

We tend to engage in a lot of discussion about liturgy on this blog, and that is altogether appropriate. The need for good liturgy in the Church is acute, and attention must be devoted to it. I would like, however, to address an issue that is of central importance, but often neglected - the reading of Scripture. It seems to me that, on the whole, Catholic catechesis on Scripture in our country tends to be rather deficient, going back and fourth in an erratic way, with the rest of the culture, between an extreme Biblical literalism on the one hand, an an extreme critical skepticism on the other. Neither of these are correct Catholic readings of the Bible, and I think it's time that more work be done in this regard. (The Holy Father seems to agree, since the next Synod of Bishops will be precisely on this topic.)

This is true in terms of both catechesis and liturgy. This, I think, is one reason why a purely Tridentine approach to the liturgy will not do in the future. The Council of Trent appropriately saw the need to contain the Word, which was being recklessly translated and preached by the Protestants of the time, and thus "ritualized" it by mandating it be read from the altar instead of the pulpit, and closing the door temporarily on the use of the vernacular (Trent is quite clear that this particular question was very open to re-examination, just not then and there). This was certainly a fruitful approach at the time, but I think its reconsideration was necessary, and that normally Scripture is to be read in the vernacular and with an emphasis on proclamation rather than ritual.

This emphasis on proclamation means that the Word must be made present to the hearer. This means that the one proclaiming the Word ought to emphasize important points with the goals of understanding and memory very much in mind. That is to say, the hearer ought to be able to understand and take seriously what is being said at the moment, but also hopefully remember what was said an hour or so later when leaving Mass. This should, not, of course, make the reading into theater, but it ought to be something that captivates the listener, whereas too often it is merely mumbled or read without a thought to what ought to be emphasized and what not.

This certainly does not exclude the traditional chanting of the readings, which should certainly have a place, especially at important Masses, but this approach requires a very good and clear chanter as the priest or deacon (for the Gospel, where it is most appropriate), and not every parish has such a person. Proclamation, then, would seemingly be the more normal emphasis in this case. On a practically level, I would comment that the much-maligned translations of Scripture we have at Mass have improved greatly from where they were a decade ago, and are very good for the purposes of proclamation. Not perfect, certainly, but with good proclamation and good preaching they are, at the very least, serviceable and able to draw people closer to Christ and His Word.

Along with a better emphasis on proclamation ought to come a better catechesis on the ways of reading Scripture. As I emphasized earlier, how many Catholics come of age without ever hearing that there was a Catholic way of reading Scripture, or being told of the fourfold method? This is such an important point, I am of the opinion that it probably ought to be preached about once a year in each parish. Otherwise, we risk "leaving" the Bible to the Protestants, which is by no means appropriate. Catholics ought to know Scripture, and know how to read Scripture, rather than conceding that Protestants somehow "own" Scripture due to better ability to cite chapter and verse.

Let us, then, learn Scripture well and help others to learn it. Do not let people be fooled into the notion that Catholicism is not Scriptural or that somehow as Catholics we are excused from knowing and loving the Scriptures. Especially as many sectors of Protestantism seem to be in decline, it is the perfect opportunity to reclaim the knowledge and love of Scripture that is properly ours as Catholics. Let's take that opportunity and make the most of it, with all the wonderful methods and commentaries the saints and doctors have left us down the centuries.

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