Electronic Prayer Book

21. Catholic Veneration of the Bible

Catholics should find in the reading and love of the Sacred Scriptures a source of spiritual refreshment second only to that which is theirs in the Blessed Sacrament Itself. Not a few of our saints or writers on Christian perfection have drawn a parallel between the Incarnate Word of God wonderfully present in the Sacrament of the Altar and the inspired Word of God given us in the Holy Bible.

Such writers have found it fitting that our forefathers in the early Church should have kept, as they did, both the Eucharist and the Gospels in special tabernacles. To this day the liturgy of the Church reveals the Catholic understanding of the uniquely sacred character of the Bible. The Gospel Book is incensed in Solemn Mass, even as is the Sacred Cross, Tree of our Salvation, and the Adorable Host which hides the very Presence of the Son of God. No other book is incensed because no other book could be of comparable sanctity.

In the Mass there is another striking parallel between the way in which God comes to us through the Word of Scripture and the way in which He comes through the Word made Flesh. The first part of the Mass, the Mass of the catechumens, centers about the Sacred Scripture. It is composed almost entirely of Biblical texts; the Psalm at the foot of the altar, the Versicles and Responses after the Confiteor, the Introit, many phrases of the Gloria, the Epistle, the Gradual and finally the Gospel; all these are straight from Scripture.

When the Mass is solemnly sung, the Gospel is borne in devout procession before it is chanted; it is surrounded with burning tapers and its pages are venerated with a reverential kiss. Thus the rubrics surrounding the use of the Scriptures in the liturgy are not unlike those by which we pay homage to the Sacrament.

In the later parts of the Mass Christ is really present in our midst, but in these opening stages of the divine liturgy He is also somehow present in the Scripture phrases which foretell His coming or proclaim His words and works. And when finally the marvel of the Consecration brings Jesus as truly to our altars as ever the consent of Mary brought Him to Her bosom or the rejoicing throngs led Him to Jerusalem, the words of the Mass become strongly Scriptural in their tone and message. Where could the Church have found accents more worthy to welcome the Word made Flesh than in the written pages of the Inspired Word which is Scripture?…

The Bible is so rich a source of spiritual refreshment because Christ, the source of all grace, is found in its every chapter. The Old Testament is the record of humanity’s longing for Him and of Israel’s vocation to produce Him; the New Testament is the account of His coming and of the first beginnings of the Church’s mandate to spread His Kingdom. Jesus is somehow present in every verse of Sacred Scripture….

There is no place in Scripture from Adam below the eastern wall of Paradise to John in ecstasy on Patmos, from which is absent the echo of that prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

To those, then, who read the Bible as the Church offers and under­stands its inspired pages, there is given that wisdom which comes from God and which is God, the wisdom which is the Word of God. To them Christ Himself becomes a familiar friend, their Redeemer and intimate Guide to God. How pale and lifeless, as contrasted with the living truth of the Gospel story, are those recent romantic fantasies which seek to tell the life of Jesus in fictional form!

It is when we think of the Bible in terms of Christ that we best understand what it is and what it is not. Back in the days when some students, exuberant in their new-found and heady knowledge, used to speak of the conflict between Reason and Scripture, the devout were frequently scandalized because they could not reconcile Genesis and the popular science of the Sunday supplements or the sophisticated lecture halls. Then wise men pointed out to them that the Bible was not written to teach us how the Heavens go, but to teach us how to go to Heaven.

The preoccupations of the moment are more often with economics than with evolution; they are political and sociological rather than concerned with material sciences as they were a generation or two ago.

However, a like warning against misunderstanding of the nature, purpose and use of the Sacred Scriptures is sometimes needed.  The Bible was not written to teach us how to grow rich, nor to provide technical advice on how to administer secular affairs. The Scriptures were given us to teach the rich moderation, responsibility and mercy — to tell them how they might pass through the needle’s eye which is the Gate of Heaven despite the encumbrances of their possessions. The Bible was written to give the poor hope and patient wisdom; to teach princes God-fearing righteousness and people noble virtue.

The Bible is not a scientific treatise on economics, a book of quotations for the convenience of propagandists or a political textbook for diplomats. It is a guidebook to the spiritual perfection of persons, which, when we have it, contributes mightily to the right order of earthly society but which is primarily a matter of eternal and super-natural considerations rather than of technical questions of a temporal kind….

Catholics love the Bible because it is the history of all their spiritual kinsmen, all who are pilgrims and strangers on the face of the earth, seekers after God, from the beginning of time until time shall be no more. They love the Bible because it is a promise and a prophesy, a constant reminder that the walls of this world are destined to dissolve and that our true fatherland, the Promised Land of our souls, will assuredly be ours if we walk in the ways of our fathers and follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

Catholics love the Bible because it is the Word of God, lifegiving and availing to salvation. They love it because it tells us of Christ and there is no one of us, however imperfect and even base his other loves, who does not live out his days eager to be found with Christ at the end, to die worthy of Christ’s love and returning it in some measure.

For Catholics, in a word, as Christ is the King of kings and Lord of lords, so the Bible is the Book of books.

THE MOST REV. JOHN J.WRIGHT (1952)

(An Extract from: The Catholic Companion To The Bible by R. L. Woods, Lippincott Ltd, 1956.)