There are a large number of lies and misconceptions I was shocked to hear when I began my journey to Catholicism. I understand how many Catholics, particularly cradle Catholics, would have this understanding or misconception. It is nonetheless true, however, the belief that Catholics are forbidden to read the Bible is strictly a lie. It’s a lie many Protestants and misinformed Catholics have promulgated throughout the decades.
The lie is even expanded to claim the Catholic Church ignores some parts of scripture or even hides part of it. They claim that Martin Luther found himself in trouble when he translated the Bible into German for Germans to be able to understand it and read it. That is not why Luther was in trouble or excommunicated. (that’s another article for another day) Let’s get back to the great lie.
Catholics are not forbidden to read Scripture. They are, in fact, urged by many saints and Jesus himself to know and read Scripture.
St. Jermone once said, “Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.” If we are to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, He is God Incarnate, and the second person of the Holy Trinity, then we must stand fast on the importance of reading Scripture.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 4:4 that we are to not only live on our food (by bread alone), but by “every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Scripture is that which proceeds from God. It is the inspired Word of God and it helps give life to us.
Despite their best efforts in trying to portray an image of Bible reading, Bible thumping, and truth telling Christians, Evangelical Protestants do not read the Bible as much as they proclaim. In fact, only about one fourth of Evangelicals admitted to reading the Bible daily during a recent poll. The sad truth, however, is that about 44 percent of Catholics admitted they do not read the Bible or have never read the Bible.
I can believe those numbers to be true. I, in fact, think that may be a low ball number and the percentage is likely higher. In my years of teaching Parish Religious Education at my parish for the 7th grade first year Confirmation class, I always ask on the first day of class which students have a Bible or who at least has a Bible at home they can get access to and I have never yet had a student tell me they owned a Bible. I have only had one in several years tell me their parents had one. How are we to be Christians when we do not know or read the Bible? (My students always have their own Bible before they finish the year because I ensure the church gets them one.)
It is true that Catholics hear the Bible daily, if they attend daily Mass. They at least hear it once a week if they fulfill their Sunday obligation and attend Mass on Sunday. History tells us that Catholics have not been raised on the importance of reading Scripture always in the past because of things such as Catholics not being able to read in the earliest of days, Catholics were not able to obtain a copy of Scripture either because of the expense of a copy or the rarity of having one available, or were not able to obtain one in their own language. These obstacles, for the most part, have been overcome since then but many Catholics still do not believe reading the Bible is essential for faith. That is a lie. If Scripture were not important then it would not be read at every Mass.
Imagine if God, the author and Creator of the universe, wrote you a letter and asked you to read it. Would you choose to stick it on a shelf somewhere? Would you choose to say that someone told you not to read it so you refuse to open it?
We place value on written things all the time in our life. Everything from a written marriage certificate, college acceptance letter, an airline ticket to our favorite vacation spot, or even a Christmas card can cause us to remember the good times and look forward to others. They can bring a smile to our face when we are having a bad day. I have a letter my best friend wrote to me for my birthday. It’s a letter of encouragement and motivation that stays in my backpack I use for my work items. I have it with me daily and sometimes I find myself reaching for it on the tough days to read it. It reminds me that someone has my back and someone loves me and supports me.
The Bible is our letter from the Lord telling us how much He loves us and what all He has done for us to show it. It is His letter showing us how valued, how special, how important we are to him.
In 1564, Pope Pius IV promulgated in his constitution Dominici gregis that the Bible may be read in the vernacular by pious and learned individuals, according to the judgment of the bishop. It may seem restrictive or forbidden to have a caveat that only learned individuals and pious individuals according to the bishop could read the Scriptures. However, this is an important stipulation because it is an attempt to ensure those who were not so knowledgeable about the faith and strong in their relationship with the Lord and the Church could not be swayed to follow heresy. That stipulation did not hold up and has since been eliminated.
Pope Pius IV is not the only one to encourage and promote the importance of scripture reading. In Dei Verbum, from Vatican II, it says “easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful.”
It is accessible. It is essential. It is importance for every Catholic to read the Bible and understand the Sacred truths within it.