Reading the Bible

Posted by Jeffrey Pinyan at 9:47 AM

This is new content in the second edition of Praying the Mass: The Prayers of the People, from Chapter 1, "Preparing for Prayer".


Reading the Bible

Along with the Church’s liturgy (and even everyday life) the Bible is a “wellspring” of prayer because it gives us “surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ.” (Catechism 2652-2653; Phil. 3:8)  Reading the Bible is an excellent way to pray, and reading it regularly will help you form a habit of prayer.
One of the benefits of a liturgical calendar is that the readings for any given day are determined ahead of time (except in a few cases where there is a choice of readings).  This means that you can become familiar with the Scripture you are going to hear by reading it yourself.  In his response to the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, Pope Benedict wrote that the celebration of the Mass
is enhanced when priests and liturgical leaders are committed to making known the current liturgical texts and norms, making available the great riches found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the Order of Readings for Mass.  Perhaps we take it for granted that our ecclesial communities already know and appreciate these resources, but this is not always the case.  These texts contain riches which have preserved and expressed the faith and experience of the People of God over its two-thousand-year history. (SC 40)
He draws attention specifically to the Order of Readings for Mass, thus expressing a desire that the faithful would become better acquainted with the Scripture they will be hearing at Mass.  Some parish bulletins include the Scripture citations for the coming week.  Some Catholic bibles have an appendix with the readings listed for the Sundays and feast days of the year.  You can use the USCCB web site’s calendar to pull up a digital version of the readings for the day. [1]
Some parishes provide missalettes with the Sunday readings in them, or perhaps you have a private daily missal or a periodical like Magnificat; if this is the case, you can come to Mass a few minutes earlier than usual and spend some private time with the Word of God.  Some parishes hold Bible studies which look at the coming Sunday’s readings.  There are also free resources on the Internet which provide meditations and reflections on the readings at Mass; three such web sites are “The Word Among Us” (www.wau.org), “Mobile Gabriel” (www.mobilegabriel.com), and the Passionists’ web site (www.passionist.org).
Although such preparation is not required, it can help you pay closer attention when the readings are proclaimed at Mass.  We only hear them read once, and if we become distracted for some reason, we might miss an important word or verse (and they’re all important words).  But if you read them ahead of time, you can read them as many times as you want, as slowly as you like, and meditate on them without missing anything.
This practice is even more strongly recommended for families.  The home is the “domestic church,” the primary place where children are to learn – by the example of their parents – to encounter Christ on a daily basis.  This includes introducing them to the liturgical life of the Church.  Try to find the time during the week to sit down together to read the Scriptures for the upcoming Sunday Mass and discuss them.
Even if you only go to Mass on Sundays, daily reading of Scripture (whether from the Mass readings or not) is a way to keep your prayer life going.  For example, if you are having trouble thinking of things to say to God in prayer, try praying the Psalms.  The Church does this as one body through the Liturgy of the Hours (or Divine Office), by which the Church sanctifies the hours of the day, dedicating them to God, through prayer.  Priests and religious pray the Liturgy of the Hours as part of their vocation, and many laypeople pray it as a private devotion as well; the Church even encourages the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours as a parish family on Sundays and feast days. (cf. CSL 100)
Daily reading of Scripture is so important because of what the Bible is.  Imagine you receive a love letter from your spouse.  Your spouse’s love for you is why he or she wrote the letter; your love for your spouse is why you should read the letter!  The Bible is God’s love letter to mankind, and to each one of us individually; in its pages we learn Who God is, what He has done for us, and what He is doing in our lives even now!  The Scriptures are so important to the Christian life that St. Jerome wrote, in the early 5th century, that
if, according to the apostle Paul, Christ is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24) and who does not know Scripture does not know the power or the wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ. (Introduction to Isaiah)
If we are going to be in conversation with God, we should give Him a chance to speak:  in prayer, we speak to God, and in reading Scripture, He speaks to us. (cf. Catechism 2653)


[1] The USCCB calendar of readings is at http://www.usccb.org/nab/.