Ignorance of Scripture is Ignorance of Christ


Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

There is a myth that we must lay to rest, once and for all — the myth that Protestants are all about the Bible, while Catholics are all about the Sacraments.  While I can’t speak for my Protestant brethren, I can say this with certainty: the Catholic Church has never tolerated any such “either/or” thinking.  Both Scripture and Sacraments are precious gifts from the Lord, gifts we desperately need.

“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ,” insisted St. Jerome, a father and doctor of the Catholic Church from the 5th century.  Because of this, every liturgical service of the Catholic Church is full of Scripture.  Take Sunday Mass, for instance.  First there are significant chunks of Scripture read aloud, just as we see in Nehemiah 8 or in Luke 4 when Jesus serves as lector at the synagogue of Capernaum.  But don’t forget the prayers and acclamations that are full of Scripture like the Sanctus (a combo of Isaiah 6 and Psalm 118:26), the Our Father (Mat 6:9), and the Gloria (Luke 2:14).  Ironically, many “Bible churches” that accuse Catholics of being non-scriptural don’t actually read any Scripture aloud in their Sunday service at all!

So is hearing Scripture on Sunday enough?  Not by a long-shot.  Scripture, says the Second Vatican Council, is “food for the soul” (Dei Verbum 21).  Who eats just once a week?  To survive and thrive, you need daily nourishment.  You can have a steady diet of Scripture by attending Mass daily, participating in the liturgy of the hours, or reading Scripture in daily prayer.  Actually, all three make an unbeatable combination.

Frequently, though, when Catholics start reading the bible, they quickly run into trouble–usually in the first chapters of Leviticus!  Yes, sometimes it is hard to know where to begin, to fit it all together, and to interpret correctly some rather obscure passages, words, and names.  My father, who first attacked the Bible at age 63, discovered the book of Malachi.   Thinking the name was pronounced “ma-LA-chee”, he rejoiced that there was an Italian among the prophets.

There are great Catholic bible studies on books, tapes, videos, and the web (see www.dritaly.com for suggestions and links).  Some are book-by-book commentaries.  Others are big-picture overviews of salvation history, so that you can fit each book, character, and theme into the overall story of God’s dealings with his people.   Most are conveniently designed so that busy people with no background in the Bible can learn a lot without a huge time commitment.

Many of us spend 16 or more years of our life preparing for our secular career, then take continuing ed courses on nights and weekends.  In contrast, how much have we invested in our education in the Word of God, essential for our heavenly career?

The study of the Bible is for one purpose, however.  So that, praying with Scripture, we may be better able to hear what God is saying to us here and now.  The writers of Sacred Scripture were inspired by the Holy Spirit.  But it is equally true that the Scriptures themselves are inspired.  The Holy Spirit has been “breathed into them” and resides within their words as in a temple.  When we approach the Scriptures prayerfully, aided by the same Spirit who dwells in them, reading Scripture becomes an experience of being filled and empowered by God’s Spirit, and we are changed.

Sometimes the Words of Scripture are encouraging.  Like when this Sunday’s second reading (1 Corinthians 12) tells us that no matter how insignificant we may feel, we each have an essential role to play as members of the Body of Christ.  But other times Scripture holds a mirror up to our face and we don’t like what we see.  In Sunday’s first reading, Nehemiah 8, the people wept at the reading of the word, because it made them realize their sin.  The Word is truth, and sometime the truth is painful.  But so is antiseptic on a wound.  Scripture challenges us only to heal us and call us to growth.  No pain, no gain.


About Author

Grew up in Providence RI. BA at Providence college, Ph.D. in historical theology from Catholic University of America. Former professional musician and theology professor at Loyola College in Maryland and the University of Dallas. Currently owner of Wellness Business Ventures LLC and director of CrossroadsInitiative.com. Father of five.

  • Noel Fitzpatrick

    I read here “My father, who first attacked the Bible at age 63, discovered the book of Malachi”. I presume from your article that your father became a Catholic
    at age 63, as ” every liturgical service of the Catholic Church is full of
    Scripture “.

    Malachi was not Italian, he was Irish.

    “Let Erin remember the days of old.

    Ere her faithless sons betrayed her;

    When Malachi wore the collar of gold,

    Which he won from her proud invader.”

    We lall the book of Malach, teh book of Mal-ak-eye, to distinguish him from the real

  • Noel Fitzpatrick

    oops sorry for typos. I was going to add about St Malachy (or Malachi).

  • ELC

    This seems like a good place to refer readers to my One-Year New-Testament Reading Plan.


  • Tarheel

    I was brought up Protestant, although not a very good one, but Scripture reading in a Protestant church is comparable to “cherry picking”. The pastor more than likely will preach on something that inspired him during the week and will only use three or four different passages for possibly even three or four “books’ of the Bible. And if you attend Sunday School much the same but your ‘quarterly” (we got them one a quarter hence the name) always had a small passage but again small. I do remember my father attending bible study series that would be focused on one book of the Bible only. So there was complete coverage of the Bible but not everyone got it. Now after converting I discovered that the Mass was full of wonderful Scripture passages that followed a theme of sorts. I discovered that Psalms with the response really made see what the psalms had to say.

    And I was taught that Catholics didn’t believe in what the scriptures had to say about the coming of Christ and the Resurrection. What a wonderful surprise when those passages were read at Mass!

    About 4 years ago I joined a bible study at my parish. We always have wonderful discussions about scripture and teachings of the Church. But my “hunger” for scripture knowledge was awakened 12 years ago when I started teaching CCD.

    I have also been introduced to the ‘MAGNIFICAT’. What a wonderful reading plan and learning how to pray with the scriptures.

    I will say that I believe that Catholics know more about the Bible than they think they do. Unless they are completely “brain dead” at Mass.