Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sacramental Reading of the Bible

In my previous post, I considered some reasons why Catholics - devout, practicing Catholics - are largely unfamiliar with the Bible. I must add, however, that when Catholics do read the Scriptures, they read them in a sacramental way, consistent with their approach to Christian spirituality.

What I mean is that, instead of being interested in Bible 'study' per se, they tend to be more interested in a spiritual experience of hearing the Holy Spirit in the sacred 'space' of the page. "Lectio Divina" is an important and ancient practice of reading the Scriptures slowly, line by line, listening for the voice of God there, seeking to encounter the Living Word. It's not about acquiring 'head knowledge' but 'heart knowledge' of the One revealed therein. This isn't to say Protestants don't do the same thing because they do (and more of them are becoming interested in old monastic practices such as Lectio).

Daily devotional guides such as "Magnificat," which are nearly all Scripture, are especially interested in joining the praying person to the rhythm of the overall Church's prayer life. This underscores the Catholic mentality of being part of a community. This sensitivity is much stronger than in Protestant circles, where 'the individual' tends to be more emphasized (A simple illustration of this is the way the creeds are recited in services. Protestants prefer the Apostle's Creed that begins "I believe..." and Catholics use the Nicene Creed that begins "We believe...')

Then there's the praying of The Divine Office, another ancient practice whereby the whole Church, as though breathing together in unison, works through a series of prayers and Bible readings a few times a day. Clergy and 'religious' (people in Orders) do this daily and many laypeople join in. Again, I find it interesting that many Protestants are picking up on this, too, especially Vineyard congregations.

Back to my main point: While Catholics in the pews may be unfamiliar with the Bible, the Church at large is intimately bound to the Scriptures, especially in its worship and prayer life. It would be too much of a generalization to say that while Protestants are studying the Bible, Catholics are praying it. But it wouldn't be far off.

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