Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Scripture in the Mass: How Biblical *IS* it?

I've heard it said before that Catholics don't hear as much of the Bible during our services, nor do we read the Bible as much as non-Catholics. I've even heard that the Church doesn't want Catholics to read the Bible. While I believe that ALL Christians can and should read their Bibles more often and learn the Scriptures, I will say these statements are false.

I do have a feeling that if you asked the average Catholic if he/she reads the Bible regularly, you’d get a “no”. But, I think it’s likely that a non-Catholic would say the same thing, and I don’t think this speaks to the character of the Church, rather to the fallen nature of people who have not put God’s Word high up on their priority reading list.

A set of polls [1] last year on Catholic Answers Forums showed that the Catholics there spend at least as much energy and time in learning the Scriptures as the non-Catholics. While these polls are limited in what they convey, reaching only a small audience, I believe they accurately portray how like-minded Christians (those who are on a particular discussion forum, for example) would respond, regardless of being Catholic or non-Catholic. On all sides there are those who take Scripture study seriously, and those who have barely cracked open a Bible in their lives.

Regarding the notion that the Church would prefer that we not read it, the Church places such high importance on Catholics reading the Bible that it has actually attached an indulgence to private and public Bible study.

"A partial indulgence is granted the Christian faithful who read sacred Scripture with the veneration due God’s word and as a form of spiritual reading. The indulgence will be a plenary one when such reading is for at least one-half hour." (Handbook of Indulgences, p. 80)

The Church has also used explicit language to express the importance of learning the Scriptures in an effort to learn more about Christ.

The Church forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful . . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 133)

But my favorite of these statements is the first. I've read at least three testimonies of people who were under this impression and decided to put it to the test. Each found that Scripture was read some percentage more in the Catholic Mass than at a non-Catholic service. The most recent gentleman timed it with a stop watch and found that, for every half-minute of actual Scripture reading in a non-Catholic service, he was hearing at least 3 minutes in the Catholic Church. (I welcome anyone to do this and post your results here.) And not only did the Catholics Mass offer more Scripture, reading from the Old Testament, Psalms, New Testament, AND Gospel, but the Church actually does this EVERY SINGLE DAY...even publically listing out in advance the daily readings for the liturgical year so that every Catholic (and even non-Catholic if they choose) can follow along with the same readings each day even if they don't attend that day's Mass or service.

But that's not even the whole of the reality because those Scripture readings only account for the actual readings during the Liturgy of the Word. The Church goes further still in topping non-Catholic services in the amount of Scripture heard during the Mass because the entire Mass, from beginning to end, not only quotes from the Scriptures, but acts out the prophecies and descriptions that Scripture gives to us. Malachi 1:11 and a chunk of Revelation come to life during the Mass. The prayers that the Priest says are taken largely from Scripture. The responses of the faithful, the profession of faith, the entire is either directly quoted from the Bible, or an acting out of some part of Scripture.

How much Scripture do Catholics hear during Mass? Arguably more than any other Christian hears during their service, except MAYBE the more traditional Lutherans and Anglicans who have held on to the sacramentality of worship. And not only on Sundays, but every single day of the year, even if we choose to simply read the readings for ourselves instead of attend the weekday Masses…not including our own personal devotional time to Scripture reading. To drive home this point, here is a direct quote I took from Dale Freeberg’s “The Burning Bush” [2] which is an updated version of the article put together by “Catechetics Online” [3]. I changed the Scripture references to a blue font for easier reading, and added a few more which exist/are perpetuated in the Mass with the help of a couple of other sites [4]. Yes, oh yes, it is true: Catholics who practice their faith are exposed to more Scripture than arguably any other Christian, and to lead into yet another common misunderstanding about Catholics: the Mass is VERY Biblical, as you are about to see.

Priest: In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matt. 28:19, cf. John 14:13-14, Acts 2:21)
People: Amen (1 Chr 16:36)
Priest: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor 13:13; cf. 2Cor 1:2; Phil 1:2, Eph 1:2; Mt 1:23, 28:20)
People: And with your spirit. (cff. Gal 6:18, Ruth 2:4; 2Tim 4:22)

[When the Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling Holy Water takes place: Ez 36:25; Num 8:7a]

Liturgy of the Word

Penitential Rite (cff. Ps 51:5, Lk 18:9-14)
All: I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, (Jas 5:16) in my thoughts and in my words (Jas 3:6) in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, (Jas 4:17; Rom. 12:16) through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.(1Thess 5:25; cf. Lev 5:5; Neh 1:5-9; Dan 9:3-19; Jas 4:17)

Priest: May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life. (1 John 1:9, cf. Ps 41:4)

People: Amen (1 Chr 16:36, Neh 8:6; Ps 41:13; Rom 16:27; Heb 13:20-21; Rev 7:16 )

All: Lord have mercy. (Tb 8:4) Christ have mercy. (1 Tim 1:2) Lord have mercy. (cf. Mt 15:22, 17:15, 20:30-31; Ps 123:3)


All: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will. (Luke 2:14; cf. Rev 4:11, 5:11-14)
We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, (Rev 22:9)
we give you thanks for your great glory, (Rev 7:12, Eph 5:20)
Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father (Rev 19:6, cf. Ps 148:13)
Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son, (2 John 3; cf. Ps 2:7; John 1:14)Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us; (John 1:29)
you take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us. (Rom 8:34)
For you alone are the Holy One, (Luke 4:34)
you alone are the Lord, (Rev 15:4) you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, (Luke 1:32)
with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father, Amen (John 14:26)

[The Liturgy of the Word consists of four readings from Scripture: the first is typically from the Old Testament, the second a psalm, followed by a reading from one of the epistles. Finally, the Gospel is proclaimed during which the people stand out of respect for the Word. The chosen readings change daily.] (cf. Acts 15:21, Lk 4:16-22; Col 3:16; Eph 5:18-20)

“The Word of the Lord.” [following the readings] (1Pet 1:25)
“Thanks be to God.” (Rom 6:17,; 2Cor 9:15)
Gospel Acclamations (Psalms 146-150, among many other Psalms; Rev 19:1-6; Ps 24:7-10; 1Thess 2:12; 2Tim 4:18; Dan 4:34, 37; 1Pet 1:7; Phil 1:11)
“The Gospel of the Lord.” [following the Gospel] (Rom 16:25; Mk 1:1)
“Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ!”

A Sermon on the readings follows. (2 Tim 4:1-2, cf. Lk 24:25-47; Acts 2:14-36, 7:2-53, 8:30-35, 13:15-44, 17:1-11; 1Tim 4:13, 2Tim 3:16-17)

Profession of Faith (cf. Mk 9:24; John 11:27, 14:1; 1Jn 5:10)
All: I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, (Gen 14:19) of all things visible and invisible. (Col 1:16) I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Begotten Son of God, (Luke 1:35) born of the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father; (Heb 1:3) through him all things were made. (John 1:2-3) For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: (John 3:13) and by the power of the Holy Spirit he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, (Matt 1:18) and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, (John 19:16) he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Cor 15:3-4) He ascended into heaven (Luke 24:51) and is seated at the right hand of the Father. (Col 3:1) He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead (2 Tim 4:1) and his kingdom will have no end. (Luke 1:33) I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life, (Acts 2:17) who proceeds from the Father and the Son, (John 14:16) who with the Father and Son is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets. (1 Peter 1:10-11) I believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church. (Rom 12:5) I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38) and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. (Rom 6:5) Amen

Liturgy of the Eucharist

[The gifts are brought to the altar. These include the bread and wine and the offering collected from the people.] (Malachi 3:10, Mt 5:23-24; cf. Gen 14:18-20, 18:1-8; Ex 12:1-28, 43-51, 13:3-10, 23:14-15, 34:18; Lev 23:4-14; Num 9:1-14, 28:16-25; Deut 16:1-8; 2Kng 4:42-44; Mk 6:30-44, etc...)
Priest: Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. (Eccl. 3:13) It will become for us the bread of life. (John 6:35; cf. 1Chron 29:10-11; Ps 72:18-19, 119:10, Lk 1:68)
People: Blessed be God forever. (Ps 68:35-36; cf. Gen 14:20; Ps 66:20)
Priest: Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become our spiritual drink. (Luke 22:17-18)
People: Blessed be God forever. (Ps 68:36)
Priest: Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father. (Heb. 12:28, cf. Mal 1:11)
People: May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our sake and the good of all his holy Church. (Ps 50:23)
Priest: The Lord be with you.
People: And with your spirit.
Priest: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them up to the Lord. (Lam 3:41)
Priest: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. (Col 3:17)
People: It is right and just. (Col 1:3)

Preface Acclamation
All: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. (Is 6:3) Hosanna in the highest.(cf. Rev 4:8) Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest. (Mark 11:9-10, Ps 118:26; Mt 21:9; Lk 19:38; John 12:13)
Eucharistic prayer [There are four of these, based on ancient prayers of the Church. Eucharistic Prayer Two follows as an example:]
Priest: You are Holy indeed, O Lord the fount of all holiness. (2 Macc. 14:36) Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the time he was betrayed and entered willingly into his Passion (John 10:17-18) he took bread and, giving thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take this all of you, and eat of it: For this is my body which will be given up for you. In a similar way, when supper was ended, he took the chalice and, once more giving thanks, he gave the it to his disciples, saying: Take this, all of you, and drink from it: For this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant. Which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this is memory of me. (Mark 14:22-25, Mt 26:26-28; Lk 22:17-20; 1Cor 10:16-22; 1Cor 11:22-29; cf. Lv 2:2) Let us proclaim the mystery of faith. (cf. 1Tim 3:16)
All: When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again. (1Cor 11:26, cf. 1Cor 16:22; Mt 8:25; Lk 4:42; Rom 8:21)
Priest: Therefore, as we celebrate the memorial of his Death and Resurrection, we offer you, Lord, the Bread of life and the Chalice of salvation, (John 6:51) giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you. Humbly we pray that, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor.10:17) Remember, Lord, your Church spread throughout the world; bring her to the fullness of charity, together with our Pope and our bishop, and all the clergy. Remember our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep and all who have died in your mercy: welcome them into the light of your face. (2 Macc 12:45-46) Have mercy on us all, we pray, that with the blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with the apostles and with all the saints who have pleased you throughout the ages, may we merit to be co-heirs to eternal life, and may praise and glorify you through your Son, Jesus Christ. (2 Thes 1:4-5) Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever.

All: Amen. (Rom 11:36)

Communion Rite
The Lord's Prayer:
All: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matt 6:9-13, cf. Lk 11:2-4; Mk 14:36; Gal 4:6)
Priest: Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days that by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. (John 17:15, Titus 2:13)
All: For the kingdom the power and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen (after Mt 6:13 in some early manuscripts; cf. Rev 4:11, 11:15; 1Chron 29:11)

Priest: Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles; I leave you peace, my peace I give to you. (John 14:27) Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live forever and ever.

Priest: The peace of the Lord be with you always! (John 20:19; cf. John 16:33, 20:21, 26)

People: And with your spirit!

[The priest then directs the people to exchange a sign, such as a handshake or a kiss, or a word of God's peace to one another.]

Breaking of the Bread
All: Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace. (John 1:29, 36; Rev 5:6-13, 22:1-3)
Priest: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb. (Rev. 19:9; John 1:29, 36)

People: Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed. (Matt 8:8, cf. Lk 7:1-10)

[Communion is distributed to the faithful at the altar by the priest and lay ministers.]

Dismissal (there are 4 variations that are reflected in the following: Mk 16:15; Ps 115:1; 1Cor 10:31; 2Thess 1:12; Ex 4:18; Deut 10:11-13; Judg 18:6; 1Sam 1:17; Mk 5:34; Lk 7:50, 8:48)

Priest: Blessed be the name of the Lord. Now and forever. (Dan 2:20) May almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (Luke 24:51) Go in peace (Luke 7:50) to love and serve the Lord. (2 Chr 35:3) [During the blessing the people make the Sign of the Cross, the traditional sign of the baptized and a public sign of their belief in the power of God.]
People: Thanks be to God. (2 Cor 9:15)

Additional daily prayers Catholics are encouraged to recite:
The Canticle of Mary (Magnificat) – Lk 1:46-53
The Canticle of Zechariah (Benedictus) – Lk 1:68-79
The Canticle of Simeon (Nunc Dimittis) – Lk 2:29-32
The Hail MaryLk 1:26-28, 31-35, 41-48; cf. Deut 7:12-13, 28:4

How many other churches in the world "forcefully and specifically" compel "all the Christian faithful" to read the Bible?  How many of you reading this go to a church that attaches an "indulgence [for] the Christian faithful who read sacred Scripture with the veneration due God’s word and as a form of spiritual reading"?  How many reading this attend a Sunday service which relies so heavily on the Scriptures as the Catholic Mass does?  I think the evidence here clearly shows that the Catholic Church is THE "Bible Church". 

[1] Catholics and Bible Reading Poll  (Catholic Answers Forums)
Non-Catholics and Bible Reading Poll

[2] "The Burning Bush" - Scripture in the Mass

[3] "Catechetics Online" - Scripture in the Order of the Mass

[4] "Catholic Resources" - Biblical Texts related to Catholic Liturgy, Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
"Seeking Divine Mercy" - The Structure of the Catholic Mass


  1. David, you outdid yourself again. Excellent article.

    1. Thanks! I can't take too much credit though. Other people did the bulk of the legwork...I just combined all their efforts and re-presented it in a different light. My editor-in-chief (Briana) helped too. :)