"He then said, Son of man, eat what you see, eat this scroll, then go and speak to the House of Israel. I opened my mouth; he gave me the scroll to eat and said, Son of man, feed on this scroll which I am giving you and be satisfied." (Ez 3:1-3).
Last year in Hong Kong, during the Fifth Plenary Assembly of the Catholic Biblical Federation--the organization which promotes the worldwide Biblical Apostolate-- the following testimony from mainland China was given. It actualized, the speaker said, the changing of water into wine at Cana in Galilee. Outside Shanghai on the famous hill, Shesan, is a Marian shrine. Many non-Christians come here too, to climb its summit and to enjoy the scenery. Seminarians at times place water and teapots on small tables along the route, as well as leaflets with Scripture texts and basic Christian teachings, thus making a gesture to quench the physical and spiritual thirst of curious tourists. Some of these later approach the Church and come to believe that Our Lord indeed is the Way, the Truth and the Life. In this way Christians of the largest country of the world with, most likely, the lowest number of Bibles, have made a simple effort of spreading its message in a very inventive way.
The Bible has become the worlds greatest bestseller. Thanks to the printing press, the work of the Bible Societies and other publishing houses, the Bible is reaching millions who have never before had access to its riches. But it was not always so! Occasionally you can still hear people say, "Protestants have the Bible, the Catholic Church the sacraments". This is a false statement. The II Vatican Council declared in its most important of all documents Dei Verbum: "The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of the Lord, in so far as she never ceases, particularly in the sacred liturgy, to partake of the bread of life and to offer it to the faithful from the one table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ." (Vatican II, Dei Verbum, n. 21)
But unfortunately it must be admitted too that for several centuries after the inventing of the printing press the Bible remained the domain of scholars, clerics and Church authorities. There were only Latin versions of the Bible which only the elite could read. Making translations was not a priority for the Church. The laity had to continue to be content with hearing the Word preached (Rom 10: 14), encountering the Bible in stone in the Cathedrals, with their sculptures, paintings and stained glass windows. When the faithful walked into the medieval cathedrals they experienced Bible history through what they saw. What they had learned (Tradition) was sumptuously depicted (Art), celebrated (Liturgy) and re-enacted (Mystery-plays).
The words of the tutor of Martin Luther illustrate pointedly the Churchs attitude in those days towards reading the Bible. Bro. Martin, preparing himself for the priesthood, studied the actual Bible text. On discovering this, his tutor remarked: "Oh brother Martin, what is the Bible? One ought to read and study the Fathers of the Church. They have extracted all the juice of the truth from the Bible. The Bible causes only havoc and confusion." Likewise an English catechism published around 1872 forbade the laity to read without permission the Old Testament in English, even under pain of being refused absolution in the sacrament of Penance.
So it happened that over a period of time the central position of the Word of God became obscured and the Bible became more just a book to find and support theological arguments, and to back up and justify disciplinary actions of the Church.
The liturgical, biblical and ecumenical movements that sprang up in the Church around the beginning of the 20th century, and which gained momentum after the Second World War, were stepping stones preparing for the II Vatican Council and more specifically for its Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum.
In this short but absolutely basic document for the life and renewal of the Church, the Council Fathers put the Word of God back in its proper place and placed it in the hands of the "people of God". This marked the beginning of a biblical revival. Chapter 24 of this document enumerates a number of very practical recommendations from making suitable translations, also in cooperation with other Christian churches, to frequent reading, studying and praying the Bible. "For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." (St. Jerome, 4th Cent.) It is encouraging to observe how in subsequent years all renewal movements, like prayer groups, Focolare Movement, the Neo-Catechumenate, Cursillo, the Charismatic Renewal to mention but a few, all base their spirituality on the Scriptures and discover the Power of the Word of God, that God is revealing Himself rather than truths.
At the beginning of this century Pentecostalism sprang up in the United States. Soon it became a movement spreading like a bush fire. With its emphasis on the manifestations of the Power of the Holy Spirit in the extraordinary gifts (I Cor 12), this movement challenged the "Scripture-alone" Protestant churches and the emphasis on the doctrinal truths and sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. But in subsequent years there has been a cross-fertilization between these various Christian churches.
I believe moreover, the greater the unity all Christian churches manifest, the greater the interest in the Sacred Scriptures will grow. Its a telling story that in Japan in the early 80s many times more Japanese New Testaments were sold than there are Christians in the country. Why did those non-Christians not become Christians? "You are so divided we do not know which Christian church is the true one. But we are hungry..." was a frequent answer of students, when asked.
We are all invited to eat the same scroll as the prophet was invited to eat. Eating the Word of God and nourishing ourselves frequently makes us become what we eat, living words of God, the body of Christ to be shared and broken.
Fr.Arnold Jurgens,mhm, writes for the ICCRS Newsletter. ©1997 The International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services, Vatican City. Used by permission.
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