New York is digging out from a big snowstorm, which means a quiet day at the office, allowing me to catch up on some of my reading, including Verbum Domini , the Apostolic Exhortation concerning scripture and interpretation put out by Pope Benedict last fall.
There’s lots of rich material about the important ways in which biblical interpretation needs to be integrated into a life of prayer and worship. But I’d like to flag a no doubt less important but more practical aspect of the document, which was crafted by Benedict as a summary and elaboration of themes raised at the Synod of Bishop that met in October 2008 to discuss the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church.
It concerns the way in which the Bible is read in church. Benedict reports that one “suggestion that emerged from the Synod was that the proclamation of the word of God, and the Gospel in particular, should be made more solemn” (para 67).
I’ll second that. Call me an insufficiently Catholicized Protestant, but I tend to cringe when I see people reading the assigned passages from the Old Testament and Epistles from loose sheets of paperor whatever. Why is it that lectors in Catholic parishes always seem to be reading from a flimsy booklet or a bulky binder, as if the Word of God were a temporary memo fittingly reproduced in throwaway forms.
I’ve wondered sometimes: Is there something in canon law that prohibits the permanent presence of a big, fat Bible at the lectern? I doubt it. And so I find myself baffled. A hefty Bible conveys visually the fact that the Word of God contains weighty truths. So why neglect the symbolism?
Some might say that it’s awkward for the lectors to have to find the passages. All those minor prophets get confusing, and perhaps most Catholics don’t know where to find Ezra and Nehemiah. I don’t buy it, and in any event, I’ve always liked it when the lector has to flip a bunch of big pages to find the right placeit adds drama.
So, I have a suggestion that might add a bit of solemnity to the proclamation of the Word of God. Catholic Churches should put a royal folio-sized Bibles on their lecterns, the kind that makes a gratifyingly audible swishing noise when the pages arch and then cascade like a breaking wave when they are turned.
Oh, and will our dear bishops please release us from dreary New American Bible, a translation that goes out of its way to make the holy scriptures sound banal and stupid.
We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.
Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on firstthings.com.
Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.
Will you give today?