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Preaching with the Bible

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Is it alright for a priest to bring a bible to the pulpit? Wouldn’t everyone think that he is imitating non-Catholic pastors when he reads from the bible during the Mass?

These are not trumped up questions; these were actually asked by some of our newly ordained friars during our recent retreat. The answer to the first is “yes”, while the answer to the second is more complicated. Let me explain the first answer first.

When I preach (whether for the Sunday or daily Mass), I sometimes bring along with me the Scriptures and/or the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is so that I can point out to the faithful the references to the things I say. There are members of the laity who think that priests make up whatever they say on the pulpit. This is perhaps due to the fact that our sermons may sound far from being realistic or that some of the laity themselves have been so influenced by non-Catholic TV preachers that they always wait for bible citations whenever we priests preach.

I picked up the practise of bringing a bible and/or the Catechism to the pulpit from a Servite in Italy, a poet-theologian who was quite well known. I attended a Mass he celebrated where I saw him enter the presbyterium with a bunch of books and during the sermon, read from those books to illustrate a point he was saying. Besides him, I discovered quite recently that even St. Augustine — at least on one occassion — preached to the faithful with a stack of codices — “books” of the Bible — on hand.

Augustine’s Epistola XXIX, a letter he wrote in 395 and addressed to Alypius “Bishop of Tagaste” is about his experiences with the faithful of Hippo regarding the “Laetitia”, the “joyful” celebration of a feast day that often became an occassion for drunken debauchery. There was a move from the bishops of North Africa to prohibit the practise of the “Laetitia” and so meetings were held to inform and dialogue with the laity. In Hippo — Valerius was still alive then and Augustine was his assistant — a number of the laity were in opposition to the move even after one of the aforementioned meetings have been held where Alypius (and even Bishop Macarius, I presume) were in attendance. In the letter, Augustine mentions an “hora tractationis” (hour/moment of the exposition, “of Scriptures”, as the context will bear out) that falls on the “fortieth day” (dies Quadragesima), which is the Feast of the Ascension (= fortieth after Easter). Was this “hora tractationis” something separate from the Mass or was it the liturgy of the word? A non-Catholic translator of St. Augustine would make it look like “hora tractationis” is similar to the non-Catholic practise of preaching. I would tend to think that “hora tractationis” is “the moment of explaining (the Scriptures)”, and that is during the homily. Whatever the case may be, Augustine informs us that for this occassion, he had the codices of the books of the Scriptures he intended to read during the occassion brought to where he would preach, and these were handed to him one by one when he called for them.

The examples above, one from a contemporary and another from classical times should prove that it is not wrong for a priest to read from the Scriptures or the Catechism during a homily. The second question is whether it won’t make it appear that Catholic priests are imitating non-Catholic preachers when they do bring the Scriptures to the pulpit. My answer is that it would depend on whether the laity is used to see a priest read from the Scriptures. We read from Scriptures and the Catechism during retreats and recollections, but only a number of the laity see us doing it and are used to it. Perhaps, we can start “modifying” the way the laity remember us preaching by reading passages from Scriptures and the Catechism during the homily, the “hora tractationis”.

Originally posted 2010-10-09 00:49:49. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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