Organizers hope the event inspires Catholics to fall more deeply in love with the word of God
Sean and Tricia Lokmer’s oldest daughter can’t read yet but the couple have found ways to introduce her to the Bible, which they have come to appreciate through their own prayer as central to their Catholic faith.
Through a children’s devotional that draws from the daily Mass readings, picture books and a computer app containing Bible stories, the couple, who live in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, are seeking to instill a love of Scripture in their 5-year-old daughter — and eventually also in their 3-year-old daughter.
The family doesn’t yet pray together with the Bible, but they want to start their daughters thinking about it, Tricia said. “That it’s not just a book on the table but it’s actually something we open and read and learn about Jesus’ life.”
Speaking of their oldest daughter, Sean said, “The hope is that the foundation we’ve given her will help her take on herself to go a little bit deeper in understanding her faith.”
With the goal of helping families, parishes, schools and other groups to go deeper in their faith by renewing their emphasis on Scripture and recognizing its importance, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is encouraging the faithful to participate in National Bible Week, which is being held Nov. 15-21.
Event of encouragement
The celebration in the U.S. Church, which falls just before the Nov. 23 Protestant observance of International Day of the Bible, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II document Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. The document explains how sacred Scripture and our love for it should inspire our entire lives.
In what might become an annual event, the theme for the first National Bible Week is “The Bible: A Book for the Family,” as the week follows closely the World Meeting of Families and the Synod of Bishops on the Family.
The USCCB is encouraging Catholics to highlight Scripture in the activities they’re already doing, and it is offering on its website (USCCB.org) additional ideas and recommendations for families, parishes and other leaders, said Mary Elizabeth Sperry, USCCB associate director of U.S. permissions and Bible utilization. National Bible Week draws attention to Dei Verbum and the wealth of Church teaching on sacred Scripture while seeking to help families develop the regular practice of praying together with Scripture and to strengthen the link between parishes and households. It also brings attention to the range of Bibles and Bible-related resources.
“It’s not just a historical remembrance,” said Mario Paredes, Catholic ministries director at the Philadelphia-based American Bible Society (ABS). “The idea is to engage people with holy Scripture, to pray with the Bible, to learn about the Bible, to study and have the Bible as central guidance of our faith.”
The idea for National Bible Week came out of consultations between the ABS and USCCB and later with involvement of the Association of Catholic Publishers. The first National Bible Week was held in 1941. Decades ago, the U.S. Catholic Church participated in the event but stopped because parishes were too busy during the Thanksgiving week observance, Sperry said. Organizers of the previous iteration of National Bible Week have since shortened the week to the International Day of the Bible.
Making Scripture a priority
The U.S. Church’s National Bible Week is an appropriate moment to look back at Dei Verbum and also to look forward to the Year of Mercy. The emphases of the jubilee year, mercy, the New Evangelization and the family are rooted in the Scriptures, said Stephen Binz, a Catholic biblical scholar, writer and speaker based in Louisiana.
Dei Verbum teaches that Scripture should be open wide, Binz said. “The 50th anniversary is a wonderful event to recall for Catholics, because that’s the document primarily that encourages them to read Scripture as a regular part of life as disciples of Christ.”
Catholics already encounter the Bible in their parish and school lives, Sperry said. “Everything we do as a Catholic community is imbued with Scripture, is imbued with the word of God — just attending to that fact is important.”
As a way of integrating family Bible study with family liturgy in the parish, the USCCB is recommending that parishes invite members to bring their Bibles to Mass on Nov. 15 when the presider can bless them. It suggests that families enthrone their Bibles in their homes to recognize their importance.
More Catholics are reading Scripture now than 10 or 20 years ago because of access to daily devotionals, Brown said. The USCCB’s online daily readings also have a significant following, Sperry said. Besides this, Catholics are practicing lectio divina, an ancient method of praying with Scripture, Binz said.
At the recent Synod of Bishops on the Family, synod fathers taught on helping families apply Scripture in their lives, Sperry said. Scripture has been a big part of other recent synods, and out of them have come other important documents on Scripture, including the Verbum Domini apostolic exhortation released by Pope Benedict XVI after a 2008 synod. The Church’s rich tradition of teachings on Scripture can be found in Vatican II documents, the catechism and other sources, said Sperry, who added that Scripture is essential to the Mass.
“As a Church, we believe and we know that Christ is present in the Scripture. Jesus is the incarnate Word of God, and he is present in the word of Scripture, and in Scripture, we encounter Christ.”
Learning from other faiths
The U.S. Catholic Church joins Catholics in other countries who hold Bible celebrations, said Therese Brown, executive director of the Association of Catholic Publishers. “(National Bible Week) is a long time coming,” she said. “There are many other countries and bishops’ conferences that have ... had a dedicated committee or resources and time to focus on the Bible within their country.”
As Catholics join Protestants in celebrating the Bible, they can learn from how Protestant brothers and sisters make Scripture a regular part of their lives, Binz said. But Catholics should read Scripture in the context of the Church. “Scripture’s not just a book for me and God but a book of the community of faith,” he said.
Catholics’ participation in National Bible Week could signal future collaboration with Protestants because there is goodwill to bring the Bible to the central life of Catholic and Protestant communities, Paredes said.
In the long run, Binz said he hopes National Bible Week will help dioceses and parishes remind Catholics of the essential nature of Scripture and the regular use of it in faith life.
Sperry said the U.S. Catholic Church may celebrate the event in future years if it is well-received.
“Catholics often feel inferior when it comes to the Bible, and we shouldn’t. We have wonderful teachings on Scripture. Scripture is utterly essential to our life in the Church. We just need to take hold of that teaching with both hands and appreciate it.”