The Whole Bible?

The Challenge: I had commented that it had been demonstrated to me time and again that Catholics tend not to be familiar with the Sacred Scriptures. I added that many Catholics known to me, particularly within my own extended family don't read the Bibles they may own. A recent convert to and defender of Catholicism disagreed, arguing that Catholics don't need to read the Bible, for it is read to them during the celebration of Mass:

FYI, the Daily Roman Missal (of which I own a copy) contains Scripture readings (one each from the prophets or histories, the Psalms, the Epistles, and the Gospels) covering the entire Bible for each Mass of every day of the calendar year over three-year cycles. Moreover, just about everything said in the various parts of the Mass is lifted verbatim straight out of the Bible. Same is true of the various Masses (or "Divine Liturgies," as non-Roman/Latin Rite Catholics prefer to call them) used in all other branches of the Catholic Church, e.g., the Byzantine, Syriac, Armenian, Malakite, Coptic, etc. --at least one of them dating back to the Apostle James, and quite possibly created by him.

The Response: Over the years, a number of RCC apologists have informed me that, by attending Mass every day of the year for three years, they would have read to them the entire Bible. In every instance when I challenged them on this, using examples from the Lectionary approved by the U.S. Bishops and counts taken from the Oxford Companion to the Bible, there was no meaningful response forthcoming. Permit me now to challenge your claim on this issue.

According to [Thomas Hartwell] Horne's computations, the Authorized or King James Version of the Bible is comprised of:


	      	    Old              New        

              Testament        Testament       Total

Books             39               27            66

Chapters         929              260         1,189 

Verses        33,214            7,959        41,173

Words        593,493          181,253       774,746

Letters    2,728,100          838,380     3,566,480 

(Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, Editors, The Oxford Companion to the Bible, (c) Oxford University Press (1993), p. 80 )

Let's do the math, based on the 66-book KJV rather than the 73-book Vulgate or Douay-Rheims:

Three years of Masses, allowing for Leap Year, works out to be 1096 days. For the purposes of this exercise, and to make the math easier, I shall assume that the readings for every Mass were identical in length. That would mean that, in every Sunday and daily Mass throughout the three-year period, the faithful Catholic would have read to him (All figures rounded to nearest one-hundredth):

- the equivalent of 1.85 chapters of combined O.T. and N.T. text.
- an aggregate of 37.57 verses; 30.3 O.T. and 7.26 N.T.
- an aggregate of 706.89 words; 541.51 O.T. and 165.38 N.T.

Perhaps that doesn't seem like a lot, but let's put the numbers into perspective by comparing them with the words of Scripture as transmitted in the KJV:

In the KJV, one would have to read from Matthew 1:1 through 1:9, plus the first seven words of verse 10 to get the required 541 N.T. words; and Genesis from 1:1 through 24, plus the first three words of verse 25 to get the necessary 542 O.T. words. Let's home in on the readings as they actually are scheduled in Roman Catholic practice in the United States. Most Catholics who read here likely are aware that the selection of readings for the Mass was rather a haphazard affair prior to Vatican II. That general council resulted in a new Ordo Lectionum Missae and a three year lectionary. The lectionary has been modified/revised a number of times since it first appeared. The current edition of the Lectionary for Mass for use in the Dioceses of the United States is available online.

What passages are read to Catholic faithful during Mass? I offer a small sample, taken from the readings listed under Year C for two Sundays of Ordinary Time. For my study, I went first to the Year C Sunday Lectionary, from which I selected the readings for the 1st Sunday in Ordinary Time. This is what I came up with:

The Baptism of the Lord - C [1st Sunday in Ordinary Time]

1st Reading: optional: Isa 40:1-5, 9-11 or use reading from Year A

Responsorial Psalm: optional: Ps 104:1b-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-28, 29b-30 or use reading from Year A

2nd Readiing: optional: Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7 or use reading from Year A

Gospel: Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

That worked out to be: 30 verses 18 O.T./12 N.T.; and 607 words - 344 O.T./263 N.T.

For kicks, I checked the readings for the 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time, which worked out to be: 22 verses 17 O.T./5 N.T.; and 402 words 173 O.T./402 N.T.

I then went to Weekdays in the Season of the Year (Ordinary Time), where I worked up the 1st day of Week 1 and the 4th day of Week 2

Week 1 Mon:

1st Reading: Heb. 1:1-6

Psalm: Ps 97:1-2, 6-7, 9

Gospel: Mark 1:14-20

Which worked out to be: 18 verses - 5 O.T./13 N.T.; and 389 words - 76 O.T./313 N.T.

The readings for Week 2 Thursday worked out to be: 21 verses - 5 O.T./16 N.T.; and 527 words - 123/404 N.T. The Old Testament figures included the intentional repeat of Psalms 40:8

That's just an example of how the readings work out. Anyone who is interested in a more complete study is encouraged to visit Jesuit Felix Just's web pages. The entire Bible is not covered in the 1096 days of a three-year cycle, based on the information compiled by Jesuit Felix Just I did do a quick machine search for the Matthew genealogy and it didn't show up; nor did the Genesis 4 'begats.' Also, there are very few readings from Proverbs. I could go on, but I believe it can be established from the Roman Catholic Lectionary itself that even though a faithful Catholic never misses a single daily Mass during a three-year period, he still will not have had read to him the entire Bible.

Having said all that, I submit that the argument that Catholics don't need to read the Bible because they have it read to them during Mass is hogwash.

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