Unfortunately, some misguided individuals– including some popular television evangelists– have wrongfully accused the Catholic Church of forbidding the faithful to read the Bible. Such accusations could not be further from the truth. One must always remember that the Roman Catholic Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, preserved the writings of Sacred Scripture, and also formed and approved the canon (the offical set of books which constitute the Bible). The Church has also tried to provide good, vernacular translations of the Bible for the faithful to read. The examples are many: St. Jerome (d. 420) translated the Bible into Latin, producing the Vulgate version in the year 381. Cardinal Allen guided scholars in the year 1594 to produce the English translation known as the Douay-Rheims. In 1948, Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu charged scholars to go again to the original texts of Sacred Scripture and produce good, modern translations in the vernacular languages. The results of this work resulted in the New American Bible printed in 1968; in its introduction, Pope Paul VI wrote, “We are gratified to find in this new translation of the Scriptures a new opportunity for men to give themselves to frequent reading of, and meditation on, the living Word of God. In its pages we recognize His voice, we hear a message of deep significance for every one of us.”
The Church does caution the faithful reader that the Bible is a complex piece of literature, written over many centuries by many different authors inspired by the Holy Spirit. To fully appreciate the texts of Sacred Scripture which teach the truths of salvation, one would need knowledge of the historical background, the literary forms and images used, and the understanding of the revelation in the Tradition of the Church. While each person may read a passage and reflect on how it pertains to his particular life circumstances, any official interpretation concerning doctrine would be the responsibility of the Magisterium (the teaching authority) of the Church. Whenever a heresy has arisen in the Church, it is usually because someone misinterpreted Sacred Scripture and presented the findings as “gospel” truth.
Nevertheless, Catholics ought to have a familiarity with Sacred Scripture. St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Vatican II exhorted “all the faithful, especially those who live the religious life, to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ’ (Philemon 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures” (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, #25). In recent times, many parishes have established Bible Study groups. The number of guides beneficial for Bible study have increased, such as William Barclay’s The Daily Study Bible Series (Westminster Press, 1975), and The Navarre Bible (Four Courts Press, 1992). Particular “study” Bibles include The New Catholic Study Bible (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985) and The Catholic Study Bible (Oxford University Press, 1990). All of these are ways to help the faithful to know the Word of God.
Moreover, the Church does see the value of the reading and study of Sacred Scripture in healing the soul, making reparation for sin, and satisfying partially or fully the temporal punishment due for sin. According to the Enchiridion of Indulgences (1968), “a partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who with the veneration due to the Divine Word make a spiritual reading from Sacred Scripture. A plenary indulgence is granted, if this reading is continued for at least one half an hour” (#50).