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Vatican II Part 3: Dei Verbum, Part 2

Vatican II Part 3: Dei Verbum, Part 2

You’ve got mail: in sacred Scripture, we have a love letter from God

A series on Vatican II
By: Sr. Maria Faustina Showalter, O.P., Sr. John Mary Corbett, O.P., Sr. Maria Gemma Martek O.P., and Sr. Elizabeth Ann O’Reilly, O.P. are Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, Ann Arbor.

A Love Letter from God – Dei Verbum Part II

Perhaps you’ve seen the romantic comedy, You’ve Got Mail. It reflected the excitement people feel when they receive notes from loved ones. With this love letter from God called sacred Scripture, we’ve all got mail – and we should be excited to read it!

Last issue, we said that God’s revelation of Himself in Scripture is like an ‘instruction manual’ for our lives. In reality, however, God’s written Word is more like a love letter than an instruction manual! As Dei Verbum tells us, “... in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet His children, and talks with them.” (DV 21)

First of all, there are certain facts about sacred Scripture, which Dei Verbum clearly lays out for us, that serve as the foundation of our understanding:

God is the author of sacred Scripture. Sacred Scripture is God’s Word put down in writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The word ‘inspired’ means literally ‘God breathed.’ The Scriptures are called the ‘Word of God’ because they have God as their author. Scripture alone has the charism of inspiration.

God inspired the human authors of the Bible. The human authors of the Scriptures did not simply copy what the Holy Spirit dictated to them. Rather, God “made full use of their faculties and powers so that, though He acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever He wanted written, and no more.” (DV 11) Inspiration is somewhat mysterious, but we can understand something about how it works by an analogy with the Incarnation: just as the second Person of the Trinity assumed a human nature, God has expressed Himself in ‘the words of men’ through the aid of human authors. (DV 13)

Sacred Scripture teaches the truth. The doctrine of inerrancy follows logically from the inspiration of Scripture. Since God is the author of Scripture, everything that the human authors affirm is affirmed by the Holy Spirit.

Understanding sacred Scripture:

Dei Verbum goes on to explain how best to understand or interpret the meaning of the Scriptures. For example, Dei Verbum states that because the human authors are true authors, it is important to get at the sacred author’s intention in order to best grasp the meaning of a passage. This means that when we read the Bible, we must ask what is the author’s purpose in writing a particular passage. Does the author intend to narrate history, tell a story or parable or to utter a prophecy? Is the passage a prayer or a poem? The reason is that truth will be expressed differently in each of these kinds of writing. Many of the apparent contradictions in Scripture can be resolved by keeping in mind that the sacred author does not always intend that we take his meaning literally.

The most important rule for understanding Scripture given by Dei Verbum, however, is that “sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written.” (DV 12) The Holy Spirit, who inspired the human authors of the Bible, is the same Spirit who guides the Church “into all truth.” (John 14:25-26) No truth of revelation can contradict the other truths of revelation. A test for the authenticity of revelation is whether it is consistent with both the “content and unity of the whole Scripture” and “the living Tradition of the whole Church.” (DV 12)  Many Scripture passages are misunderstood simply because they have been taken out of context.

The Bible came from the living Tradition of the Church, and not vice versa. It was the successors of Peter and the Apostles, the pope and bishops in union with him, who authorized the books of the Scripture. Still, the task of authentically interpreting Scripture today is reserved for the pope and the bishops in union with him – the magisterium. We should pause for a moment and consider what a great gift this is! God did not leave us to ourselves to understand His words to us. He has given us a guarantee of understanding them correctly by entrusting to His Church His own authority to teach. Without such an authoritative guide, we are left with only each person’s subjective – and often competing – interpretation.

Jesus Christ is the center of the Scriptures:

Finally, a word or two must be said about the Gospels, the “heart of all the Scriptures.” (CCC 125) Jesus Christ is the center of all revelation, and so His Gospel is the center or heart of the Scriptures. Everything in the Old Testament leads up to Christ, and everything in the New Testament refers back to Him. St. Augustine said, “God ... wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New.”

There are some people today who question the reliability of the Gospels as historical documents. On the surface, it may seem that the four Gospel writers contradict one another and so must not be reliable witnesses. However, it is important to remember that the Gospel writers did not intend to give us a ‘news account’ of the life of Christ! Dei Verbum explains it in this way: “The sacred authors, in writing the four Gospels, selected certain of the many elements which had been handed on, either orally or already in written form; others they synthesized or explained with an eye to the situation of the churches, while sustaining the form of preaching, but always in such a fashion that they have told us the honest truth about Jesus.” (DV 19, emphasis added)

The single best way to really grasp the teachings of the Second Vatican Council is to read the documents. log onto the Vatican’s Web site:

Are these teachings biblical?

Catholics are sometimes told that their faith is unbiblical, but this is simply not true! There is no Catholic doctrine that is not at least implicit in Scripture. Here we have sketched a brief synopsis of the scriptural evidence for some Catholic doctrines that are often touted as unbiblical.

The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. 1Cor 10:16, 11:27-30; Matt 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; John 6:47-63,66

Veneration of Mary Luke 1:28,41-43,48; John 19:25-27; Rev 12:1-6

The intercession of the Saints Jer 15:1; 2 Macc 15:14; Matt 22:30; Luke 15:10; 1 Cor 4:9; Heb 12:1; Rev 5:8, 6:9-10

Power of the priest to forgive sins Matt 16:19,18:15-18; John 20:23

Papal infallibility Matt 16:18-19; Luke 22:31-32; John 21:15-17

Purgatory Ps 66:12; Isa 4:4, 6:5-7; Mic 7:8-9; Mal 3:2-4; 2 Macc 12:39-42, 44-45; Matt 5:25-26, 12:32; Eph 4:8-10, 1 Cor 3:11-15; Rev 21:27

Guardian angels Ps 34:7, 91:11; Matt 18:10, Acts 12:15, Heb 1:14

Relics Acts 19:11-12

4 ways to incorporate holy Scripture into your daily life

However you choose to incorporate Scripture into your life, you won’t regret your decision! Remember, He has promised that “whoever seeks shall find,” so if you truly seek to know God better in His Word, He will bless your desire abundantly.

1 Reflect on the daily Scripture readings. The Church has taken great care to present God’s Word to the faithful during the Liturgy of the Word. The Lectionary is organized into a systematic cycle of Old and New Testament biblical texts, which covers a large representation of Scripture over the course of several years, between the Sunday and weekday masses. Whether or not you can attend daily Mass, read and reflect on the readings for each day. Follow along in a the Daily Roman Missal, or look up the readings in your Bible.

2 Pray the Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office, is prayed daily by clergy, religious and laity all over the world. It is the universal prayer of the Church which flows from the Mass and sanctifies every moment of the day. The hours of the office are comprised of psalms and short Scripture readings, along with prayers of praise and petition. A breviary, the Liturgy of the Hours prayer book, can be obtained at Catholic bookstores.

3 Join a Bible Study. Inquire at your parish about Bible Study groups to meet God in Scripture and study His Word with others. Check with your favorite local Catholic bookstore for good sources of material to engage in a Catholic Bible study on your own, if a group opportunity isn’t readily available.

4 Read the Bible each day. Devote a portion of your day to reading the Bible and reflecting on what God desires to communicate to you. It could be something as formal as Lectio Divina, a method of reading and contemplating the Scriptures, or as simple as making a commitment to spend 5-10 minutes reading one Psalm or Gospel chapter per day. Let the Holy Spirit guide you in your selection and read slowly, allowing it to penetrate your heart.