The study considers the importance and place of Biblical study and knowledge in the Catholic tradition. The argument uses references from Church documents, Saints and historical documents to confirm and clarify the importance of Scripture in the life of the individual believer. An understanding of Scripture is essential for each Catholic, for as St Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
The study examines the awareness and need of methods and projects to promote Biblical study and knowledge. Interviews with Parish Priests and parishes are conducted to achieve primary data. Results of successful projects that enhance Biblical knowledge are examined.
A survey is conducted in a parish to examine parishioner’s knowledge and desire to know more about the Bible and what they would consider as suitable knowledge of the Bible.
The conclusion sees the need for high quality, systematic resources to be used collaboratively within parishes. It exhorts Parishes to place greater emphasis on the meaning and power of Scripture in the local community, positively and gently encouraging parishioners to allow the Word of God to infiltrate every aspect of their life. The Catholic community is challenged to reemphasize the importance of Sacred Scripture in all areas of catechetical life. It is also recognized that small and local initiatives are the best methods of addressing ignorance and apathy of Scripture, and that a positive culture of encouragement will address the current shortfalls.
The methods for overcoming the problems addressed are to use resources that do not require a Scripture expert in every community, such as online resources and DVDs. Catechetical resources that highlight the essential components of our faith, are easy to implement and simplify complicated concepts are likely to have the best results. Different formation programs for a range of ages and abilities will help to address knowledge black-spots and will help the spectrum of needs of parishioners from beginner to expert. No one project will be the answer for the optimum Biblical education: a whole range of resources and solutions are needed to lead to a greater awareness of the Bible. Any project that helps to authentically nurture a parishioner’s knowledge, passion and love of the Bible should be encouraged.
- Review of previous relevant work
- Methods of research
- Research results
- Discussion of results
- Appendices, Bibliography
|Working Title: Nurturing Biblical Study and Knowledge in the Catholic Parish
|Field of Interest|
The study begins by considering the importance and place of Biblical study and knowledge in the Catholic tradition. The argument uses references from Church documents, Saints and historical documents to confirm and clarify the importance of Scripture in the life of the individual believer. An understanding of Scripture is essential for each Catholic, for as St Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
|Main hypothesis/es to be explored OR Related factors to be explored
Part Two: Research Design
The views of parishioners will be conducted during a parish survey in two locations. This will help provide a snapshot of local opinions. Parishioners will be asked how they would describe their knowledge of Scripture. They will be asked if their existing availability of study and knowledge tools meet their needs. They will also be asked if they have previously attended resources and what they have done before. Furthermore, parishioners will be asked what is needed and how much they would commit to. Parishioners will be asked what they think will help them to understand the Bible more easily.
|Research Methods, Sampling and Access|
The survey will be conducted at a suitable time of year to ensure that there are an average number of parishioners attending the Church at that time. The parish will be selected as a typical parish with no abnormalities or eccentricities. The access to the Parish will be via the Parish Priest. A sample group will also be assessed so that parishioners are able to express their opinions further on the issue. The parishioners will be selected at random so there will be no bias in the research.
The focus group will be a group of 6-8 people, in both locations, selected at random. This will help to ascertain whether the supposed needs and desires are being met. A critical review of different programs will be conducted to perceive the needs of people. This will provide information on what people want and what they will actually engage with. The method and content of different programs will be discussed, including the mode of delivery and the general overview picture of the provision of catechesis. Participants will be introduced to resources after which, questions will be asked.
In the questionnaire, parishioners will be asked what modes of formation they prefer to take part in, if they have engaged in study programs before, how useful certain programs have been and how they would describe their knowledge. Existing programs will be evaluated against what people actually want.
|Rationale for Methods to Be Used|
A sample study group and survey from two parishes will enable the project to have a sufficient amount of data in order to make conclusions and assess the beliefs and opinions of parishioners. It will provide substantial feedback from a typical parish, and assess the situation and needs of parishioners.
The questionnaire is confidential as is the parish in which it was conducted. It is never possible to randomise perfectly. It was agreed that the study was not to be conducted during school holidays or Christmas and Easter. The survey and study group will help to ascertain the needs and desires of the parishioners. A critical review of different programs will help to meet the perceived needs of the people. This will provide a thorough evaluation of what people want and what they will actually engage with. The methods will help to identify a useful program.
The focus group will help to understand what Scripture means to them. It will help to ascertain how much Scriptural knowledge is expected or required in the current climate. It will be possible to compare and contrast different pedagogical styles and differences in existing programs, based on the feedback from parishioners. It will also be possible to evaluate why these people would want to know more about Scripture. This would help to understand motivating factors and an understanding of what makes a useful program. This will help to understand how to meet the supposed needs and desires.
The Bible has a place of unique importance within the Catholic tradition. This study seeks to examine the beliefs of parishioners and also to look at viable projects that are successful at improving and enhancing Bible knowledge and awareness in the Catholic community. A range of projects are considered and a survey and study group is brought together in order to examine the area more fully. The rationale for this piece of work is to highlight and identify effective methods and forms of parish based education that will help to enhance the spiritual lives of parishioners.
The study begins by considering the importance and place of Biblical study and knowledge in the Catholic tradition. References from Church documents, Saints and historical documents confirm and clarify the importance of Scripture for the life of the individual believer. The study examines the awareness and need of methods and projects to promote Biblical study and knowledge. Results of successful projects that enhance Biblical knowledge are examined. A survey is conducted in a parish to examine parishioner’s knowledge and desire to know more about the Bible and what they would consider as suitable knowledge of the Bible.
Many prominent writers have highlighted that the level of understanding among Catholics on the Bible is poor. We must therefore find a way to quench people’s thirst by drinking deeply on the word of God on a regular basis. Some theologians have mentioned a weariness and boredom with the Catholic faith that comes with not reading and understanding the Word of God on a regular basis. Pope Benedict has said, “The fact that God’s words, something that God has said and is saying to us, are accessible in the world is truly the most exciting news I can imagine at all. [But] we are too dulled through everyday use to grasp the awesomeness of this statement.” Other prominent individuals report that few Catholics actually read Scripture on a regular basis and even fewer are familiar with its content. Here it is noted that there is a spiritual hunger that is not being addressed, a “famine for hearing the word of the Lord.” This situation has a large impact on theology, catechesis, evangelization, spirituality and every different part of the Church’s life.
Some countries have helped to produce publications designed to assist pastors in their responsibility to interpret biblical passages of the liturgy and make them relevant and meaningful today. These efforts are clearly happening in the Catholic Church in England and Wales. This study will examine to what extent the biblical apostolate is having effect to make the Bible known in our country. Numerous initiatives will be looked at, such as groups that are formed to study the Bible, conferences, themed weeks and the publication of journals and books. The role of the homily is vitally important in the interpretation of the Scriptures. However, this study will concentrate on additional methods and approaches that are effective in communicating a suitable knowledge of God’s word. The celebration of the Eucharist has a plenitude of Scriptural references, however, this will not be the focus of this study.
The growing importance of the internet and other forms of mass communication will also be examined. Improved mass communication enables the proclamation of the word of God in a new level. Methods of mass communication have the ability to influence huge numbers of the public and clear training is needed in their use. Leo XIII once said, “Let all, therefore, especially the novices of the ecclesiastical army, understand how deeply the sacred Books should be esteemed, and with what eagerness and reverence they should approach this great arsenal of heavenly arms.”
Throughout salvation history, revivals have happened with a renewed understanding of God’s word and action in history. The story of Josiah tells us about the renewal of God’s people through a recovery of God’s word, at a time in which the majority of God’s people had incorporated the worst elements of the pagan culture that surrounded them. St Augustine said that the Bible’s “plain language and simple style make it accessible to all.” St Gregory also said that Scripture was a river that has enough shallows that a lamb could cross but it also has enough depth to submerge and elephant. This means that the simple understanding of Scripture is open to all, but to fully understand it we need outstanding exegetes to help us navigate its riches. The book of Nehemiah showed how the Levites read from the law of God, with interpretation: “They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (8:8). We need to be illuminated and inspired by an authentic interpretation of the Scriptures.
A study by the National Biblical Literacy Survey found that as few as 10 percent of the public understood the main characters in the Bible and their relevance. 7 percent of the respondents knew the story of Whitsun and 15 percent were familiar with the stories of Advent. These studies have shown that the general public are widely ignorant of the stories and people who give the basis of Christianity. Even 57 percent of participants knew nothing about Joseph despite the hit musical, while 60 percent were ignorant of the story of the Good Samaritan. These figures highlight the depth and extent of public ignorance about the Bible.
The National Biblical Literacy Survey highlights the crisis that many Christian communities face when the national consciousness of the Bible is at such a low level. It demonstrates the challenge and the opportunity that many parishes face in terms of promoting and developing a passion and love for the Bible. Many children today will have an intimate knowledge of the Harry Potter books but will have little to no knowledge of some of the most well known Old Testament stories.
Non-Catholic denominations are reported to have greater knowledge and understanding of Sacred Scripture than Catholics. St Jerome stated, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” In order to enhance the spiritual life of lay Catholics, a strategy needs to be endorsed into how of greater level of understanding can be promoted. It is worthy to note that a revolution in Catholic biblical studies happened between the appearance of the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu by Pope Pius XII in 1943 and the closing of Vatican Council II in 1965. The encyclical allowed Catholics to use literary and historical criticism that had been long suspect.
Biblical study and knowledge will be addressed in a threefold manner. It is necessary to evaluate the current situation of present knowledge of the Bible among Catholic parishioners. Clear strategies will be examined that encourage the study and knowledge of Scripture. Existing programmes that look at methods that are important for the promotion and knowledge of Scripture will be considered.
2 Timothy 3:16-7 reminds us, “All Scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” The letter to the Hebrews 4:12 most poignantly states: “for the Word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two-edged sword; and reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit.” It is important to remember that the Church “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the Holy Scriptures alone”
- Review of previous relevant work
St Jerome, who gave us the Latin Vulgate translation of the Scriptures, said: “If there is anything in this life that sustains a wise person and helps to maintain serenity amid the tribulations and adversities of the world, it is first and foremost I believe the meditation on and knowledge of the Scriptures.”
Pope Benedict XVI cites Jerome in stating that we cannot understand the Bible alone or without a community or in the tradition of the Church. A basic principle used by Jerome to understand Scripture was to read it in the light of the Church’s teachings: “Alone we are not able to read Scripture. We find too many closed doors and we are easily mistaken. The Bible was written by the people of God, for the people of God, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Only in communion with the people of God can we truly enter the core of the truth that God intends to convey us.”
The Pope has even recommended Catholics to take Scripture on holiday with them. In an address at Castel Gandolfo on August 3, 2011, Pope Benedict said that moments of relaxation can become in addition to a cultural enrichment, “also an enrich of the spirit that is capable of fostering the knowledge of God and dialogue with him in prayer.” In this way reading the Bible can become a relaxing holiday activity where we enter the world of the Word of God, deepening our encounter and relationship with God bringing meaning and purpose to the free time that is given to us by God.
Pope Benedict has called for Catholics to continue to make known, “The profound relevance of the Scriptures to the contemporary experience of Catholics and particularly to the younger generations, but also to lead them to interpret them from the central perspective of Christ and his paschal mystery.” This is because, “It is only Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, who through the Holy Spirit, can open our minds to understand the Scriptures (cf. Lk 24:15, Catechism 108). The Catechism of the Catholic Church also informs us that the books of the Old Testament “are a storehouse of sublime teaching on God and of sound wisdom on human life, as well as a wonderful treasury of prayers; in them, too, the mystery of our salvation is present in a hidden way.”
The Holy Father has also called Christians to “live in contact and in personal dialogue with the word of God, given to us in sacred Scripture.”These words remind us that authentic spiritual growth is based on the word of God proclaimed, accepted, celebrated and meditated upon in the Church.
Dei Verbum n. 24 recommends frequent recourse to the Bible in pastoral ministry. Scripture provides the “starting point, foundation and norm of catechetical teaching.” One of the goals of catechesis should be to initiate a person in a correct understanding and fruitful reading of the Bible. This leads to a discovery of the divine truth it contains and should evoke a generous response to the message. Contemplation of the Gospels should elicit an encounter with Christ.
How then can our parishes more adequately respond to this challenge, where are excellent initiatives happening, and how can we extend them in order to respond to the desires and needs of parishioners in the local community? This study will examine the beliefs, current practices and needs of the local community before providing a conclusion of recommendations.
Rick Warren’s book: ‘Bible study methods' looks at 12 different methods of studying the bible. This looks at a devotional approach, an analytic approach a topical method approach. This is a useful book for learning different methods for a customized approach to learning. Robert Filback and Stephen Krashen discovered in their work, ‘The impact of reading the Bible and Studying the Bible on Biblical Knowledge' that in a study of Christian adults, frequency of voluntary bible reading was a significant predictor of recognition of biblical names; amount of formal bible study was not a significant predictor. The study saw that reading the bible for pleasure resulted in increased knowledge of the bible, compared to the effects of formal bible study.
Maarten Wisse argues that in the second half of the twentieth century, a ‘narrative turn’ meant that Christian theology’s use of the Bible should focus on a narrative representation of the faith rather than the development of a set of propositions deduced from the data of revelation.
William Jeynes has conducted a study to see the relationship between Biblical literacy and behavioural and academic outcomes in urban areas. The results indicated that increased Bible knowledge is associated with higher levels of student academic achievement and positive behavioural patterns.
Pope Benedict has said that it is a “gift and inescapable duty to communicate that joy, born of an encounter with the person of Christ, the Word of God in our midst”.Verbum Domini 47 reminds us that care must be taken that the instruction that is imparted acknowledge that the Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are connected and associated so that one of them cannot stand without the others.
Pope Benedict states in Verbum Domini 121:
“I wish once more to encourage all the People of God, pastors, consecrated persons and the laity, to become increasingly familiar with the sacred Scriptures. We must never forget that all authentic and living Christian spirituality is based on the word of God proclaimed, accepted, celebrated and meditated upon in the Church. This deepening relationship with the divine word will take place with even greater enthusiasm if we are conscious that, in Scripture and the Church’s living Tradition, we stand before God’s definitive word on the cosmos and on history.”
Dei Verbum 21 acknowledges that, “The Church has always venerated the divine Scripture as she venerated the Body of the Lord.” The force and power of the Word of God is such that it can, “serve the Church as her support and vigour… strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting font of spiritual life.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church n.132 further emphasizes important passages of Dei Verbum by repeating that, “The study of the sacred page should be the very soul of sacred theology.” (cf. DV 24). That is why the Church, “forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful… to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ.” This is to be done by frequent reading of the Divine Scriptures. The Catechism (n. 1437) recommends reading scripture, praying the liturgy of the hours and the Our Father as a sincere act of worship or devotion which revives the spirit of conversion and repentance within us. Dei Verbum was not the only document to reference the importance of the Scriptures from the Second Vatican Council. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy teaches that “the treasures of the Bible are to be opened more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s Word.”
The Saints provide us with some profound words of wisdom regarding the Scriptures. St Teresa of Avila once said that, “all the evil in the world is derived from not knowing clearly the truths of sacred Scripture” Saint Benedict called Scripture, “A most perfect norm for human life.” St Chrysostom called the Bible, “an inexhaustible treasury of heavenly doctrine,”whereas St Athanasius called it, “an overflowing fountain of salvation,” St Jerome, who gave us the Latin Vulgate translation of the Scriptures, said, “A man who is well grounded in the testimonies of the Scripture is the bulwark of the Church.” St. Peter Damascene states: “Whoever has experienced the spiritual sense of the Scriptures knows that the simplest word of Scripture and the most profound are uniquely one, both having the salvation of humankind as their purpose.” Saint Bernard reminded us that Christianity is “not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living.”
St John Chrysostom wrote something profoundly relevant for Scripture scholarship. He regretted the level of religious ignorance among Christians during his day. This regret is still relevant today:
At times we dedicate all our efforts not only to what is superfluous but also to what is useless or even harmful, while we abandon the study of Sacred Scripture. Many people who are completely enthused over the horse races can quickly come up with the name, pedigree, race, nation and training of the hoses; their age, which horse would win the race against some other one, and an individual horse’s potential to pass the winning-post first, when mounted by a given rider, all spring immediately to mind… If, however, we ask them the number of Paul’s Epistles, they are incapable of an answer.
This passage helps us to reflect on how importantly we see the Scriptures as a vital component of passing the faith to generation to generation. If we have a greater knowledge about horse racing or a football match than the Scriptures, what does this tell us about our faith? In order that faith is transmitted to the next generation, it must be understood and learnt. Faith that has not been acquired cannot be passed on. It is necessary to light up the darkness of so many people who are ignorant of the fundamental truths of faith and morals with the power of the teaching of Scripture.
At the synod of Bishops where the document Verbum Domini was prepared, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J., a Canadian Bishop from Ottawa said “All Catholics should have a Bible, all Catholics should read the Bible and all Catholics need to have regular prayer experiences where they open the book and let it become the word of God speaking to them.”Verbum Domini helps us to see the importance of the interpretation of Scripture. In n. 49 it is written,
“In this sense, holiness in the Church constitutes an interpretation of Scripture which cannot be overlooked. The Holy Spirit who inspired the sacred authors is the same Spirit who impels the saints to offer their lives for the Gospel. In striving to learn from their example, we set out on the sure way towards a living and effective hermeneutic of the word of God.”
Later in Verbum Domini, it is stated that suitable training is essential for catechists so that there can be an increased emphasis on the Bible in the Church’s pastoral activity. Verbum Domini also recommends that centres of formation should be established where laity and missionaries can be trained to understand, live and proclaim the word of God. Specialized institutes for Biblical studies should be established to ensure that exegetes possess a solid understanding of theology and appreciation of the contexts in which they carry out their mission.
The Lineamenta for the Church document Instrumentum Laboris provided a number of helpful suggestions. It acknowledged that Churches were increasing their efforts to make Scripture more accessible to people. Episcopal conferences, dioceses, parishes, religious communities, associations and movements have been involved in a great undertaking of the Word of God in a new manner in recent years. This means that more people are being introduced to a taste of the Word of God. The lineamenta however realised a paradox that the hunger for the Word of God, “is not always receiving an adequate response in the preaching of the Church’s Pastors, because of a deficiency in seminary preparation or pastoral practice.” As the Word of God permeates and animates every aspect of the Church’s life, the lineamenta stated that, “The use of the Bible, the conception of the Church and pastoral practice are all correlated. When the Holy Spirit creates harmony between the Scriptures and the community, this correlation is properly achieved. Consequently, respecting the interior need which moves the community to encounter the Word of God is very important.”
The Lineamenta also recognised that Scripture should be considered as vital food. It suggested a variety of options in helping feed the life of the Church. A constant check should be held to see the effective place of the Word of God in the life of the community, with the most constructive experiences and the recurring risks. The Church should understand the diffusion of the Word of God in one’s own community, to see what initiatives should be undertaken and to raise solidarity through sharing material and spiritual resources. Bible groups were also suggested as well as pastoral programs animated by the Word of God. The Lineamenta n.32 also states that, “The need for a pastoral programme continually based on the Bible has never been greater.”
Specific Bible resources and programmes
A resource from the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, the Gift of Scripture, provides some valuable insights into Biblical study and knowledge. The resource acknowledges a variety of Church documents to provide inspiration on the topic. That is why the General Directory of Catechesis states that the “Church of today must offer the gospel in ways that are appropriate to changing times, intelligible and attractive to our contemporaries.”
The Gift of Scripture states that the “aims of all catechesis is to initiate a person in the understanding of the word of God. Catechesis should present the persons and events involved in God’s plan of revelation and point out their salvific relevance.” The document of the Bishop’s conference welcomes recent initiatives to provide Biblical resources so that the Bible can be more accessible, understood and cherished. Resources for children, biblical courses, retreat days and the work of the Catholic Biblical Association is praised. Successful projects that look at Biblical study and knowledge are encouraged.
Various Church documents have highlighted the importance of the Bible for evangelisation and catechesis. Pope John Paul II writes: ‘It is above all the work of evangelisation and catechesis which is drawing new life from attentiveness to the word of God.’ He argues that because our ancient Christian roots have been lost by so many, we must become ‘servants of the word.’
As one of the aims of catechesis is to initiate a person in the understanding of the word of God, catechesis should give the people and events of God’s plan their respective salvific relevance. It is natural for catechists to select the texts of the greatest moments in Scripture, such as the Sermon on the Mount or the Decalogue.
We must also recognise the importance that Biblical exegesis has for ecumenism. A number of Biblical commentaries, such as the International Bible Commentary have focused on an ecumenical approach. Ecumenical Bible study helps “The biblical story of God’s reconciling love beckons Christians to embrace the story and make it their own, and to find new ways to walk together as God’s people.” The revision of the lectionary has led to ecumenical opportunity. Scott Hahn mentions that the “Lectionary is the greatest, but surely not the only great new opportunity for Bible study.”
A survey by the Catholic Biblical Federation found that those who reported reading the Bible said that it was not easy to understand. The study also found that the Bible was used infrequently for prayer. The survey results were based on telephone interviews conducted with 13,000 adults. Over 75 percent of U.S. adults had read a passage from the Bible in the last 12 months. The percentage of Europeans that had read a passage from the Bible in the last year ranged from 38 percent in Poland to 20 percent in Spain.
Luca Diotallevi, a sociology professor who coordinated the survey’s working group, said there was not a statistically relevant difference between Protestants and Catholics in the study. There were large differences when different countries were asked whether they consider the Bible ‘easy’ or ‘difficult.’ This ranged from 56 percent in the USA to 70 percent in Germany.
The study also highlighted that the Bible is relatively infrequently used for prayer. While 37 percent percent of U.S. respondents and 32 percent of Polish respondents said they used the Bible to pray, only 9 percent of people in the UK, France and Italy reported praying with their Bible and only 6 percent of Spaniards used the Bible for their prayers. In France and Italy, the main answer to how you pray was ‘I recite words that I know by heart.’ In all other countries, the most popular method of prayer was using one’s own words. Lastly, those who reported to reading the Bible were most likely to oppose abortion or euthanasia. Research from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) reports that reading and studying the Bible is still a small part of faith life for Catholics in the United States. The National Study of Youth and Religion (USA) revealed that only one in four (26%) young people reads the Sacred Scripture of their religious tradition weekly or more often. Catholic young people are likely to conform to a similar pattern. Young people must be taught new habits for interacting with Scripture.
A summary of a number of existing programmes is provided below. The summary gives information about the range of different programs that exist in the field of Bible study, what the programs do and how useful they are for Bible study and knowledge.
A. Great Bible Adventure
The Great Bible Adventure is a catechetical course published by Ascension Press and written by Jeff Cavins. Jeff Cavins developed The Great Adventure in 1984 when he realized that most people, despite their strong faith, did not grasp the big picture of the Bible. Though they know selected stories, they could not bring it together into a full narrative. Cavins identified the books of the Bible that tell the story from beginning to end, by reading just 14 narrative books, a chronological story emerges. From this, he developed the Bible Timeline program, which teaches the story in a way that is easy to remember and helps people to continue reading Scripture on their own. Hundreds of thousands of Catholics have learned to read the Bible through this system, which provides foundation for further reading and study.
The Great Adventure is a Catholic Bible learning system that makes the complex simple by teaching the story (narrative) of the Bible. Seminars take place all across the USA for the course. These include Bible Study events, training days for leaders, National Conferences and also day conferences looking at specific books in the Bible. There is a Bible Study system for adults, teenagers and children. Related material included video DVDs, audio CDs, workbooks and live seminars. The project helps participants to study the Bible from a Catholic perspective and see how faith is rooted in Sacred Scripture. The participants can see how the events in the Old Testament are fulfilled in the New Testament by Christ and the Church and how God reveals himself to us through Scripture and how God’s word applies to your life today. This helps to develop a life-long hunger for knowing God in His word and lay a strong foundation for further Bible reading and study.
The Great Adventure uses a combination of home study, small group discussion, commentary, lectures from seasoned Scripture scholars and teachers to help people access God’s word and make it personal. Each method helps to provoke and draw out the participant into a deeper knowledge of God’s word. The study set gives a general background and commentary leading to a more informed knowledge of the Bible. Further questions get the readers to look into the text and help them discover the literal meaning and consider it in light of the greater context and position of the teachings of the Catholic Church. To add to this, small groups reinforce what people have learnt and bring in the ideas of others to give a fuller sense of what people have read.
The home preparation helps to ensure that the Word of God is given the time and opportunity to transform participant’s lives. When individuals discover the riches for themselves, it can be a great learning tool. The Great Adventure uses the guidelines of the Catechism for properly interpreting Scripture within the heart of the Church. The small group discussion helps to get insights from others to bring a fuller, deeper understanding of the passage that has been read. Community and strong relationships can be built from this part of the study. The DVD is a session which participants can be taken to a new and much more developed level. The discussion complements the DVD lecture and greater insights can come from this dynamic combination. A set of study set responses is given out for participants after the discussion. These help to provide the most important aspect of studying Scripture: having a living and personal relationship with Christ and His teachings. The Great Bible Adventure is essentially a franchise model to help parishioners learn more about the Bible. Each parish can easily implement the course and training can be done at a central location. A franchise model is a useful tool by which many parishes can receive high quality formation to a similar degree.
A parishioner from south London was contacted about the Great adventure programme. She said that the course was a powerful tool in developing the faith life of participants. A small number of parishes in London run such courses and overall they have received extremely good feedback. Testimonies from people who have participated in Great Adventure studies have said that the project is bearing great fruit today and leading to a better educated and informed laity. The easy to follow format helps with the problems of not having experts in every parish. This helps participants to apply the beauty of salvation history to their own lives. The study helps participants to get ‘the big picture.’ Some participants have mentioned how participation in the liturgy has deepened through their use of the Bible adventure. The course helps to contextualise salvation history, which brings a context and foundation for all further Catholic Bible study.
An interview with Jeff Cavins revealed that his latest study programme, Walking Towards Eternity, takes a new method of attempting to get Catholics to engage with Scripture. The study places a large degree of emphasis on personal experience and personal habits, and then places those experiences in context throughout the Bible. In a way it is a disguised form of approaching Bible study – bringing people to the Scriptures through their own experiences and then relating those experiences to Scripture. The aim is to try and develop aspects that are essential to the Christian life. The first study introduces seven key virtues and talks about practical steps for how to live them out. The course aims through prayer, meditation and study to lead Christians to a closer and more personal relationship with Christ.
B. Bible in one year
The Bible in one year is a daily email distributed by Holy Trinity Brompton Church. It includes a daily Biblical commentary on the Bible. There are a large number of daily subscribers (12,167 as of 25/7/12) to the service and it facilitates and encourages wider study and appreciation of the Bible. Saddleback Church (USA) has also developed similar catechesis providing a commentary on every chapter on the Bible on their website. The commentary provides an in depth analysis with a story of each three readings of the day. The email ensures that subscribers read a sizeable portion of Scripture every day with a thoughtful and contemporary reflection to ponder. The feedback from this service is that it enriches and nourishes the faith and practice of those who participate.
C. Small study groups
Small Study Groups are frequently used by parishes to help pray and study the Bible. Westminster Diocese ‘At you word, Lord’ initiative used small groups extensively. However, the content used for some groups has never been set. Small study groups are a vital component for the vision of new evangelisation as proposed by papers from the diocese of Westminster. A 3 day national seminar in London has proposed a Parish Evangelisation Cell model, looking at how small study groups can provide education and need the basic needs of each parish for evangelisation. There are a large number of prayer groups based in London with the charismatic renewal. Matthew 18:20 reminds us that when two or three are gathered in the name of God he will be present with us. The importance of faith sharing in small groups cannot be underestimated in the new evangelisation. It provides a simple, confidential and caring environment where faith can be shared. This might include knowledge and information about the Bible.
D. International Conference
The National Bible Study Conference was held in Philadelphia in June 2012. The conference brought together many of the leading figures of Bible study together to help lay leaders bring successful programs back to their parishes. The event continues to grow every year and has very strong feedback material. Testimonies have highlighted that the event has helped to grow the spiritual lives of participants, of the high quality speakers who were present, of an opportunity to invite others to get involved in Scripture study in a deeper way and how the Scriptures came alive in a personal way from the event. From the testimonies alone, the event is reported to be a powerful way of connecting people more deeply and intimately in ever greater knowledge of the Scriptures.
E. Social Media – apps, twitter and facebook
The recent development of social media, changes in publishing as well as the dissemination and spreading of information has led to changes with how we interact with knowledge and information. The digital revolution has also led to a number of useful apps such as Bible Trivia, MP3 Catholic Bible, Bible reader, iBreviary among many others. These can be useful methods of deepening understanding and awareness of the Bible. Scott Hahn has said, “The airwaves are thick with television and radio shows that claim to represent a biblical worldview. Software packages enable us to search the Scriptures with the speed and accuracy that ancient monks imaged to be impossible this side of heaven.” Access to information has never been easier in the internet generation.
The development of new media also provides further opportunities for Biblical commentary and reflection. Youtube videos, podcasts, blogs and articles circumvent the traditional media and provide opportunities for teaching, learning and discovering more about the Catholic faith. The website Bible Quizzes has specialised in providing tests about the Bible.
F. Written Materials
Bible Alive is a Catholic scripture magazine which draws its strength, inspiration and direction from the liturgical cycle. The essence of Bible Alive is the daily reflections. They are written in an accessible and warm style inviting the reader to penetrate and plumb the depths of the scripture reading of the day. The lead features cover a wide array of subjects, topics, profiles and interviews on matters relating to living the Christian faith today.
G. Videos, games and interactive material
There are a number of board games that have faith content. Another recent development has been a number of computer games that have had Biblical content. Bibleopoly is based upon Monopoly where players collect good deeds instead of wealth. Missionary conquest and Journeys of Paul are other games that have been introduced. A board game called Divinity has helped players to learn more about the Catechism. These games are not overwhelmingly popular. There are a number of different films and videos with Biblical content, from which parishioners have helped to develop their faith.
H. Schools Bible Project:
The Schools Bible Project is a project of Christian projects. Pupils at secondary schools across Britain can study the New Testament and win awards and prizes for essays showing their knowledge and understanding of some of the great events of Christ’s life and mission.
The Schools Bible Project has now been running for over twenty years, and has become an important part of Religious Education in a large number of schools. Every secondary school in the country is contacted with the Bible Project materials in January. Essays are submitted every year for the project.
The project helps young people to engage and connect with the Bible, thinking creatively and critically, leading to a deeper knowledge and understanding of the Bible. The winners of the 2011 award went to the House of Lords to receive their prizes from one of the trustees. Christian Projects was founded in the 1950s as a small Hampshire based group of Christians who met to pray under the name “Order of Christian Unity.” The charity was expanded in the 1970s and it began to be involved in a range of projects such as the Schools Bible project.
I. Locally organised community initiatives
Evangelical Churches since 2011 have started an initiative called Biblefresh. This is a movement of hundreds of churches, agencies, college, festivals and denominations to encourage people, particularly within the church, not to see the Bible as a toxic text, but to find new ways to engage with passion with the Bible. Churches and their members were asked to look for opportunities to raise levels of Biblical understanding through reading, training, translation and experience. They emphasized that the Bible needed to be read in community.
In 2011, many organizations got together to promote the Biblefresh initiative. 120 partners and 54 ‘Bible champions’ helped to promote the Bible through theological college events, newsletters, books, videos, raising money for Biblical translation and distributing Bibles. Many churches and individuals had the opportunity to engage with the Bible in fresh ways during 2011, including many who had not thought about it in years. The Bible fresh initiative is an excellent locally organised community initiative that has helped to captivate the imagination and initiative of local Churches to search the depth and beauty of bringing the Bible to life in contemporary society. There have been similar events in attempting to organise large reading scale projects for the Bible from evangelical Churches.
The Biblefresh initiative is a classic example of a creative, locally organised community initiative that brings creativity and imagination to the Bible to break open the Word in local Churches. Catholic Churches would benefit from such an initiative to open the Bible to a greater understanding and appreciation in the local community. Given the tremendous scope of the Bible in influencing beautiful works of art, music, architecture and writing, it is time the Bible was given a more culturally relevant position in influencing and improving contemporary culture.
Biblefresh has succeeded, according to its own reports, because it leads to the personal engagement of the local community with the promotion and study of the Bible. Community and events and activities help to build a common identity, mission and purpose rooted in the Scriptures while resources are delivered for more effective use.
The Catholic Bible School is a community open to students based in West Sussex. It opened its doors to students in 1988. The Bible schools looks to be a centre whose ministry and outreach provides a range of opportunities for people to encounter and develop love for the Scriptures as the living Word of God so that they will deepen their relationship with God, find healing and wholeness and be encourage and equipped to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. A variety of courses are offered at the centre. There are a number of different lay communities in the United Kingdom that likewise are committed to evangelisation and spreading the Word of God.
Bringing cultural change into the Catholic community
Cultural events also provide an opportunity to integrate the Bible into public life. The 400th anniversary of the King James Bible in May 2012 (albeit not a Catholic Bible) was an opportunity to celebrate the importance and centrality of the Bible in the life of the British nation. A Bible was sent to every secondary School in the country. Such notable events should have a central place in the spheres of culture and education. In other countries, cartoons have been made which bring some of the stories of the Bible to life.
There have been attempts by secularists to rewrite the Bible for a secular audience in recent years. AC Grayling has written a book called the Good Book. This is an atheist’s attempt to write a Bible. Phillip Pullman has written a book called the Good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ. He tries to differentiate between a historical Jesus and a Churchly Christ. James Frey’s the Final Testament of the Holy Bible asks what you would do today if you found out the messiah was alive today behaving appalling. Alain de Botton wrote religion for atheists, an attempt to ‘steal’ the best aspects of religion for atheists and to make secular versions of formerly religious practices.
The BBC documentary by Diamaid MacCulloch on the history of Christianity highlighted that Christians need to tell their own story before other groups tell the Christian story according to their own principles. The ‘Trouble with the Pope’ documentary by Peter Tatchell again highlighted how Christians needed to tell their own history and story before their past is usurped by people with different agendas. A recent story that one hotel had replaced the Bibles with the soft porn ‘Fifty shades of Grey’ is indicative of the contemporary cultural scene in the United Kingdom. What is certain is that if Christians are not professional about communicating their own history and message, the secular culture will provide such service for the Christian community.
This list is by no means a full guide of all the programmes and courses available to help deepen knowledge and awareness about the Bible. However, it provides a quick guide to a variety of different ways in which to deepen a parishioner’s knowledge about the Bible. Each course is an opportunity to deepen and develop knowledge and passion about the Scriptures.
Businessman Peter Hutley has performed passion plays in Trafalgar square and also at the Wintershall estate. These plays have brought the Bible to life in a new dramatic form. There is an annual production of the life of Christ at Wintershall. The plays have grown in popularity over many years and the plays are reported to have captivated the imagination of the audience. Plays and dramas are another way in which people can learn about the Bible.
- Methods of Research
Two separate groups were interviewed: a local parish and also a charismatic prayer group. Two focus groups from both groups were conducted. In addition, a variety of Priests were interviewed for their ideas and opinion. A survey was conducted as well as in depth interviews. This helped to collect a large number of responses involving the personal lives and faith sharing stories of parishioners.
A questionnaire was conducted in a local parish to ascertain the opinion and views of parishioners on Biblical study and knowledge. Parishioners were asked what they would find useful in furthering their Biblical study and knowledge in the past and in the future. They were also asked what has helped them to apply the Bible to their personal life, and were asked to rate their Biblical knowledge themselves. A focus group was also conducted and parishioners were asked about their views, knowledge and opinion on the topic. A ‘school term’ time of the year was chosen so that no unfavourable results would happen. In addition, other Biblical experts were asked during this time along with other parishioners from other parishes on a random basis. The parish remained anonymous and the identities of the parishioners were protected during the survey. Each of the 800 parishioners was asked about the survey, but around 50 filled out the survey.
The parish has a Lectio Divina prayer group and also a Scripture study group advertised in the newsletter. There are short commentaries on Scripture each week in the newsletter. In addition, the Parish Priest is a Scripture scholar. In addition, the Parish Priest notes in the newsletter that should anyone have an issue with the interpretation of Scripture, he is happy to help and provide clarification. For these reasons, the parish that was questioned may have a congregation with a better knowledge of Scripture than many other parishes.
Other methods would have been available in order to ascertain the views and opinions of parishioners on Biblical study and knowledge. Two separate groups were asked questions during this study. More parishes could have been approached during the study, or more parishioners could have been questioned. A random study could have been created for any parishioner to conduct.
Other approaches could have been used to gather information about Biblical knowledge and study in a parish setting. A quiz could have been conducted to verify the extent of knowledge in a parish. A quiz would provide some indication of the level of Biblical knowledge of a random parish. Only experts could have been approached to ask what would be the best method of approaching the issue would be. Two separate programs could have been conducted in conjunction with each other, with feedback from parishioners on both topics. The approaches mentioned would yield interesting results. However, it was decided that a focus group and survey would be the most suitable method because it paid specific emphasis on the personal experience and opinion of regular parishioners. A program only looking at experts may be neglectful to how a program might be received by regular parishioners. A study of two Bible courses may not pay attention to other courses or the previous experience of parishioners. A quiz would only give a snapshot of levels of knowledge from parishioners in a highly random process. In light of such limitations, it was decided that a survey of opinions and experiences as well as a focus group and interviews with a select number of Priests would be the most suitable method of finding out suitable information about nurturing Bible study in Catholic parishes.
The limitations of having just two parishes in the survey are that there is a possibility of having inaccurate results. However, it provides a suitable analysis of two parishes, the opinions and needs that they require. It was decided that two parishes would provide enough material for the purposes of the project. A large number of responses would not necessarily be beneficial with providing feedback from a typical parish for the survey.
If the study was to be conducted in the future, further use of the internet in gathering and retrieving information would be used. This is because it is possible to survey a substantially larger number of people using the internet which would yield a more diverse and interesting set of results. A limitation would be that results might come in from around the world and it would not be known for certain where some of the responses were from. However, it would be possible to collect the Internet portal of those who submitted results which would show the locality of where they were based.
With another study, further information would be gathered from Church teaching projects such as Alpha that have been remarkably successful. These projects would be examined in detail to analyse how and why the courses are so successful and would could be emulated to help encourage Biblical study and knowledge. It cannot be dismissed that a cultural and attitude change needs to happen in the Church before there is an approach in Catholic communities that truly nourishes the value and importance of Scripture in its true context. Marketing resources that promote courses would also be examined to look at the attendance and quality of such resources.
Other methods may have been useful in retrieving data from parishioners on Biblical study and knowledge. An in depth study of where they found they retrieved the most information about the Bible could be conducted. This would help to ascertain whether school, parish, media, study groups or other sources were most useful in how they retrieved information about the Bible and how they were formed. An in depth study could be conducted with parish cell groups to ascertain how they had been successful in Bible study and what had helped them to grow in knowledge and appreciation of Scripture. Furthermore, information could be retrieved from new internet publishers such as Church militant about the number of subscriptions and the level of interaction that they have had with practicing Catholics and the feedback gathered from sources. This would help to understand what kind of an impact new media is having as a source of Scriptural information and what use this might be for education, formation, awareness and understanding in the Catholic community. The advantage of online resources is that they are easily accessible and can information to help fill the knowledge gaps where catechesis and education has been lacking and in locations where there are no catechists. However, online resources can never provide a full alternative to high quality catechists, but might help where the Catholic faith has not been taught at an adequate level.
Parishioners with less knowledge of Scripture may have been more reluctant to fill out the form. This is because they may have been shy, reluctant or less bothered to fill out the form in the first place. This is difficult to fully evaluate, but as a general rule it would be adequate to acknowledge that more committed parishioners are more likely to respond to the form, leading to results that show more than average awareness and knowledge about the Bible. An online form may provide an easier forum to respond to for those with less knowledge, but this would not fully compensate the difference in answers.
Improvements for future
The survey might be more beneficial with asking specific questions about the Old and New Testaments, looking at school curriculums or using an age specific question to help find answers between different generations. The study might further highlight the discrepancy between those who have studied the Bible extensively (especially Priests) and lay people who have an elementary knowledge of the Bible. The study could also look into the dissemination of Biblical knowledge and more specifically how it is imparted.
Special needs groups could be interviewed to see if there is a need to provide methods to help them deeper their knowledge of the Bible in Church. A number of individuals in the diocese were interviewed about this project but off record. A questionnaire to test Biblical knowledge may give a good indication of the extent of a parishioner’s knowledge, rather than a self description of their knowledge. This would help to ascertain the usefulness of their comments and compare it to their real knowledge. A centre for Biblical studies could be interviewed or examined in detail to understand and develop how such a centre is helpful in spreading knowledge and understanding about the Bible.
One aspect that was not addressed was how the Bible was being taught to younger generations. If knowledge and awareness of the Bible is to be disseminated extremely widely across the Catholic community, it needs to be taught thoroughly, effectively and convincingly from a young age. This was beyond the scope and vision for this study, but would be of interest to future researchers. A good knowledge of the Bible at a young age will nurture future generations with a tradition of knowledge and appreciation about Sacred Scripture.
The anonymity of the parish was guaranteed. There were no ethical considerations to be concerned about during this study. It was a voluntary process to submit the questionnaire and there were no contentious questions as part of the program. The results do not have a bearing on the quality of the parish, the extent of preaching or the success of the parish in bringing a love of the Bible to the parish. Certain parishioners may have been interested in the results and the publication of the results may have had an impact on the self-perception of the parish.
The questionnaire and focus group did not examine the lack of catechesis and religious knowledge that is typical in many Catholic parishes. The provision of high quality catechesis will help to bridge the current lack of knowledge on Bible study. At the heart of this transformation is a cultural change by placing the Bible at the centre of the Catholic tradition, practice and custom.
A parish study group can only achieve a certain amount of religious knowledge if a love of the Bible is not incorporated into the lives of parishioners. If the Bible is to be read by parishioners every day, a personal love of the Scriptures must be nurtured and encouraged. The Bible must have a renewed place in the lives of many parishioners if there is to be a flourishing of Biblical knowledge and study. There is no artificial solution to making a dramatic change to lack of Biblical awareness. The enculturation of a Biblical culture goes far beyond the provision of courses and classes on Scripture. The practice of families is essential to help nurture and deepen faith.
- Research results
Almost all parishioners described themselves as having a ‘moderate’ or ‘average’ amount of knowledge on the Bible, rating themselves from 4 to 7 out of 10. Nobody described them as an expert, but others may have been generous in describing themselves in having an average knowledge of the Bible. One parishioner explained how a thoroughly Catholic education in the 1940s had helped him to have an intimate knowledge of the Gospels and New Testament, but had left the Old Testament rather unexplored.
Parishioners found a variety of options had been useful in the past to help further their Biblical knowledge and study in a Catholic parish. A majority responded that the Sunday liturgy was the most important aspect, including the sermon. Others mentioned family members, CTS booklets and pamphlets have helped. One lady mentioned that the Lectio Divina group in the parish had been helpful and also the Scripture group was useful. A reading of the lives of saints was also mentioned in a couple of responses in helping to increase Biblical study and knowledge. One parishioner mentioned that two trips to the Holy Land with parish groups helped his knowledge immensely and also a trip ‘In the footsteps of St Paul’ with the Parish Priest was useful for knowledge and experience. One parishioner mentioned that the internet was useful for furthering his knowledge of the Bible. One Parishioner was a former Anglican and had married an ordinand. Her knowledge came from listening to “zillions” of Questions and Answers and sermons. She did note she missed the question and answer format that was present in some Protestant Churches as a method of learning. One answer acknowledged the difficulty of work commitments and the limitation that placed on attending Church based classes.
One parishioner replied that she had belonged to a charismatic prayer group that was formed in 1980 when the curate of the parish came to weekly meetings to read the Bible. She notes,
“With the Holy Spirit’s guidance I found it the most exciting book! At the group we shared how God had spoken and guided us through His word. At the beginning attendance was around fifteen, but numbers fell over the years as people died or moved away. In or around 2000 there were only four of us left so we decided to discontinue meeting formally. Nevertheless two or three of us continue visiting the home of a housebound parishioner for prayer and reflection on the Bible.”
Parishioners provided a wide range of results when asked what would be useful for the future. These answers varied widely from the previous question. A number called for allocated readings, further Scriptural exegesis in order to explain the content of the Bible in more depth. Some others called for workshops on specific issues from experts. One Parishioner called for the historicity of the Bible to be examined, and explanations along the lines of the Lion guide to the Bible. It seemed that parishioners were looking for outstanding catechesis in this field if things were to be improved. One parishioner called for a general cultivation of reverence within Church, and also called for the institution of study groups to explore in more depth than is possible in a sermon, the significance of events, particularly in the New Testament. This would be along the lines of the sermon of the Parish Priest. One parishioner said it would be useful for a member of the clergy to attend small Scripture groups so that the group is enriched. There was a reluctance to hold Scripture groups in people’s homes, according to one response, so the best venue would be at Church.
Another parishioner called for small informal workshops structured and appropriately led by informed people. They “must be interesting and lots of coffee and socializing involved too.” Day trips to Churches and events were also requested for by the same parishioner. Themed events were also desired. The parish already conducts events, a study group and Lectio Divina group and therefore is covering these suggestions. Mothers with young children noted their difficulty of attending events outside of term time. One parishioner remarked, “I attend regular retreats often with Opus Dei and would like to be able to spend a weekend at a Convent spending time in prayer and study.” Another response stated the need to have more personal reading and also to have more self-application. Other responses promoted the idea of having more prayer groups and more Bible teaching. Yet with a lectio divina group already in the Parish and a Scripture study group, it is the opinion of many that this is sufficient for the number of people who are likely to attend these events.
One Parishioner answered that sessions based on Bible passages with the chance to look at concordances, ask questions and discuss why certain passages were there and how they could be interpreted would be good. Overall structure, events and format featured prominently in the answers to these questions. The need for an outstanding exegete was called for in a number of responses.
Parishioners were also asked what has helped to apply reading the Word of God to their personal lives. Some parishioners mentioned that inspiring sermons that get behind the text of the readings are very helpful. Sermons that could keep you focused and interested were always useful. Media, TV, discussion and radio had also helped one parishioner. Another suggestion was interacting with the local community in a fun, informed and educational way. The response reads, “We are all students and have potential to be interested if given the right circumstances.”
Others mentioned specific devotional books which have helped to illuminate certain areas of Church teaching. Another parishioner has mentioned that being involved in the parish groups, such as a the Marian group and visiting families in the parish, in particular families who are having their child baptized was useful, as well as attending days of recollection from religious groups. One parishioner mentioned her preference to activities rather than meditation had helped her more. One parishioner also mentioned the ‘Word of life’ study produced by the Focolare movement which focused on application was useful. Another parishioner highlighted the importance of the internet in developing and nurturing his knowledge. Another parishioner stated, “Encouragement from peers within the parish and support from local priest has helped immensely.”
The Focus Group
The focus group provided some interesting results. It helped to reveal the needs of parishioners and whether they were being met. The focus group showed that although many may read the Bible occasionally, few study it systematically and inductively. With this in mind, it was the opinion of the group that many study groups that are formed do not study but share their ignorance on the issue. Some mentioned that a great place for teaching is not in study groups but in the home. Others mentioned the passage of 1 Corinthians 8:1 in that it was not just knowledge, but the application to one’s personal life that makes the Bible so important. All the parishioners gave indication and approval that their needs were being met.
It was highlighted that an effective system of pedagogy would be the most successful way to implement successful Bible knowledge in the parish. Some mentioned that many parishes do not have the resources, expertise and personnel to have high quality personalised Biblical study teaching in each parish. Therefore, modern technology can help to bridge this gap by providing high quality pre-recorded resources to help provide a solution to this issue. Programs would therefore only need good organizers, and not Bible experts because a high quality course would be able to do the training itself. However, there is no substitute to a Scripture scholar in a parish, but the majority of parishes do not have such a luxury.
It was mentioned that the local school has compulsory religious education. However, the Bible is never taught in depth there as religious education includes teaching of all faiths, while the syllabus does not specialise looking in depth at religious texts. One parishioner mentioned that the national curriculum was more of a ‘tick box mentality’ and serious catechetical knowledge of the Catholic faith was not properly studied as part of the curriculum. In light of this, a program that was able to be a systematic coverage of the Bible that would be able to simplify the teaching and provide a solid overview, encouraging young people to engage with a love of their faith would be enormously beneficial.
The focus group noted that a complex knowledge of the Bible was not needed for most parishioners as a base grounding of knowledge. What was needed was a systematic way of ensuring that parishioners were given a high quality summary of the Bible in a format that brings the Bible to life in their own personal life and in a way that brings a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Rather than a ‘stuffy book,’ the Bible should evoke passion, fervency and devotion towards faith and the practice of faith. One parishioner noted that the high level of ‘lapsation’ of young people could be considered down to the fact that they were never fully taught the treasures and gifts of their faith. In a certain sense, their rejection of the practice of the faith can be considered a rejection of what they perceive faith to be. A systematic and outstanding Biblical program would help to dispel any myths about faith and lead to a deeper knowledge and a greater likelihood that they would continue the practice of their faith by regular Church attendance.
A Charismatic prayer group is questioned
A Charismatic prayer group in a Catholic Parish also conducted the study. Over 20 people agreed to conduct the study, and normally around 60 people attend the prayer group. The number of answers gave a response that was proportionate to the number of people in the group. The prayer group is usually composed of individuals who are keen and passionate about their faith and regular and committed Church goers.
The prayer group reported that it was mostly the readings of the Mass and small groups that were useful in their knowledge and study of the Bible in the past. One member reported,
“The Alpha course run in the parish was a turning point for me. A priest once suggested reading a Gospel right through in one go, as opposed to dipping in and out at Sunday Mass. It gave me a different perspective and I saw Jesus in a new light. Life in the Spirit seminars works well too. When there are no homilies, at weekday masses say, or the homily is not related to the readings, an opportunity is missed.”
Another replied, “My involvement with Verbum Dei, a religious community was what did it for me…. not attendance at Mass, unfortunately.” The majority of other responses stated that Bible study groups, prayer groups, studies, talks and engagement with Mass was what gave them the best information about the Bible.
The prayer group responded very differently when asked what might be useful for the future. The majority of respondents were keen to have an in depth Bible study course. One answer was for a ten week Bible study course, another asked for a diocesan program of Biblical study and resources. One member responded,
“I have found the Maryvale MCC course to be very helpful at forming the habit of picking up the Bible regularly and spending time with it. There is always a purpose to your picking it up, an exercise to complete say, and the insights given are always helpful. A Parish based equivalent would be useful, I’m sure it must already exist.”
Another replied, “Lectio Divina groups that encourage prayer with scripture. These should be taught in parishes (and supported and promoted by the priest). Everyone should be encouraged to join a Lectio group with regular training provided by the parish to make sure we are all on track.” Others were calling for cell groups, more frequent courses and adult study groups.
When asked what had helped apply reading the Word of God to their personal lives, one member replied, “spending time with Protestants.” There were a wide range of answers, from personal testimonies, personal Bible reading, daily Mass, time with spiritual director, Biblical commentaries, word of mouth, prayer ministry, Magnificat, great sermons and reflection time. Lectio Divina featured in 4 responses. The depth of responses was indicative that this group was more passionate and dedicated in their pursuit of Biblical knowledge and study than the parish group that conducted the questionnaire. It was clear that the group valued spending time in small groups in sharing faith as a vitally important form of faith formation.
In addition, the prayer group were asked whether they found reading the Bible easy or hard, and what might help them understand the Bible more easily. One member replied, “It would be made easier if Catholic Churches had home group systems where clusters of people study together.” Others suggested a sticker chart, a study guide, a person whom you could go to for advice such as a spiritual adviser and a Biblical commentary. Others called for “A knowledgeable people with a passion for the Word to break it open,” encouragement and support and something beyond the Alpha course. Another member reported that the Daily Good News report from Terry Modica in Florida was very helpful. Others reported that dedicated time and self discipline were factors that would help them. One member reported that the Bible seemed intimidating as such a large book and that when it is broken down it can be more accessible. Others reported that being accountable to others would really help, and that parts of the Bible can be enigmatic.
The Focus group for the charismatic prayer group
A focus group of a small number of individuals was asked from the charismatic prayer group about Bible study and knowledge. There was great interest in high quality resources to promote knowledge of the Bible. One member stated that they had courses every week of the prayer group, and a course on the Bible that was geared towards those with a moderate to low knowledge of the Bible would be very helpful. Another member mentioned that resources where you fill in answers are very helpful for learning quickly. What had been most useful in the past had been simple, direct, relevant, accessibly resources that go into sufficient detail but are simple enough for the average lay person to access.
The group has organised successful weekends away. One of the group mentioned that the Alpha course also have great success with the weekends. The social element of these weekends brings a dynamic conclusion to the course. These weekends should be considered when organising courses, according to the organisers.
One member of the focus group highlighted the Real Catholic TV/Church militant resources, which have provided a vast array of youtube videos all about the Catholic faith, with many of them specifically on the Bible. These are available for a small subscription and it was noted that at least one individual had found these resources extremely useful for formation as a convert. It was stated that these resources helped to fill the vacuum of adequate formation that was available to the individual at the time. Michael Voris had spoken in London to a Church group and this had been inspirational for a number of individuals. This point highlighted the importance of new media and social media in increasing knowledge and appreciation of the Bible.
Overall, the prayer group showed substantial interest in furthering their Biblical study and knowledge, but were open to admit that their Bible knowledge was average. They had a variety of ideas of how to further their knowledge that were usually different from what had been helpful in the past. There was a keen desire for a more in depth Bible study. The answers showed that there group had a greater desire for more knowledge and study than the parish group. This is shown by the depth of answers and the care consideration of possible options for the future.
A comparison between the Charismatic prayer group and the parish
The prayer group and parish responded with a different set of answers both in the questionnaire and in the focus group. The prayer group was on the whole more passionate and keen to know about their faith than members of the parish. They expressed a greater awareness of the different programs that are out there and were keen to know more about their faith, showing a greater desire to be part of Lectio Divina groups and to take part in extra study. The Ethiopian’s request for Biblical assistance in Acts 8:31 features prominently in answers from the two different groups. The prayer group believed strongly that that it was vitally important to have a guide available to provide a commentary and formation for the Bible. It should be noted that both the prayer group and the parish have exceptional pastoral leaders who have a solid knowledge of the Scriptures.
It is important to note that many of the parishioners were at an older age than the prayer group. This was particularly reflected in what they had found useful in the past in furthering their knowledge of Scripture. They were less likely to mention modern techniques such as the internet. Parishioners that are older are less likely to participate in faith formation programmes, because some believe that they have had all the formation they need.
An evaluation of the Parish Priest and other Priests has revealed that many Priests do not have the time, expertise and experience to create their own course or studies on the Bible and that the work load of parish ministry has meant that this is not an area of priority for some clergy. The Priests interviewed were most receptive to a systematic course that is of a suitable quality to be informative and educational for a large proportion of their congregation. Courses like the ‘Alpha course’ would help to provide local leaders, hence enhancing the life of the parish and lightening the work for clergy. However, all the clergy that were interviewed were unaware of a suitable course that could fulfil the needs of a course that they would understand to be suitable for Scripture study. The opinion of the Priests interviewed was that there was an opportunity for high quality resources to be made available for this field that might benefit and enhance parish life. Some of the Priests felt that some existing catechetical resources were not of sufficient quality to be used for the pastoral benefit of their parish. Any resources used, in the eyes of one Priest, who have to be of high quality to be useful.
Many of the priests mentioned that they felt that DVD resources by experts would help to fill a gap in parish ministry to help enhance and increase the quality and value of catechetical resources. One Priest mentioned that the level of catechesis by lay people in the parishes he had been a spiritual leader was in general, ‘poor.’ What was needed, in his opinion, was a system to ensure that the most basic level of the faith was taught, even in a place where there were few teachers able to pass on faith where there were no teachers. Once a most basic level of faith was present, intermediate and then advanced courses could be taught. The most pressing problem was the lack of catechists in order to pass on the faith, coined with apathy and indifference of parishioners in terms of realising a lack of catechesis and providing suitable alternatives to ensure that there was a sufficient quality of religious education.
Many of the priests were highly supportive of a centralised system of education where study days, training days and formation could be done at a diocesan or national level, and where that information would be taken back to Parishes to impart the information to parishioners. This lightened the burden on Priests and would increase the likelihood of high quality resources. Other groups could opt in or opt out of this process. One Priest mentioned the Neo-Catechumenate community who provide all their own resources and education.
A number of Priests are interviewed
4 Priests were interviewed to ask what they felt would help to nurture Bibical study and knowledge in their parish. For reasons of confidentiality, the names of the Priests are not mentioned so that their parishes are respected and there is no competition or negative comments given towards any religious community.
All 4 Priests recognised that there was a problem with the lack of knowledge and learning with many of their Parishioners in their parish. The largest problem mentioned was that the lack of sufficient quality religious catechesis after the 1960s and 1970s meant that many parishioners had a very poor quality knowledge of their faith. Subsequent to that, even catechists had a poor knowledge of faith and this led to further problems as in the words of one Priest, “The blind were leading the blind.” The lack of catechesis was especially acute when the Bible was mentioned. Very few confirmation candidates would be able to answer simple questions in relation to the Bible and many would not be able to name most of the Ten Commandments. One Priest recognized that older members of his congregation had a greater knowledge of Scripture, and that this was more of a problem for those aged under 40.
All 4 Priests were very conscious of their own personal workload in the parish and stated that it was difficult to create their own high quality course from within the resources of the parish with the current set up. A number of parishioners may be able to produce a simple course, but not be able to produce a sufficient high quality resource that would challenge and educate to a powerful degree in the way that a talented Scripture Scholar would be able to. Therefore, all the Priests agreed that a high quality resource from outside the limitations and resources of their parish would be enormously beneficial.
The Priests that were interviewed were very open, enthusiastic and receptive to a catechetical resource that increased the Bible knowledge and formation of their parishioners. They were especially open to a resource that was simple, easy to use, required leadership from some parishioners to run. One Priest was reticent about using a resource that might undermine the autonomy of some of his parishioners. Another Priest mentioned courses in Schools and the need to ensure that courses are not covered twice. It was necessary to see that courses could correlate with each other to ensure that many different topics were covered. One Priest mentioned a lack of resources that are currently published in English and cited this issue as a particular problem. One Priest stated that trips to the Holy Land, which was called the “Fifth Gospel” by Paul VI, had helped to captivate the imagination, awe and wonder of his parishioners by bringing many of the Bible passages to life and helping them to visualise Gospel passages and also to be well acquainted with Biblical geography.
The Priests had differing ideas with how it would be useful to develop Biblical knowledge in their own parishes. Two mentioned that the majority of parishioners knowledge will come from participation in the Sacramental life of the Church. One Priest was very enthusiastic that new creative ideas should be used when thinking ‘outside the box’ to help engage with parishioners. He was open to using new technology extensively, even although many of his parishioners were elderly. He thought that a shift in attitude needed to happen among teachers and catechists in order to unearth the present apathy and indifference on catechesis.
The Priests noted that biblical study could be a landmark course to bring in a new revolution of high quality religious teaching and catechesis. However, a course would be insufficient to root out the ignorance about the Bible. The course may be able to ignite a passion and interest in Biblical study, however, a cultural shift needed to change whereby parishioners by their own initiative would ready the Bible daily, read commentaries, start their own study course, without prompting or encouragement. In this way, flames of passion had to be ignited in each individual, rather than an exterior course providing the level of formation. The success of a course should be measured by the degree in which individuals are ‘set alight’ with a passion for the content of the course.
- Discussion of results
The results have highlighted that there is a clear desire for high quality resources to encourage and improve Biblical understanding and knowledge. Projects that aim to improve the knowledge and understanding of the Bible are most successful when they use a variety of methods to promote their aims. Projects have to engage with the imagination and intellectual level of participants.
Many of the parishioners had a variety of different ideas of what would be helpful for them in the deepening of their knowledge about the Bible. This was based on their experience and also their own ideas about what is creative and what works for educating a parish. This is perhaps why there was such a high variety of results. Many parishioners were unaware of the major programs that are used in parishes. This was perhaps indicative of the lack of information and awareness of Biblical knowledge in parishes.
Priests of the parishes interviewed were very receptive to initiatives that equipped laity and young leaders with projects in the parish for the building up of knowledge and awareness in the parish. There was a general openness and welcoming in this field as well as a lack of awareness of comprehensive programs in the field of Bible study. The priests were ready to acknowledge catechetical shortfalls in the current parish education system, but did not have suitable immediate answers to the lack of religious knowledge. The priests recognized that there needed to be a renewal from the hearts and minds of the parishioners, and a program of study would not necessarily in and of itself be the answer to lack of Bible study. Parishioners had to be brought to the place where they were passionate and willing to study from their own initiative. Some parishioners would only be able to be ‘spoon fed’ and not study on their own. But the vast majority of parishioners were capable of an intellectual critical analysis of the words in the Bible and applying the words to their own life.
The results highlighted an important point. The lack of religious education or catechesis was not down to one particular reason: it has simply been a lack of education or lack of good that has created the current situation. An overwhelming proportion of both clergy and laity are open and receptive to new high quality resources to be introduced and therefore there is little that is stopping a new culture of Biblical study from happening in principal. Parishioners have become accustomed to the status quo situation, through either ignorance or indifference. Priests are in agreement that some parishes could be shaken up and challenged from a situation of apathy by a range of methods to learn more about the Bible. But any method can only be a tool to challenge the desires of individual parishioners to develop a daily and regular reading and learning pattern of the Bible. The tools, such as Lectio Divina groups, Bible study courses and programmes can only be the start of bringing a deepening appreciation and awareness of the Bible into the Catholic Church. The tools can only initiate change and stoke the desires of the hearts of believers. The tools cannot be considered the end of the process of nurturing Biblical study and knowledge in Catholic parishes. Each individual believer needs to become personally passionate and take a real responsibility for recognising the importance of the Bible in developing a personal relationship with God. Each believer needs to have an understanding about the story of Salvation history and have sufficient idea about how the Bible should be interpreted in the Church.
References to the Bible need to become embedded in our culture, conversations, references, thoughts and cultural activities in order to rejuvenate a Church to return to its roots. The myth that passion about the Bible is a ‘Protestant thing’ needs to be dispelled. Catholics should be as passionate about the Bible as any other believing Christian and Christians who are extremely knowledgable about the Bible should be an example to Catholics. Catholics should not be afraid to read the Bible together with Protestants if this is an authentic way to share faith.
The results indicated that study programs that had a social aspect were more gratefully received. For the charismatic prayer group, the social dimension of learning played a strong role in encouraging new people to participate and learn in a creative way. This was because keen individuals were able to encourage and spur each other on. It was not evident that parishioners had thought about the issue at a deeper level, of what might be a more comprehensive program that could be introduced nationwide or on a diocesan level. Parishioners largely thought about the questions from a personal and individual way, rather than considering the needs of the wider community. However, some answers included the desire for a whole parish program that would improve Bible study in the whole parish. The wide variety of answers showed that there was a desire for programmes that encompassed different models and methods for improving Bible study and knowledge.
The Great Adventure is a Bible study program that has had great success in providing a comprehensive, dynamic and multi-faceted system to providing parishioners with the tools and resources they need to study the Bible in a Catholic parish. The questionnaire proved that there is a desire for this kind of study group in groups within the United Kingdom. The success of the Great Adventure is that it uses a variety of methods such as study groups, DVDs, additional resources, a timeline and brings the complexity of the Bible into a simple teaching method. When parishioners get the ‘bigger picture’ of the Bible they will have a template to further their knowledge. The course gives sufficient scope so that people with a basic and advanced knowledge of the Bible can receive sufficient formation from the same course. The DVDs solve the problem of not having a Biblical expert in every parish. The forward reading and personal study are essential for effective group sessions, while the small groups help to digest the material of the course by providing sufficient thought, argument and dialogue to each section.
The system based approach to parish study is by far the most effective method of approaching catechesis. The power of systems cannot be underestimated for the important of Biblical study in parishes. The book the “E-Myth revisited” has nothing to do with religion, parishes or Bible study. It was a study of why most small businesses fail, and what can be done about it. The book identified that the most consistently successful small to mid size businesses across the board were franchises – business like McDonald’s and Subway – that converted everything they did into turn-key proven systems that could be replicatated over and over again, producing consistent results. This yields the question, how could this work for Bible Study? What areas would we need to work on with Bible Study to develop systems around? It is necessary to identify key leverage areas that have the greatest impact on Bible study. Then it would be important to develop systems that would maximise the opportunities of these growth areas. This would also need several years of testing, learning, setbacks and adjusting in order to identify the seven most important growth areas to develop and implement for each area. From this, study groups should run like clockwork. If this system based approach is used with catechesis, it is possible to see explosive growth with the study groups, and other organisations will start to ask what we are doing and then share with them our approach. This is a simple yet effective method of approaching catechesis that will yield enormous dividends.
The Alpha Course is a classic example of this principle. A simple course that is straightforward enough for a parish to conduct and is a system whereby there is a method of reintroduction to the Church that did not exist before. Father Robert Barron’s Catholicism course runs along the same principles, offering a systematic course based study on the basic principles of Catholicism, in an accessible and appealing format that excites, dramatizes and brings the Catholic faith to life.
A project that includes a systematic approach to catechesis would use a variety of resources that highlight different academic abilities, levels of commitment and previous knowledge. For example, the Bible adventure course has a course for children, specialized courses for in depth study of different books of the Bible and also training modules for both students and course directors. Both teenagers and children have their own course available on the program.
Both the focus groups revealed that there was a genuine interest for furthering Biblical study and knowledge. It highlighted that creative approaches, outside traditional forms of education, might be useful in helping to crack the imagination and creativity of parishioners to bring their love and devotion for the Bible to a greater level. Many of the parishioners were very receptive for the opportunity for new projects, study groups, Lectio Divina and faith sharing. The lack of awareness of the Bible from some parishioners was because no program had been presented to them that opened up the Word for them. This highlighted the opportunity to bring in pastoral programs to address such a need.
One of the most interesting responses was that “Spending time with Protestants” was one of the best ways to get to know the Bible better! It has already been highlighted that some Protestant denominations place a much heightened emphasis on reading and studying the Scriptures that Catholic communities. In some ways, this response tells us that Catholic parishes have a great deal to learn from Christian communities who have placed Scripture at the heart of their study and worship. Catholic parishes and dioceses should listen and learn from brothers and sisters in faith who have a passionate knowledge of God’s word and read and study with fervency. Although there may be differences in interpretation, the method, techniques and cultural customs that are successful would be highly useful in implementing in a Catholic context. Some Protestant Churches have adopted very modern forms of communication with their parishioners such as Bible email services, helping parishioners take daily study and reading to a new level. Catholic communities would be wise to learn from such techniques and learn greater skills of interaction in encouraging people to engage with Priests and pastors using all forms of communication. For the year of faith, Matthew Warner from Flocknote has already implemented an email system to help Catholics to read the Catechism daily.
A drip feed approach is the most effective way to help promote an increased awareness among parishioners. Resources such as flocknote can be extremely useful with communicating with modern techniques to parishioners. The Bible in one year is a classic example of a drip feed approach to sustaining parishioners with a continued formation, commentary and reading of the Scriptures in an easy and accessible format. It is a simple principle to state that a daily dose of anything (from medicine to the Bible) will be a substantial step towards the completion of the goal. Such a drip feed should be actively encouraged in every parish, as well as the use of modern communication methods.
The Bible Adventure is so successful because the format encourages participants to be well prepared before classes and it uses a simple format to help every person to have a suitable understanding of the timeline of the Bible. Biblefresh is a dynamic and exciting community initiative that helps parishes to celebrate the importance of the Bible through creative projects. Pastors should consider and evaluate successful projects that help to bring the Bible to life in their local community. Although not a specifically Catholic project, Biblefresh is an example of outstanding creativity and simplicity in having a format with which to promote the Bible in a parish setting.
The survey did not show that parishioners had much knowledge of some of the programs that were available for enhancing Biblical study and knowledge.
A franchise model can meet the needs and desires of parishioners as articulated in the survey. Training can be provided at a Diocesan level for local leaders who can lead cell groups to implement the resources needed. Group leaders can collaborate with online training, question and answers sessions and online training sessions. The survey has highlighted that it is a basic framework and not expertise that is most vital to foster knowledge and study. A franchise model can provide supplemental modules and materials to add to a basic course. This is extremely helpful because the majority of participants can ensure that they have a basic knowledge, while there is further information and training for those needing more information.
From this study, it is evident that an entrepreneurial franchise model to promote the Bible in parishes could be a successful way to substantially increase Biblical knowledge and awareness in Catholic parishes. The Great Adventure is, to date, the most successful attempt to introduce this style of teaching into this area. With a franchise model, duplication is not necessary and high quality resources can be introduced across the board in an efficient and effective way. The surveys that were conducted highlighted that there was a lack of programs being promoted in parishes, in other words, a large opportunity for a highly successful programme to fill the niche for courses to be used.
The Great Bible Adventure uses a number of methods to ensure the calibre and level of teaching. High quality training is provided for leaders of each of the courses who in themselves do not require a high standard of knowledge of the Bible. Training is also provided for the students who have their own portal on the internet and also there is a Question and Answer forum too. The leaders should be more adept at organising rather than being Biblical scholars. Training sessions can be held for dioceses and parishes if and when required. Support is provided for each of the parish groups and the popularity of the programme helps to foster its spread from parish to parish. The programme helps to build community by bringing parishioners together with a common theme. A considerable amount of time is saved by relying on such a resource. Busy pastoral leaders do not have the time to compose a course of their own. The structure and layout of the course helps bring order and planning to the course and helps with the administration and facilitation of the course. The consent of parishes and diocese is necessary before successful programs can be implemented. Successful programs should be implemented in a number of parishes before diocesan or nationwide programs are introduced.
After evaluating the views and opinions of two separate groups, it is evident that there is a clear desire and need for good quality resources that help to captivate the imagination and set alight the faith of parishioners in a new context. Various studies have shown that Biblical knowledge among parishioners is poor, yet this study has also demonstrated that there are high quality resources available that can rectify this problem.
It is evident from the views of parishioners that small faith sharing groups, such as Lectio Divina have a vital role in parishes in sharing and building faith. Perhaps what is more evident is that a large program with different courses for different levels is able to provide many parishioners with the ground materials for a basic knowledge of the Bible that can be built up over time. The Great Adventure is a program which overwhelmingly at present is able to fill that opportunity. As a project, different modules can be added over time. Parishes should collaborate and cooperate with other parishes in the area to help put on such events in their deanery to ensure the highest quality of formation possible for parishioners. There is no excuse for parishioners not to have a solid knowledge of the Scriptures now that access is ‘open wide’ (cf. Dei Verbum n.22) to the faithful.
From the analysis conducted, it is evident that there is a need and desire for high quality, systematic resources that place a high emphasis and meaning on the importance of the Scriptures for the Catholic tradition. Priests that were interviewed have indicated that they would be grateful for resources that helped the quality of catechetical formation as a course. Small, local initiatives are useful in the development of Scriptural knowledge. However, a course that can be presented across a diocese or country will have far further reaching implications and will avoid duplication. A standardized system approach in parishes can be very useful. While not denigrating the individual autonomy, initiative and flavour of each parish, a franchise will much further increase the quality and distinction of catechetical resources. DVDs and other resources can fill the knowledge gap when there is not a suitable knowledge of Scripture in the catechists in the parish.
The study has highlighted the rich diversity of sources that parishioners use and appreciate in their knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures. It is possible to conclude that there is a great unity in diversity in this field for learning and understanding. While this should not be a substitute or excuse for a lack of high quality resources and teaching, it is important to understand that there is not a universal solution to providing a ‘one size fits all’ parish resource or a leading academic who must educate everyone. It is important to recognize that there is value and beauty in a range of different educational tools, which are not necessarily in competition with another and can be useful to different people in different circumstances. A large curriculum that provides resources for children, adults and for a whole range of different ages and abilities will have a greater scope at improving the knowledge of the Bible from a range of people from all different backgrounds.
The Biblefresh initiative was a great example of a community initiative which could help break open the Scriptures on the local level. It was a project that gave the local community the tools and resources to bring the Bible to life in the hearts, minds and imagination of local people. It also provided an opportunity for people to be locally involved with hands-on projects that help to promote and enhance knowledge and awareness of the Bible. A project to help translation of the Bible into a new language for the first time was helping to break new ground in Bible translation and spread awareness of places the Bible need to reach. The collaborative nature of the project was highlighted by Bible that went ‘viral’ reaching thousands of miles. This also emphasized the importance of ‘handing on’ the Scriptures to others, the authority, position and responsibility that we all have with sharing and passing on the faith to others. The Catholic community has a great deal to learn from such an initiative. The Catholic community would benefit with having a year dedicated to the Bible as to emphasize its importance and nourish and feed the faithful with its unfathomable riches.
It should be emphasized that there is no simple solution to the answering Biblical study and knowledge. A variety of courses, methods and projects will help. Some courses will not help some individuals at all. A movement towards the cause of increasing awareness and knowledge of the Bible will be the most effective promotion of an important apostolate. However, systems are useful turnkey mechanisms for ensuring that many parishioners have a foundational stone of knowledge.
The Great Adventure provides that opportunity to work within a proven system of a timeline that helps them get to know the Bible in a framework where they can contextualise the different books of the Bible. The difficulty or inaccessibility of certain passages of Scripture can then be placed in their correct perspective and a timeline of when and where Scriptural passages occur can help provide a setting for the passages in Scripture.
Frequent reading of the Scriptures cannot be enforced. Ecclesial authoritarian exhortations to the Scriptural customs of family practices will not create a culture where Scripture is read on a frequent basis. But there can be a culture where Scripture is gently encouraged and the practice of each Christian urges another on. Both priests and lay people can help to create a culture where the Bible is given a place of greater respect in the Catholic tradition. Positive peer pressure can help to foster a deeper understanding, awareness and reverence towards the Scriptures. Scriptural reading programmes will help provide daily reading for those who desire to be more methodical and organised. It has been beyond the scope of this report to mentioned schools, but a comprehensive program to introduce teaching and methods in schools should be introduced to bring a cultural transformation from an attitude of apathy to a generation passionate about the Scriptures.
Ecumenical encounters will help to foster Catholic ties with Scriptures and will help to see eye to eye with our Christian brothers and sisters. This change does not require new institutional structures, but a spiritual revolution which has an understanding and appreciation for the Biblical apostolate. An understanding that the Bible is a living tradition and that the people of God are to participate and live that tradition will help to foster a connection with the Bible.
A culture of positive encouragement where there is an expectation to have a good knowledge of Scripture as a Christian would help to foster a good level of Scriptural awareness in the Catholic community. In other words, a bottom up approach of cultural transformation in the Catholic community might be more effective than a top down approach to the issue. There is not much that can replace a regular and consistent reading of the Scriptures either individually or collectively. Reading plans that help to divide this task into bite size chunks are helpful in making Bible reading more manageable.
Dei Verbum reminds us, “In the sacred books the Father who is in heaven meets his children with great love and speaks with them; and the force in the Word of God is so great that it remains the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her children, the food of the soul, the pure and perennial source of spiritual life.” St Jerome exhorts us to “Love the holy Scriptures, and wisdom will love you. Love wisdom, and she will keep you safe. Honour wisdom and she will embrace you. St Gregory the Great once wrote alluding to Psalm 123, “Truly solicitous servants always pay attention to the facial expressions of their masters so as to hear and follow out commands with promptness. So too the righteous focus their minds on the presence of Almighty God and gaze upon his Scriptures as upon his countenance.”
With these strong exhortations to the beauty and power of Sacred Scripture, we need to create a strong culture where the Bible is loved, cherished and lifted high in the Catholic community in the way that God intended. However, we must remind ourselves the words of Pius XII about the power and fecundity of Scripture, “The Word of God… needs no artificial devices nor human adaptation to move hears and arouse souls. For the Sacred Pages inspired by God are in themselves rich in original meaning; endowed with a divine power, they have their own value; adorned with heavenly beauty, of themselves they radiate light and splendour, provided only that they are so fully and accurately explained by the interpreter that all the treasures of wisdom and prudence contained therein are brought to light.” It is clear then, that we do not need gimmicks to appreciate the beauty of the Scriptures.
A variety of methods might help overcome some of the problems identified. Formation days, high quality resources and cultural customs could help to saturate and encourage the reading and dissemination of Scripture at every level. Any program or project that helps to authentically nurture Biblical knowledge and awareness should be encouraged. Catholics should be challenged to go above and beyond any interaction that they have had before with Scripture. New media content should encourage knowledge and appreciation at a much deeper level.
A new renaissance placing the Bible in its rightful place in the Catholic Church needs to take place. The Bible needs to saturate all aspects of catechesis, evangelization, work, Priestly formation, schools, liturgy and other ecclesial fields in all its radiance so that a new Christian civilization can be based upon the words and teaching of God. Parishioners need to fully nourished by the word of God in their spiritual and daily lives. Often, parishioners are not fully aware of their pastoral needs, furthermore may not be aware of what they are missing. Shepherds must feed their flocks, and in this sense Bible study must be encouraged strongly by the leadership of the Church.
Rather than being a dusty and unread book, the Bible needs to be brought alive through new media, videos, programmes, family life, in our public places and any angle or place so that God’s word continues to reach the hearts and minds of the faithful, to saturate their prayer lives and to nurture appreciation and understanding of our faith. Ignorance and apathy must be fought as blind enemies that are an obstacle and stumbling block to the love of God, and must be ruthlessly persecuted. It can no longer be acceptable that practising Christians cannot know even the most basic tenets of their faith in countries where religious practice is freely tolerated. A love of the Bible must be saturated from an early level, at the first stages of learning and continue throughout life.
This study has been useful for discovering and researching tools and methods for nurturing Biblical study and knowledge in Catholic parishes. It has highlighted some of the needs and desires of parishioners. Methods that have been useful in the past have been recorded and noted. The significance of this study is that many different methods have been evaluated and a general overview of useful sources has been conducted. The study has highlighted the need for further high quality resources in Bible study and potential opportunities for further growth for parishioners who are interested in deepening their Biblical knowledge.
At the same, it is important to recognise the limitations of a study. Substantial conclusions cannot be deduced from a small amount of analysis and data. It is only possible to analyse the feedback from a small number of parishioners from such a study and to provide a general overview of projects from the study. We cannot reach conclusions about the efficacy of certain programs beyond a certain degree. Further in depth analysis of certain programs would help to clarify their efficacy and usefulness.
Personal testimonies have been very useful in learning to understand what is useful and what is not. There is no clear information about what might be a suitable level of Biblical knowledge and what is not. Information about schools has not been collected during this study in order to concentrate on parish formation. A study of Bible study in schools would help to ascertain what level of teaching and information is being provided in schools. A survey could be conducted about how parishioners feel how useful their school education was for knowledge of the Bible. The analysis provided has not attempted to ascertain what impact a large degree of Biblical study and knowledge would have on the life of the Church. Biblical study and knowledge impacts all aspects of the life of the Church. If the Catholic Church is breathing with all lungs and fully in tune with its history, past and cultural heritage, it is likely to have overwhelmingly positive impact for cathechesis, evangelization, liturgy, vocations, parish life, prayer and the overall well being of the Church. In respect, the importance of nurturing Biblical study and knowledge in parishes and in all parts of the community can be overemphasized.
The promotion of Scripture during liturgical services or conventional education has deliberately been left beyond the scope of this investigation. However both these areas are very crucial in hearing and learning about the word of God. There are normally 3 Scriptural readings during mass and also a homily. Given that these are a compulsory part of Catholic liturgical services it was not necessary to examine the area in further detail.
Let us continue to ensure that the treasure of revelation that is entrusted to the Church continues to fill the hearts of men.
- Appendixes and Bibliography
A list of abbreviations
Catechism of the Catholic Church: CCC
Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church: CSDC
Providentissium Deus: PD
Verbum Domini: VD
Dei Verbum: DV
Instrumentum Laboris: IL
Novo Millenio Ineunte: NMI
General Directory for Catechesis: GDC
Catholic Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales (2005): The Gift of Scripture: GS
Pontifical Biblical Commission: The interpretation of the Bible in the Church: IBC
The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version (1966), Catholic Truth Society
Benedict XVI (2010), Verbum Domini, Catholic Truth Society
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (2005): The Gift of Scripture, A teaching document of the Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales, and of Scotland
Congregation for the Clergy (1997): General Directory for Catechesis, Catholic Truth Society
John Paul II (2000): Novo Millenio Ineunte: Accessed here: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_20010106_novo-millennio-ineunte_en.html
Leo XIII (1893), Providentissimus Deus, accessed here: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/leo_xiii/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_18111893_providentissimus-deus_en.html
Pontifical Biblical Commission (1993), The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, Catholic Truth Society
Pontifical Council for Justice and peace (2004), Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Synod of Bishops (2012): Instrumentum Laboris, accessed here: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20120619_instrumentum-xiii_en.html
The Holy See (1994): Catechism of the Catholic Church, Geoffrey Chapman
Vatican II Council. Dei Verbum, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. In Vatican Council II: The Conciliar Documents, ed. A. Flannery, 750-765. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1975.
Books and Articles
Augustine (1998), Confessions. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Bell, J (1993), Doing Your Research Project. Second Edition. Buckingham, Open University Press.
Benedict XVI (1996), A new song for the Lord, London, Crossroad Publishing Company
Berry, R (1986), How to Write a Research Paper. Second Edition, Oxford, Pergamon.
Dixon, B R et al. (1987), A Handbook of Social Science Research. Oxford, Oxford University Press
Education and Urban society (July 2010), vol. 42, no.5, 522-544. The relationship between Biblical literacy and behavioral and academic outcomes in urban areas: a meta-analysis.
Filback R and Krashen S, Knowledge Quest, 31(2): 50-51. 2002, The Impact of Reading the Bible and Studying the Bible on Biblical Knowledge
Gerber M (1994), E-myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, USA.
Gettys J M (1961), Interpretation Journal, April 1961l vol. 15, 2: pp.216-218
Hahn, S (2009), Catholic Bible Dictionary, Doubleday, 2009, USA.
Legg, P M (2002), Interpretation Journal, October 2002l vol. 56, 4: pp. 398-409.
Kane, E (1985), Doing Your Own Research. London, Marion Boyars.
Mass Council of Churches (1995), Study Guide for Odyssey Toward Unity
MHRA Style Book (1991) Notes for Authors, Editors, and Writers of Theses. Fourth Edition, London: Modern Humanities Research Association.
Milton, J P (1957), Interpretation Journal, April 1957, vol. 11, 2: pp 224
Narrative Theology and the Use of the Bible in Systematic Theology by Maarten Wisse, accessed at: http://www.arsdisputandi.org/index.html?http://www.arsdisputandi.org/publish/articles/000226/index.html on 14/8/12
Neuner, Dupuis (1993), The Christian Faith, St Pauls, USA
Pope Benedict XVI (2012), A School of Prayer, Wednesday Audiences from May 2011 to May 2012, USA, Scepter
Rengers C (1993), The 33 Doctors of the Church, TAN Books, USA
Russell C (1994), Glimpses of the Church Fathers, Scepter, London
Trester E P (1984), Biblical Theology Bulletin: A Journal of Bible and Theology, November 1984; vol 14,4: pp. 149-151.
Warren, R (2006), Bible Study Methods: Twelve ways you can unlock God’s word, USA, Zondervan.
Mary Healy has said that Catholics are still not “drinking deeply” from the word of God. See: http://www.zenit.org/article-24250?l=english
Schools get King James’ Bibles to mark 400th Anniversary, BBC News, 15 May 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-18073996
Vicar condemns hotel after it replaces Gideon Bible with 50 shades of Grey, Daily Telegraph, 19 July 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/9412969/Vicar-condemns-hotel-after-it-replaces-Gideon-Bible-with-50-Shades-of-Grey.html
Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service, Not an easy read: Survey indicates Bible hard to understand, http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0802435.htm
Pope Benedict address 7/11/07, http://www.zenit.org/article-20943?l=english
Pope Benedict’s address to the Catholic Biblical Federation, 24/6/2008, http://www.zenit.org/article-23006?l=english
Take Scripture on Holiday, says Pope, Catholic Herald , 29/9/11 http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2011/07/29/take-scripture-on-holiday-says-pope/
Pontiff extols St Jerome’s Biblical Insights, http://www.zenit.org/article-21010?l=english
David Carlin on why Catholics do not read the Bible: http://www.crisismagazine.com/2009/why-catholics-dont-read-the-bible on 8/812
‘Britain knows little about Bible, Independent, 29/6/09, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/britain-knows-little-about-bible-1722933.html
Tatchell P (2010), Channel 4 Documentary, The ‘Trouble with the Pope’
MacCulloch D (2011), A History of Christianity, BBC Documentary shown on 11 May 2011 on BBC 4.
Appendix One: Ethics Proforma
Name of Student: Robert Colquhoun
Title of Dissertation: Nurturing Biblical Study and Knowledge in the Catholic Parish
Nature of the Research Method/s to be Used
A survey and interviews.
|The Proposed Sample Group: who are they? what is the nature of their involvement?|
The sample group are parishioners and individuals of the local parishes involved, chosen at random.
|What information are they to be provided with?|
A questionnaire and some personal interviews.
|How are you going to obtain their consent?|
Personal consent and the consent of the Parish Priest.
|What measures are you going to take in order to preserve confidentiality and anonymity?|
The name of the parish will not be used. The name of the individual will not be used. No personal information or information that could reveal their identity will be revealed in the information they provide.
|Potential risks and how you intend to address them|
Certain parishioners may be wary of such a study that it might highlight flaws in the parish. One can only insist that the project is for research purposes only and there is no desire from the part of the interviewer to highlight any problems in the parish.
Appendix 2: Questionnaire
These were the questions that were asked in the Questionnaire:
1/ Please rate your Biblical knowledge on a level from one to ten:
2/ What has been useful in furthering your Biblical study and knowledge in Catholic parishes in the past?
3/ What would you find helpful in deepening your Biblical study and knowledge in a parish setting in the future?
4/ What has helped you to apply reading the Word of God to your personal life?
There were 20 responses from the prayer group and 20 responses from the parish. The 2 focus groups had 8 people in each group.
The answer to question one was:
The most common response to question two was Bible readings at Mass and study groups.
The third and fourth questions yielded a considerable variation of opinion.
 For example, Mary Healy has said that Catholics are still not “drinking deeply” from the word of God. See: http://www.zenit.org/article-24250?l=english Benedict XVI (1996), A new song for the Lord, London, Crossroad Publishing Company, p57 Joseph Pavicic suggested that Catholics have a poor knowledge of the Bible. See Homiletic and Pastoral Review, July 1994, What Catholics can learn from Evangelicals. Accessed here: http://www.stjohn17v20-21.com/evangl01.htm on 8/8/12  Amos 8:11.  Leo XIII (1893), Encyclical Letter, Providentissimus Deus, n. 3  Confessions 12.30  ‘Britain knows little about Bible, Independent, 29/6/09, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/britain-knows-little-about-bible-1722933.html  This study was among those professing to be Christian.  David Carlin argues in Crisis Magazine about why Catholics do not read the Bible. He stated a Rasmussen poll that said that 25 percent of Evangelical Protestants read the Bible daily compared to 7 percent of Catholics. Carlin reports the same poll states that 44 percent of Catholics rarely or never read the Bible. He states, “The level of religious vitality must be very low in a Christian Church in which 44 percent of the membership almost never bothers to read the Bible.” Accessed here: http://www.crisismagazine.com/2009/why-catholics-dont-read-the-bible on 8/812.  Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] no. 82 Dei Verbum 9.  Pontiff extols St Jerome’s Biblical Insights, http://www.zenit.org/article-21010?l=english Take Scripture on Holiday, says Pope, Catholic Herald , 29/9/11 http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2011/07/29/take-scripture-on-holiday-says-pope/  Pope Benedict XVI (2012), A School of Prayer, Wednesday Audiences from May 2011 to May 2012, USA, Scepter  Pope Benedict’s address to the Catholic Biblical Federation, 24/6/2008, http://www.zenit.org/article-23006?l=english  CCC 122, quoting DV 15.  Pope Benedict address 7/11/07, http://www.zenit.org/article-20943?l=english  “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church,” (IBC), part IV, point C, 3.  Warren, R (2006), Bible Study Methods: Twelve ways you can unlock God’s word, USA, Zondervan.  Knowledge Quest, 31(2): 50-51. 2002  Narrative Theology and the Use of the Bible in Systematic Theology by Maarten Wisse, accessed at: http://www.arsdisputandi.org/index.html?http://www.arsdisputandi.org/publish/articles/000226/index.html on 14/812  Education and Urban society (July 2010), vol. 42, no.5, 522-544. The relationship between Biblical literacy and behavioral and academic outcomes in urban areas: a meta-analysis.  Pope Benedict, Verbum Domini. 2.  Vatican II Council, Dei Verbum (hereafter DV), Dogmatic Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, par.51 , in
Vatican Council II: The Conciliar Documents, ed. A. Flannery (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press,
1975). Vita, 40, 1  Rule, 73, 3: SC 182, 672  S. Chrys. in Gen. Hom. xxi., 2; Hom. lx., 3; S. Aug. de Disc. Christ., ii.  S. Athan. ep. fest. xxxix  St Jerome, In Isaiam liv., 12.  Saint Bernard, S. Missus est 4, 11 PL 183, 86  St John Chrysostom, Homilies on certain passages from the New Testament, 1.1  As quoted from http://www.usccb.org/bible/understanding-the-bible/study-materials/articles/rationale-for-catholics-reading-the-old-testament.cfm  Instrumentum Laboris, n.29.  http://www.cbcew.org.uk/document.doc?id=41  General Directory for Catechesis 50  Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte 39  Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte 40  Mass Council of Churches (1995), Study Guide for Odyssey Toward Unity, p. 5  Hahn, S (2009) Catholic Bible Dictionary, Doubleday, USA.  Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service, Not an easy read: Survey indicates Bible hard to understand, http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0802435.htm  Interivew with P. Tolhurst, 6/10/12 in Streatham, South London.  Interview with J. Cavins, 5/6/12 at Hammersmith, West London, via Skype.  A 3 day national seminar was held in Orpington in Kent in November with a special session on the Parish evangelisation cell model. Don Pigi Perini from the Diocese of Milan has introduced this model which saw great transformation in his parish. Hahn, S (2009), Catholic Bible Dictionary, Doubleday, 2009, USA.  http://biblequizzes.org.uk  Such as Big Bible Project and Big Read.  Schools get King James’ Bibles to mark 400th Anniversary, BBC News, 15 May 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-18073996  Melo Toons Cartoon for example have made this cartoon on David and Goliath: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7WT4Y08o_s  This was a documentary made with Peter Tatchell for Channel 4, 13/9/12.  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/9412969/Vicar-condemns-hotel-after-it-replaces-Gideon-Bible-with-50-Shades-of-Grey.htmlhe  Interviews were conducted during the month of September 2012 in London and Oxfordshire.  Michael Gerber, E-myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, 1994, USA.  Flocknote is a website that helps Catholic parishes, schools, dioceses and organizations grow and communicate with their community through email, texting and social media. The Bible in one year is an example of a daily email service to subscribers (and parishioners).  Verbum Domini n. 75 suggests existing academic structures can be useful in spreading awareness of the Bible.  Vatican II Council, Dei Verbum (hereafter DV), Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, par.21 , in
Vatican Council II: The Conciliar Documents, ed. A. Flannery (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press,
1975), 24. St Jerome, Ep. 130.20; CSEL 56.3.201.  Moralia in Job 16.35.43; CC 143A. 824.  EB 553, RSS, p94.