Reading the Scriptures: What Catholics have to learn from Mormons

Luke Chapter Twoby Rebecca Curtin

I remember going to my friend Andrea’s house in high school and always seeing The Book of Mormon open on her bed. In my memories of those times and that room I picture that book perpetually there, perpetually open, as natural to the bed as the pillows and Andrea’s stuffed cat “Meow”. It was highlighted (highlighted!), wrinkled, and well-loved. And, always open. I remember thinking, wow, it’s like she’s always reading it, without thinking that maybe she actually was always reading it.

It’s only now that I am thinking again about Andrea’s beloved scriptures as I embark on my own attempt to read the Bible. I’ve “read” it plenty of times before. In the Catholic way. In the I-need-to-read-this-for-class way. There are many parts I’ve always intentionally skipped. All those epistles! All those prophets! I’ve taken classes specifically on the Bible, but even in a semester-long class devoted to this one book, there just isn’t time for the whole thing.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches (as do many Evangelical Protestant denominations) that daily, regular, devoted scripture study is essential to the spiritual life. The Catholic Church, though less emphatically, encourages scripture study as long as it is approached cautiously and pursued with care. Here is the instruction from the Vatican II document Dei Verbum (The Word of God): “The sacred synod forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful, especially those who live the religious life, to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ’ (Phil. 3:8) by frequent reading of divine Scripture. . . . Therefore, let them go gladly to the sacred text itself, whether in the sacred liturgy, which is full of the divine words, or in devout reading, or in such suitable exercises and various other helps that, with the approval and guidance of the pastors of the Church, are happily spreading everywhere in our day” (Dei Verbum 25). So, then, why don’t many Catholics do it?

The LDS Church has a hierarchical structure of leadership that resembles that of the Catholic Church, and yet Mormon leaders encourage solitary scripture study. In the Catholic Church the idea is more “Reading the Bible is certainly good, but you need the guidance of Church leaders and priests to get the most out of it.” The Mormon Church, despite its hierarchical structure of leadership, has no clergy, and thus solitary scripture study is understood to be, democratically, something everyone can do on their own and reap benefit from. It is understood that young LDS people will one day be the leaders of their church.

It is a beautiful idea. However, part of what I love about being Catholic is that process of reconciling catechism and Church dogma with my own ideas of what the Church could be. This statement may indicate the exact reason why the guidance of clergy in Bible reading is encouraged. Nevertheless, I think that regular, frequent, and even solitary scripture study would help young Catholics better be able to understand the Church’s position on many issues, and then, perhaps, be better equipped to help the Church change from within.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Rebecca Curtin graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 2008 and works in the Department of English at Harvard University. She is currently on Genesis Chapter 10.

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