Vatican II document opened the Bible to Catholic faithful

Pope Francis often encourages the faithful to carry a small Bible and to read some of it daily.


Pope Francis often encourages the faithful to carry a small Bible and to read some of it daily.

December 7, 2015

Fifty years ago, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) urged the faithful to nourish their faith by reading the Bible, putting an end to centuries of seeing direct access to the Scriptures as something reserved to the clergy.

Stating that "easy access to sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful," the document stressed that frequent Bible reading allows the faithful another connection to "the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ."

Today, Pope Francis repeatedly asks the faithful to carry a pocket-sized Gospel or Bible and to read several verses a day. The pope even had free copies of a pocket-sized edition of the Gospels given to the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square at a number of his Sunday Angelus addresses.

"Take this Gospel; carry it with you, to read it often, every day," he said in March. "The word of God is a light for our path."

The Bible is considered the best-selling book of all time with an estimated five billion copies sold and with versions in close to 350 languages. However, a question remains: With so many Bibles available worldwide, why are there still Christians with limited knowledge or access to the Word of God?

In short, where have all the Bibles gone?

The Biblical Centre of Africa and Madagascar hosted a conference Nov. 10-14 in Rwanda to reflect on Dei Verbum, and participants agreed it placed "the Bible at the centre of Christian spirituality."

Access to Scripture is no simple task in Africa, a continent with an estimated 2,000 languages.

But Dei Verbum also is relevant in areas where access to the Word of God is not as challenging as in Africa.

Maronite Father Pierre Najem of Beirut, Lebanon, said while the faithful have physical access to Scripture, people still need help in understanding both Scripture and the Church's tradition.

Najem said some communities, even in the Middle East, are still not accustomed to reading the Bible often.

"We are a religious people, but we need to help people be more acquainted with the Scripture," he said.

The Holy Year of Mercy, which begins Dec. 8, presents an opportunity to help the faithful understand God's love through studying Scripture, the priest said. When Pope Francis announced the jubilee, he emphasized the need "to live in the light of the Word of the Lord" with mercy at its centre.

Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, echoed the pope's words.

The teachings of Dei Verbum shed a light on divine revelation as a direct link between God and humanity, he said Nov. 19 during a conference in Rome marking the 50th anniversary of Dei Verbum.

This connection "teaches us above all that divine mercy is not only found in some isolated act of forgiveness of our sins but places us in the most intimate communication with God himself," Muller later told CNS.


The revelation of God's love, mercy and plan for humanity through sacred Scripture, he said, helps to unite Christians, while false interpretations or misunderstandings divide them.

Muller recommended the faithful read the Scriptures aided by commentaries which help them understand the Bible.

The biblical texts come from a time and culture very different than our own, he said. "One needs explanations in order to understand it."