I am currently helping train lectors for a local Filipino community here in Cincinnati. We are examining the lectionary, or the book of Scripture readings used at Mass. The lectionary is aptly dubbed “The Heart of the Bible” in a Catholic Update the participants are reading. Our first and second sessions focus on the Sacred Scriptures.
Why? Because the readings at Mass are one of the principal ways in which Christ is present in every Eucharistic celebration. That is why lectors and pastoral ministers need a solid grasp of the Bible. When lectors proclaim the liturgical readings with clarity and accuracy, a congregation can better grasp the voice of God in the readings.
Some questions asked in our first session were pointed. How is God revealed through the Bible? Why is biblical revelation so subtle and varied? Why do the Scriptures speak in very human terms about the face, arms and hands of God? With examples I explained how the Lord speaks to us in human terms through the biblical texts.
The questions raised by these future lectors led me to recall St. Augustine’s struggle, which he described at length in his Confessions.
Augustine was accustomed to reading classical Latin authors like Cicero and others who served as his models for great prose. The texts of the Gospels were translations of the original Greek, a language in which Augustine was weak. Furthermore, Augustine found the Scriptures utterly lacking in the literary style and subtlety of the classical Latin authors with whom he was familiar (Confessions, III, 5). Augustine admits it was his “soaring pride” that kept him from recognizing the “simple wisdom” of the Scriptures. Of course, Augustine struggled for years in his conversion process, so the poor translations into Latin were only one aspect of his difficulties.
One day, he was outside in the garden when he heard the voice of a child who kept saying: “Pick up and read.” Through the grace of God, that child’s voice caused Augustine to set aside his pride and read the Scriptures with humility (Confessions VIII, 12). He went into the house and picked up Paul’s Letter to the Romans, chapter 13. Paul’s call for moral conversion and “putting on Christ” were enough to show him the key to understanding the Scriptures.
He realized that the Scriptures are not all about style or beautiful writing, they are about humility and faith in approaching God’s Word.
What does Augustine’s experience mean for us today? I think it speaks about how important our attitudes can be when we take part in the Mass or reflect on the Scriptures. Prayerful reflection and personal humility are fundamental ingredients for approaching the Scriptures in faith. These attitudes are essential for all of us, especially for the ministers of the Word in our assemblies.
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