The concept of the Roman Catholic Interpretive Paradigm has intrigued me. If true, it would solve the age old epistemological dilemma of “How do you know?” and “How do you know that you know?” Such certainty might be a welcome relief in a world filled with uncertainty.
But the last time we were together we observed how the greater the Magisterial influence the less likely is Scripture to be present. We noted that in the Papal States – that government completely and directly under the control of the Magisterium – bibles were regularly and ceremonially burned and the mere mention of a biblical story was cause for the banishment of a play. We also discovered that no bibles were printed in the vernacular of the Papal States for something more than 200 years. And this against a background of a wider Catholic church whose other segments – like the northern European Catholic churches – relied on the Bible for their very survival. Apparently the great dioceses of Cologne, Mainz, Frankfurt, etc. were not aware of a magisterial IP.
Against this backdrop, a good Roman Catholic might well respond that our analysis, while correct, is not complete. You see, the Catholics have institutionalized Scripture reading at the Mass. And our Roman Catholic friend would be quite right. For those of you not familiar, the Catholic Mass has three readings: a First and Second Reading and then a reading from the Gospels. In between the First and Second one of the Psalms is usually sung or spoken in a responsive manner (at least part of one). So the Scriptures are built into the normal practice of the Catholic religion. That’s true.
In fact, that was a practice codified very early on by Rome. In order to compensate for the lack of education of parish priests, Rome assembled and disseminated a playbook for the Mass – the Roman Missal. The Missal contains the Scripture readings, prayers and other rituals to be performed based on the day of the year and the type of celebration. The Missal was designed to repeat after a three year cycle and I believe that it was, for the time, a very good thing.
But here’s the question. How do you get through the 73 books of the (Catholic) canon in what amounts to 156 Sundays? If you were to get through it all, you would have to cover approximately one half of each Biblical book each Sunday. While that might not be problematic for 1st, 2nd or 3rd John or Jude, it would be a huge problem for Genesis or Isaiah, to take two examples.
So what was Rome’s solution? Although it may sound harsh it is nonetheless true that the Magisterial solution was to eliminate the Old Testament.
Fr. Felix Just, S J, PhD, has done extensive research on the Scripture readings used in the Missals both before and after Vatican II. Here is his analysis:
At the time after Trent the Roman Missal excluded nearly all of the Old Testament. And while that has improved post-Vatican II, today’s Roman Catholic is exposed to only 13.5% of the Old Testament (excluding what Psalms are sung responsively) when s/he attends Mass. (How Rome can evade the charge of institutionalized Marcionism is worth pondering.)
Here is Fr. Just’s analysis of the use of the New Testament:
While the NT is certainly represented more fully than the OT, it is easy to see that today’s Roman Catholic still misses nearly 30% of it, if their only exposure is at the Mass.
It is entirely unclear how the “Interpretive Paradigm” offered by C2C could have operated at all in the period between Trent and Vatican II. And the reason for that is clear. As we have seen earlier, the Roman Church programmatically eliminated printed bibles from personal possession while it ceremonially eliminated 99% of the OT and 83% of the NT from its corporate worship. How could any good Catholic have been expected to ask a question which might have been interpreted by the Magisterium when they had not the basic Scriptures about which to ask?
I am becoming more convinced as we go that this new “IP” from our friends at C2C is simply an anachronism.
Soli Deo Goria