What is Papal Infallibility
Do Catholics Read the Bible?
What is Papal Infallibility ~ by Barbara Wooten
The doctrine of papal infallibility probably produces more misunderstanding, debate and even controversy among non-Catholics as well as Catholics than any other teaching of the Church. Understanding its basic premise is quite simple but requires effort. You must first start with the infallibility of the universal Roman Catholic Church.
Infallibility is the belief that the Church has been entrusted with the teaching mission of Jesus Christ, the Gospel, and is protected from fundamental error by the power of the divine grace of the Holy Spirit, when it makes a solemn pronouncement about faith or morals. Infallibility is a characteristic of the Church, vested in those who have supreme authority over the whole Church. This supreme doctrinal authority is the college of bishops together with and under the pope. In ordinary usage in the contemporary Church this body is called the magisterium.
Papal Infallibility insures that the pope is immune from error only when he speaks as the successor of Peter in his role as supreme teaching authority of the universal Church when making a solemn pronouncement on faith or morals. At no other time is the pope infallible. Infallibility is not a personal character trait and it does not reflect the pope's personal conduct or private views. The pope is not free from sin. He goes to confession too.
Understanding papal primacy is necessary to better understand infallibility. Papal primacy means that the pope, as the successor of Peter, is the supreme teaching authority of the Church. The Catholic tradition insists that primacy and infallibility require one another.
The First Vatican (ecumenical) Council, 1869-1870, only managed to define papal primacy and infallibility before it was cut short by the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. The Second Vatican Council, 1962-1965 had the mission of completing the work left undone by the interruption of Vatican I. It explained papal infallibility further, specifying conditions for an infallible pronouncement and further defining the role of the college of bishops.
In the last two centuries the pope has proclaimed only two doctrines ex cathedra as infallible. The Immaculate Conception in 1854 by Pius IX and The Assumption of Mary by Pius XII in 1950. Pope John Paul II has never made an infallible pronouncement although he has issued apostolic letters (not an official infallible pronouncement) as in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (the Church can not ordain women) in May of 1994.
If you are interested in learning more about this interesting subject, a list of key words that follows is a good starting place: Magisterium (ordinary and extraordinary), Collegiality, Consiliarium, Indefectability, Encyclical, Inspiration, Revelation, Apostolic Letter.
DO CATHOLICS READ THE BIBLE? ~ by Barbara Wooten
There is a perception on the part of many Protestants that Catholics do not read the bible. This idea developed largely due to a long-term misunderstanding. Until the Second Vatican (1962-65), Catholics were forbidden to read translations of the Bible prepared by non-Catholics and they were not allowed to participate in bible study groups with non-Catholics. The reason for this was that the Protestant Bible didn't include 15 Old Testament (OT) books or portions of books (The Apocrypha) that the Catholic Church considered part of the canon (list) of Sacred Scripture. This was an important point because when the Church describes the Scripture as "sacred," they mean that it is inspired by God. The Protestant Reformation accepted only 39 books of the OT, because it believed that only those books that were from the original Hebrew Bible could be counted on to be genuine. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, accepted the books that were included in the Latin Vulgate, which was translated into Latin from the Septuagint (the original Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible).
The Catholic Church has always placed a high degree of importance on the Bible. Early on the Fathers of the Church used the Scriptures as the principle source of instruction in the faith. "In the Middle Ages the Bible was revered as the sacred page. As such, it was the basis on which theology was developed. The Church today considers the Scriptures together with sacred tradition the supreme rule of faith" (Catholicism by Richard McBrien).
Biblical canonicity is not the divisive issue that it used to be among churches. Most Catholics and mainstream Protestant denominations use the same biblical lectionary cycle, the order of Scripture readings used in the Sunday and daily liturgies. There are versions of the Bible in use today that are the work of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish scholars.
The Mass (the traditional name given to the celebration of the Eucharist) is the main worship service of the Catholic Church. Throughout the world it is estimated that there is a Mass beginning somewhere every two minutes. There are four Scripture readings during Sunday Mass, holy days, and major feast days in this order: a reading from the Old Testament, a responsorial Psalm (usually sung), a reading from the New Testament and the Gospel. At daily Mass there are three Scripture readings instead of four. In addition most of the prayers that are a regular part of the Mass are Scripture based. In his homily or sermon (during Mass) the priest explains the Scripture readings and uses them as an instruction on how to live. It is said that if you read all the Scripture readings for Mass daily for three years you will have read the entire Bible.
Bible reading and study by Catholics have grown steadily since Vatican II. Catholics are encouraged to read the bible daily. They are, however, directed to include prayer with their Scripture reading, "so that a dialogue takes place between God and man." (Vatican II)
There is a current trend toward small Bible study groups within the local parish. Susan Furgiuele heads up the weekly Diocesan Catholic Scripture Study group at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish. She says that the group population fluctuates, but usually ranges anywhere from 40 to 80 men and women. Many members of the group follow the daily scripture readings from the Mass in a publication called "The Magnificat." This is a monthly paperback that also contains a reflection and readings similar to an abbreviated version of the Liturgy of the Hours (read daily by the clergy and religious priests, sisters and brothers).
So, do Catholics read the bible? Susan Furgiuele, a convert to Catholicism, has a succinct answer: "I was raised Methodist, but all my friends were Baptists, so I attended many Baptist youth meetings," she said, adding, "but, I have heard much more Scripture in the Catholic Church, than I did growing up.