Bible knowledge

Question: Why do Protestants know so much more than Catholics about the Bible? I am often embarrassed when Protestants confront me with Bible quotations and I do not know how to respond. 

Name withheld, Tucson, Ariz.

Answer: I have a hunch that Protestants do not know as much about the Bible as is often claimed. They may know many isolated verses and phrases by heart and can even tell you chapter and verse, but that in itself does not constitute profound knowledge of the Bible.

By the same token, Catholics probably know more about the Bible than is often suggested. Consider the amount of Scripture to which Catholics are exposed in the liturgy. Every Sunday, Catholics hear readings from the Old Testament, the New Testament and a Gospel. Daily Massgoing Catholics hear much more. Scott Hahn, the Catholic evangelist, stated that he was enormously surprised when he attended his first Catholic Mass (out of curiosity) and was bowled over by the fact the Mass was, as he saw it, an enactment of the Scriptures. 

Those who use the Liturgy of the Hours are exposed to the whole Psalter over a four-week period. I would be surprised if Protestants could make the same claim. The Psalter is the prayer book of the Catholic Church. 

In all the sacraments, the Scriptures feature prominently. Indeed the various sacraments, besides containing a generous reading of Scripture passages, are themselves based on the Scriptures. This is especially true of the Eucharist and baptism, but also of the other sacraments. 

While it is true that Catholics generally did not read the Bible as much as Protestants did in the past, that situation has been largely made up for in the time since the Second Vatican Council. Today there exists a plethora of Bible study programs in the Catholic Church. Whether in the form of home study groups, or video series like “Come and See” or the Little Rock Scripture series, there is no dearth of media available to help Catholics gain knowledge of the Bible. 

Absolution of sins

Question: I have often wondered about the process of the forgiveness of sins in confession. Confessions are so short and brief. In a flash the priest absolves you from sins. Can it really be that simple? It seems like magic to me — especially the absolution.  

A. Garcia, San Jose, Calif.

Answer: Confession is generally the sacrament that takes the least amount of time. It should never, of course, be rushed. However, the preparation for confession and the follow-up demand considerable time, and they should be regarded as part of the sacrament.  

Essential to confession is contrition. This does not occur in a moment. Rather we have to undergo a significant period of time in calling to mind our sins and putting ourselves in the correct frame of mind if we are to be able to confess with true self-knowledge and sincerity. The act of confession may be brief; it does not have to go on forever and ever. Then the priest helps the penitent come to terms with what is confessed, so that the penitent goes out of the confession with a strong grasp of the state of his or her soul. The absolution is by no means magic. The priest declares the freedom of the penitent from his or her sin. However, the satisfaction may take considerable time after the confession is completed. 

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.