Advent of Catholic Bible Study

As Advent begins, Christians are turning with renewed interest in the Bible, as the Good Book is the primary source of the “Greatest Story Ever Told.” The Register takes a look at good Bible study resources.

(photo: CNS photo by Nancy Wiechec)

SAN FRANCISCO — “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” said St. Jerome. If that’s true, then lots of Catholics are getting to know Christ very well indeed.

In the past year, nearly 3,000 people bought The Story of the Nativity on DVD to learn more about Christ’s birth. The Ignatius Press program features Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa and Catholic Bible scholar Edward Sri.

As Advent approaches, more than just churchgoing Catholics will be hearing the biblical accounts of the coming of the Messiah.

But as interest in the Bible keeps getting stronger in general, and Catholics, who in the past have not been known to be able to cite chapter and verse as well as Protestants, have more Bible-study resources than ever before to choose from.

The publisher of Scott Hahn’s Understanding the Scriptures: A Complete Course on Bible Study regularly fills orders because of the constant demand for the highly-regarded book. And more than 1,800 groups nationwide use or have studied The Great Adventure Bible study system.

Pope Benedict XVI told pilgrims at his Nov. 7 general audience how important it is to read and study the Bible “because God speaks to each of us through sacred Scripture and has a message for each of us.

“We shouldn’t read sacred Scripture as a word from the past, but rather as the Word of God addressed even to us, and we must try to understand what the Lord is telling us,” the Pope said.

To herald the beginning of Advent, the Register takes a look at some of the latest offerings in Bible study aids.

Online, the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology (, whose founder and president is internationally recognized Bible scholar Scott Hahn, has several Bible studies oriented to the liturgy. The courses are for everyone — beginners to clergy. The St. Paul Center has even seen more than 1,000 people across several states trained as parish Bible-study leaders.

“The only book that will be read at every single Mass throughout our lives is the Bible — the Old and the New Testament,” said Hahn. “When we come to Mass with certain degrees of Biblical literacy, we’re no longer spectators but participants. The Scriptures help us to recognize Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist.”

The Bible is all about the liturgy, he explained, “and the liturgy actualizes the truth of sacred Scripture.”

Understanding the Scriptures: A Complete Course on Bible Study is a one-volume comprehensive course Hahn wrote to teach the Bible in accord with the teaching of the Church and Vatican II and with citations from the Catechism, specifically to be understandable for both adults and high school students.

One mother told him that her 15-year-old stayed up all night reading it and added, “My teenager, now, is falling in love with Scripture,” he said.

Old Testament Important

St. Augustine observed that the New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old is revealed in the New. And the various Bible aids spotlight the importance of the Old Testament in studying Scripture.

Every detail in the New Testament is charged with great meaning, with allusions to Old Testament stories and prophecies, noted Sri, author of Dawn of the Messiah: The Coming of Christ in Scripture.

“To try to read the New Testament apart from understanding the Old Testament story is like reading only the last chapter of a great novel,” he said. “Jesus and his plan for our life is the last scene of the greatest story ever told. We can’t appreciate it if we don’t go back.”

He said the New Testament assumes we know all the prophecies, hopes and expectations of the Old Testament coming to fulfillment in Christ.

Bible teacher Jeff Cavins agreed.

“When you come to the New Testament the writers assume you know the Old Testament and its significance. They’re not explaining everything.”

But these aids help put what Sri calls people’s “Humpty Dumpty approach to the Bible” together again. They know the basic story and individual scenes but they don’t know how they fit together. Catholics need to see how all the individual pieces fit together into one larger story.”

Cavins put the pieces together developing The Great Adventure Bible Timeline.

“We’ve taken a biblical Rubik’s Cube and shown people how to make sense of it,” he said. This study enables students to understand the chronological flow of the Scriptures.

When he taught this system to Franciscan University freshmen, in one semester 85% could put together the entire Bible with 100 major events and characters in sequential order and understand the Catholic meaning.

“The Scriptures contain the story of God’s interaction with mankind, and he reveals himself in this true story in word and deed,” said Cavins. “That’s why Catholics don’t just need to learn a bunch of stories and verses. They need to learn ‘The Big Story’ — God’s overarching plan for humanity.”

“In many ways, we consider The Great Adventure one of the fastest onramps to a life in Scripture study,” said author Matthew Pinto, founder and president of Ascension Press, which distributes the series.

He said the system works so well because even for a person unfamiliar with the Bible, “in a single-day seminar using color-coded devices and mnemonic phrases we can teach someone the basic story and they will know it better than 98% of the laity and 95% of evangelical Christians.”

Overcoming Fear

Since first studying the timeline five years ago, Therese Coons of Eden Prairie, Minn., now helps lead other groups from her neighborhood and her children’s school.

“Seeing the beautiful strands God has woven together throughout history of his plan of salvation for his beloved children,” she said, has caused a deep conversion in her faith life.

“You see how God is a faithful Father — holy, just, patient and merciful — a Father you can trust. The Mass comes alive,” she said.

So does the Eucharist, Mary and the papacy. She has seen people have an increased prayer life, return to the sacrament of reconciliation, desire to spend time in adoration and be obedient to Church authority.

“I do it with my kids,” Coons said, “because if there’s one thing I’m going to send them off to college with, it’s knowledge of God’s word and his plan of salvation.”

Meanwhile, the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible series examines the New Testament with one purpose: “to help Catholics overcome that fear and intimidation and realize they can understand the Bible,” said Ignatius Press President Mark Brumley.

It also puts out the award-winning Footprints of God DVD series. In it, Catholic apologist Stephen Ray takes viewers to the places where Jesus, Mary, the apostles and figures of the Old Testament walked and taught.

Brumley pointed out two powerful aspects of the series.

“Steve Ray is very dynamic and takes people on location to the various places where the Biblical events occurred, and he integrates the Bible and Catholic apologetics. He makes Catholics feel comfortable,” he said. “The Footprints of God helps Catholics see Catholic beliefs in the Bible.”


The Come and See Catholic Bible Study Series by Father Joseph Ponessa and Laurie Manhardt, with individual books including The Synoptics, The Gospel of John, and Genesis, includes an appealing extra.

“We developed this for Catholic mothers so there would be a pre-school program at the same time,” she said. In fact, Come and See KIDS for the youngsters can be used while mothers study the adult texts.

This Bible study also has a wide application, from family to parish groups. Father Ponessa uses it with teenagers and in several prisons. Conversions occur. Noted Manhardt, “A woman who did the study with her family came to Father Ponessa and told him she and her family wanted to become Catholics.”

She also is finding the books with their references to the Catechism “helping good people reevaluate what the teachings of the Church are and encouraging them to frequent the sacraments more.”

The Scripture applications to life link teachings such as Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (The Regulation of Birth) to the wedding at Cana. Manhardt said one woman and her Protestant husband read it together “and they rethought their position.”

“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ,” wrote St. Jerome as quoted in the Catechism (No. 133). That won’t be the case with these Bible study aids.

Staff writer Joseph Pronechen

is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.