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Golden Jubilee of Dei Verbum - 15th November 2015
The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum celebrates its 50th anniversary in a few days’ time, on November 18. This document is one of the four great constitutions produced by the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). It received overwhelming acceptance, with the council fathers approving it by a vote of 2344 to 6.
Dei Verbum sought to clarify the nature and scope of divine Revelation by answering the following questions. How does God manifest himself to us? How do we participate in God’s life and knowledge? Can we really trust the words of Scripture?
Christians understand the eternal Word made flesh in Jesus Christ as the fullness of Divine revelation. The New Testament writers add further revelation in that they witness to and explain the life, teaching, death, and resurrection, and the emergence of the Church as the fulfilment of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Dei Verbum stated that “The Church has always venerated the Divine Scriptures just as she venerates the Body of the Lord” and that it was in continuity with previous documents that encouraged Catholics to open up the Bible, Providentissimus Deus in 1893 and Divino Afflante Spiritu in 1943.
Dei Verbum certainly gave a “great impulse… to the revival of interest in the word of God in the life of the Church, to theological reflection on divine revelation and to the study of sacred Scripture.” (#3)
It insisted that “all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and ruled by Sacred Scripture”. (#21)
Dei Verbum challenged Catholics to read the Bible regularly and hear it attentively when proclaimed in the liturgy. It urged priests, deacons and catechists to “diligent spiritual reading and careful study” of the Bible (#25). In addition, in a significant departure from the anti-Protestant attitudes of the mid-20th century, it strongly exhorted all the faithful to read and study the Bible prayerfully, confident in the Spirit’s guidance.
The content and insights of Dei Verbum have been explored and built upon during the last 50 years. In 2008 Pope Benedict XVI called the Bishops together for a Synod on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. The resulting document Verbum Domini (2010) continues the conversation of Dei Verbum. Verbum Domini encourages us to see the word as not “simply a word from the past, but a living and timely word” (#5) which “draws each of us into a conversation with the Lord.” (#24)
What has been the impact on Catholics of Dei Verbum and subsequent documents? Certainly, Catholics read the bible more than ever before, but the majority do not nourish themselves daily with the word of God, missing out on the treasures it contains.
Thomas J. Reese SJ, writing in The National Catholic Reporter in April 2011 didn’t beat around the bush when he claimed:
“The Church needs a massive Bible education program. The Church needs to acknowledge that understanding the Bible is more important than memorising the catechism. If we could get Catholics to read the Sunday scripture readings each week before they come to Mass, it would be revolutionary. If you do not read and pray the scriptures, you are not an adult Christian. Catholics who become evangelicals understand this.”