Reverence for the Mass |
Spiritual Counsels |
Basic Old Testament History |
The Psalms |
Reading the Psalms |
Advanced Reading |
ANY Catholics have never made a thorough
study of the Bible. If you were to decide to read it carefully, however,
you could make the mistake of trying to read it straight through, right from
the beginning. You might start eagerly at Genesis, but then, once
you get to all the abstract legalism in Leviticus, you will get bogged
down and give up, saying it doesnt make any sense.
Therefore, if youre a real
beginner, you might just begin by reading the Gospel of Mark in the
New Testament; its the earliest and shortest Gospel, or story of Christ
(gospel comes from the Middle English word godspell and means
good news). Marks Gospel should give you a basic sense
of what Jesus was all about.
Still, anyone, beginner or not,
needs to understand Jewish history, or Jesus Himself cant be understood.
After all, when Jesus talked about Scripture, He was referring to what we
now call the Old Testament.
Basic Old Testament
The book of Genesis tells
the story of creation, the story of the Fall of Man (Original Sin),
and the story of the great flood (and Noahs ark). Then it introduces
Abraham, the spiritual grandfather of salvation history. The end of
Genesis tells the story of Joseph, the son of Jacob (of the famous
ladder to heaven), son of Abraham, who is sold by his brothers into
The book of Exodus tells
the story of how the ancient Hebrews, Josephs descendants who had been
enslaved in Egypt, were led by Moses out of Egypt into their own land. Here
you will find the story of the first Passover (which you need to understand
in order to make sense of Christs Last Meal, itself a Passover meal).
The whole story of the journey through the desert, aside from its historical
meaning, is a spiritual metaphor for our own call out of our slavery
to sin, and our hard journey through the desert of our
penance and temptations and on toward the promised land as we
still confront tests of obedience and
The book of Leviticus
continues the story of the journey into the promised land under the leadership
of Joshua. When Leviticus gets legalistic, you can stop
Then turn to reading the story
about David son of Jesse (see 1 Samuel 16:1ff through the end of
2 Samuel), You dont have to pay attention to all the names and
battles; just get the basic idea of who David was, because prophesy about
his lasting dynasty (the root of Jesse) was fulfilled in Christ.
You can continue a bit into 1 Kings for the story of Solomon, Davids
son, who, despite his great wisdom, fell into impiety.
David and Solomon represented
the height of the kingdom, but after them everything started falling apart.
People forgot the Law and turned away from God and went off after the customs
of the pagan culture around themmuch like today; in fact, such is human
Anyway, through all the kingdoms
following Solomon all the great prophets kept saying one thing: turn back
to God or else. Of course, most everyone ignored the prophets, so the or
elsethe exileeventually happened.
The two kingdoms of Israel and
Judah fell apart. The people were conquered first by the Assyrians and then
by the Babylonians and sent away into captivity. After the fall of Babylon,
they came back from captivity and tried as best as possible to re-establish
the true religion and rebuild the temple. Then they got conquered by the
Greeks under Alexander the Great (the two books of Maccabees tell
of the revolt led by Judas Maccabeus against the Greeks). Then, after the
Greeks, came the oppression by the Romans.
And that brings us to Jesus Christ.
(Jesus lived in the time of Tiberius Caesar, the son of Augustus Caesar;
Augustus was the first Roman emperor after the Triumvirate that overthrew
Julius Caesar.) Christ gave the gospel message to the Jews, and then, when
many of them rejected it, it passed to the gentiles.
So there you have it: a
common-sense synopsis of ancient Jewish history.
King David himself wrote some
of the Psalms (poems meant to be sung) in which he praised God and gave thanks
for his victories over his enemies. Other Psalms were written at various
times through Jewish history after David, in which the Psalmist speaks from
his heart as a man of faith living in exile. The exile is at times spiritual
(that is, in the midst of his own people who have fallen into impiety and
sacrilege) and at other times literal (that is, in Babylon
As you read the Psalms (and you
will read them daily if you keep the Liturgy
of the Hours) you will encounter allusions to such things as Meriba and
Massah (Psalm 95; see Exodus 17:7), the Jordan turning back on its course
(Psalm 114; see Exodus 14:21 ff), and a priest like Melchizedek of
old (Psalm 110; see Genesis 14:18-20). Therefore, unless you understand
the basics of Jewish history you will miss the meaning of such evocative
Considering all that I have said
above, to read the Psalms productively you should read them on three
The historical, human level
understands the Psalm as an expression of human joy and suffering in response
to its contemporary Biblical world. If you understand Jewish history, you
can place the Psalm in its proper context.
The Christian level shows
us how Christ took on Himselfand fulfilledall the human sentiments
expressed through Jewish history in the Psalms.
The personal level allows
you to experience in your own current life the same sentiments expressed
by the Psalmist and fulfilled in Christ. Thus, as you struggle to cope with
your own personal trials, the Psalms can be
a source of both comfort and inspiration.
Once you have a basic understanding
of the Bible, then you can begin the continuous task of Biblical study. For example,
as you pray the Liturgy of the Hours, you will encounter
many Biblical references you dont recognize, so, if you are praying
in private recitation, just take a short time out from the formal
prayer (per General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours,
203) and look up those references in the Bible. A good
Catholic Bible will have an introductory section to each book, so you can
set the text in its proper historical context. Meditate on it a bit, and
then return to the formal prayer. When you have more time, you can go back
to the Bible and read more of the passage in question, and you can explore
cross-references through the footnotes. If you do this on a regular basis,
through repetition alone you will become very familiar with many Biblical
A Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture, by Bishop Frederick
Justus Knecht, D.D., has been reprinted from the Fourth English Edition of
a work first published in German in 1893.
This is a truly excellent book
combining narrative, explanation, and commentary. It leads the reader through
the entire Bible, from the beginning to the end, without the risk of getting
lost or bogged down. And it provides brilliant explications of pure Catholic
theology along the entire journey. Although the APPLICATIONS
sections were originally written for older children, the book is suitable
for anyone in todays world, especially considering that back in 1893
older children had more common sense than most adults in todays
TAN Books and
in the Catholic mystic tradition
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