A CHARACTERISTIC OF THE APOSTLEA particular characteristic of the publishing apostle has to be veneration of Holy Scripture.
What we set out here as a guiding light are the basic notions regarding the veneration Catholics give to Holy Scripture as it results from the doctrine of the Church, Scripture itself, Tradition and reason. Practical norms follow.
Veneration of Holy Scripture1
The reverence we give to Holy Scripture, and likewise, to images, is not adoration in the true sense. From the
Doctrine of the Church, from Holy Scripture, from Tradition and from reason itself it results to be relative latria.
Doctrine of the Church - The II Council of Nicea (7th sess., 13 Oct. 787) decreed: "With complete certainty and awareness we define that the representation of the precious and life-giving Cross, and the venerable and holy images (of the Savior, of the Mother of God, of the Angels and of all the Saints) portrayed either in mosaic or in other ways, can and ought to be reproduced both in churches as well as on vestments, in houses, along the road, and on walls.
"For the more frequently one contemplates these pictorial representations the more gladly will he be led to remember the original subject whom they represent.
"In accordance with ancient and pious custom, we pay these images veneration by means of a kiss, a greeting, an oblation of light and incense, or prostration (proskúnesis) just as is done for the Cross and the holy Gospels and other sacred objects which is not however the true adoration (latria) which, according to our faith, is due to God alone."2
The IV Council of Constantinople in canon III: "We decree that the sacred image of our Lord Jesus Christ, the liberator and Savior of all, must be venerated with the same honor as is given to the book of the Holy Gospels. For, as through
the language of the words contained in this book all can reach salvation, so, due to the action which these images exercise by their colors, all, wise and simple alike, can derive profit from them. For what speech conveys in words, pictures announce and bring out in colors.
"It is fitting, in accordance with sane reason and with the most ancient tradition, since the honor is referred to the principal subject, that the images derived from it be honored and venerated, as is done for the book of the Holy Gospels and for the image of the precious Cross."3
Holy Scripture - In the Old Testament God had the tables of the Law placed in the ark which also contained the manna. Moses says: "Then I turned and came down from the mountain, and put the tables in the ark which I had made; and there they are, as the Lord commanded me."4
The Book of the Law was then placed at the side of the ark, in the Holy of Holies, as is clear from the order given by Moses to the levites: "Take this book of the law, and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there as a witness against you."5
Already in the Old Testament, as is clear from the texts quoted, God joins as one in honor and worship the manna, a symbol of the Eucharist, Christ-Life, and the tables and the book of the Law, a part of the Bible, a sign and foundation of the Gospel, Christ-Truth and Way.
Now if this is what God directs for signs and symbols how much more should it prove true for reality.
Thus the book of the Gospels must be honored with a veneration similar, but proportionate, to that given to Christ himself.
Tradition - The canons of the Councils cited, II Nicea and IV Constantinople, both hint at a quite ancient tradition. Moreover, in these Councils, the veneration paid to the Gospels is taken as a reason for ratifying veneration to pictures of the Savior, a sign, surely, that it already existed.
Further, the Council of Constantinople in canon 1 against Photius states: "If we would walk without stumbling on the unchanging and regal way of divine Justice, we must esteem the definitions and the decrees of the holy Fathers, which reflect God's will, as ever-burning lamps that light up our steps."
Thus in professing veneration for the Holy Gospels, we are walking in the footsteps of the Fathers and Christian Tradition.
In present-day Liturgy we honor Holy Scripture:
a) Employing it for the greater part of the Breviary and a good part of the Mass, so much so that the backbone of the Mass is based on passages from Holy Scripture.
b) By kissing the Gospel.
c) By lighting candles and incensing it before the deacon proclaims it in a solemn High Mass.
Reason - Even reason has its proofs.
Given equal degrees of excellence there is also a commensurate duty of veneration.
Now, in its decree regarding veneration of the image of the Savior, IV Constantinople based itself, apart from tradition, on the likeness of the subject of the Crucifix, the subject of the book of the Gospels, and the image of the Redeemer. Thus, veneration of the book of the Gospels and, by extension, of Holy Scripture, is something holy and venerable.
Consequently, just as it is lawful to venerate the image of the Savior, there is an ever greater reason to venerate Holy Scripture, which contains the word of God.
The practice of venerating Holy Scripture
Like worship of God, veneration of Holy Scripture must be complete, that is, in keeping with our nature as human and social beings. A veneration that is interior but also external when needs be; private but also public when needs be.
All of this, in such a way that interior veneration gives value and meaning to external veneration, while the latter acts in return by making private veneration more intense. Public veneration will complete and perfect the private.
Submission of our mind with acts of sincerely Catholic, simple and strong faith.6
"Catholic faith", that is, based on the principle that the Holy Spirit unfailingly enlightens the Church when it interprets Holy Scripture in accord with the mind of the Divine Teacher, and guides in the faith everyone who believes in the Church. Faith, which is prepared [by acquiring] sufficient religious instruction and keeps to the explanation approved by the Church; faith that reads Holy Scripture, and the Gospel in particular, with that spirit of love with which Jesus preached it to the people.
"Simple faith" since it is the simple and humble of heart who grasp God's word. We need to approach Scripture with a heart like
that of the Apostles, like that of the Virgin Mary.
"Strong faith". God's word converts, but we need courage to present it to those who are lost and have strayed; we need courage to renounce our passions and to follow the teachings of Scripture.
Submission of our will by total adherence to God's moral laws in the holy Books and particularly in the Gospel. Cornelius a Lapide says: "The Gospel is Christ's book, it is the philosophy and theology of Christ, it is the joyful message of the Redemption, of grace and of humanity's salvation which he brought from heaven and bestowed on believers. For this reason, to read or to hear the Gospel is to listen to or to hear the very voice of the Son of God. The Gospel must be listened to with as much reverence as we would listen to Jesus Christ himself."7
Submission of our heart and of our whole being as the Church teaches us and as many saints showed us by their example, among whom we like to recall Saint Anthony, Saint Basil, Saint Augustine and Saint Cecilia.
Heartfelt submission of our heart to God for revealing his truths to us, making his will known to us, and manifesting his love for us; a grateful and open heart ready to embrace
with enthusiastic joy God's favor and to praise his divine greatness.
Reverent submission as Pope Athanasius meant when he wrote to the Bishops of Germany and Borgogna: "You have advised us that some remain seated when the Gospel is read." And later: "With our apostolic authority we command that in no way is this matter to continue in the future. When the holy Gospels are read in church, the priests and others present are not to remain seated but are to stand and bow their head out of respect for the holy Gospel, listen attentively to the Lord's word and adore it devotedly."8
External acts of veneration towards Holy Scripture
Some praiseworthy external acts of veneration towards Holy Scripture are processions, novenas and triduums, prayers, exposition, the kiss, to take a solemn oath on the Gospel.
Processions. It is a wonderful practice to carry the holy books in procession, in keeping clearly with liturgical norms.
We read, apropos, in an article in L'Osservatore Romano of 19-2-1933: "We learn from Cencio Camerario of the processional
rite of carrying on the shoulders of the Deacons an elegant and striking lectern, called the 'Portatorium', accompanied by palm bearers, the wafting of incense, lighted candles and the banners of the city's schools, thus paying the Gospel an honor similar to that received by Jesus Christ himself."
This is a holy and time-honored custom and one worthy to be continued.
Novenas and triduums which consist in the daily reading of a chapter of the holy Book. This pious practice, widespread among people in many areas, has resulted in particular benefits and graces.
Prayers can take various forms. Saint Gregory of Tours narrates, for example, in the Lives of the Fathers, ch. IV, that when the city of Alvernia was being engulfed in flames, Saint Gaul went into the church and prayed for a long time before the altar. When he got up, he took the book of the Gospels and marched forward with it towards the fire. It soon died down and not even a spark was to be seen.
Saint Marcianus and Saint Nicephorus tell of similar facts and miracles. A form of prayer is also to carry on one's person all or part of the holy Book to ask for release from temptation and misfortune, as well as to beseech God's protection, for the devils take fright when faced with a gospel scroll. In this regard, Saint John Chrysostom states that devils will not dare enter a place
where there is a copy of the Gospel.9
Exposition for veneration. Nicephorus mentions that in both of the ecumenical Councils of Nicea, as well as in those of Chalcedon and of Ephesus, the book of the Gospels was placed in the middle of the Council hall. Thus the Fathers could turn to it as to the person of Jesus Christ; as if Jesus Christ were to say: Come to right judgment.10
Likewise in the Council of Trent Holy Scripture had a place of honor in the center of the Council hall.
L'Osservatore Romano promotes the pious practice of displaying the Gospel in churches in front of the balustrade and the altar, so that the faithful may kiss it and read it. Many families in Italy take up the widespread practice of displaying the holy Book in a place of honor, of bowing when passing in front of it and of kissing it.
Taking an oath on the Gospel: this is a very solemn act. It is to call on God Truth to corroborate what one affirms or denies; at the same time it is to ask for the grace to confess the truth or to be faithful to one's promises.
This is a practice endorsed by Canon Law itself. It lays down that in the act of taking a solemn oath a person is to place his hand on the Gospel.
1 We are speaking here of the books of Holy Scripture and of the Gospel since the word of God, as such, in itself, is not the question at issue.
2 Denzinger 302.
3 Denzinger 337.
4 Deut 10:5.
5 Deut 31:26.
6 CORNELJ, Introduzione alla S. Scrittura.
7 Cf. Vol. III, 3-4.
8 Can. Apost. de Consecrat. dist. 1.
9 Cf. Discourse 51 on Saint John the Evangelist.
10 Cf. Book XIV, Chapter III.