Question: Should Catholics read the Bible? I was told this was forbidden until Vatican II -- is that correct?
Answer: Catholics are encouraged to read the Bible. The Church grants indulgences both for the reading of, and for attending sermons explaining the Sacred Scripture.1 These date back to 1898 and 1784, respectively -- long before Vatican II. The Church does insist that Catholics read a translation approved for its accuracy, and recognize that the interpretation of the texts ultimately resides with the Church. The concern is that a translation or interpretation by an unapproved source may be intended to teach the errors of a non-Catholic religion.
The notion that Catholics do not read the Bible comes from the fact that a substantial part of the Church's history occurred before the invention of printing, when copying was an arduous and expensive task, and literacy had been severely curtailed by the barbarian invasions. Far from the inexpensive paper bound editions of today, Bibles were once so valuable that they were chained to the deck on which they were to be read to prevent their disappearance. (Somewhat like the telephone directory in an outdoor booth!)
Those who attend Mass regularly, or who read the texts of the Mass in a missal, are exposed to a fair amount of the Scriptures. Priests are exhorted to comment on the readings as a regular part of the Sunday and Holy Day sermon. It is certainly a worthwhile objective to "fill in the gaps" by reading directly from the Bible. Members of our Parish may avail themselves of the Wednesday evening study group meetings for a systematic approach to the Scriptures.