Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Third Sunday after Easter, 17 April AD 2005

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Collects for a Deceased Pope
For the Election of  Holy Pope

 “For so is the will of God, that by doing well you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.”[1]

    The Epistle this morning, taken as it is from the first Epistle of Saint Peter, has the unusual distinction of being the first encyclical letter ever written by a Pope.  That is to say that it wasn’t intended primarily for the members of one particular Church (as most of Saint Paul’s letters were), but was intended to be read by the faithful throughout the wide area where very early Christianity flourished.  We are privileged to have this encyclical, as well as one which followed it, archived for our reading in the pages of the New Testament.  That means that probably everyone here has a copy at home, and is able to read it in its entirety—not just the few verses which are prescribed for this Mass.

    Since the advent of printing, the western world has enjoyed a tremendous increase in literacy—we take it for granted that people in our society have learned to read fairly well, long before they finish their formal education.  And one of the books most printed in the English language—by both Catholics and Protestants—has been the Holy Bible.  There were some Catholic translations of various books of the Bible into English, even before the invention of printing, but their English was a bit archaic.  In modern times, the New Testament was first published at Rheims in 1582, and accompanied by an Old Testament published by the English College at Douay in 1609—what today we call the Douay-Rheims Bible.  That translation was revised a number of times, and is still quite readable to us four centuries later.  There are, of course, some more modern Catholic translations.

    In a few cases, the Church restricted the reading of vernacular translations of the Bible—generally where Catholic translations were not available, and the translations by heretics were likely to be misleading.  Yet we know that the Church discussed and encouraged the translation of the Scriptures at the council of Trent.[2]  In 1898 Pope Leo XIII granted an indulgence to those who read the Scriptures for as little as fifteen minutes a day—a plenary indulgence if carried on for a month.  This survived even Vatican II, with Pope Paul VI reducing the requirement for a plenary indulgence to a mere half an hour on one day.[3]

    I would like to call your attention to a letter written by Pope Pius VI to the Archbishop of Turin in 1778—that is a little over two centuries ago, but you should find his words to be perfectly applicable today.  He says:

    At a time that a vast number of bad books, which most grossly attack the Catholic Religion, are circulated, even among the unlearned, to the great destruction of souls, you judge exceedingly well that the faithful should be excited to the reading of the Holy Scriptures:  For these are the most abundant sources which ought to be left open to everyone, to draw from them purity of morals and doctrine, to eradicate the errors which are so widely disseminated in these corrupt times....[4]

    Were he alive today, Pope Pius would certainly be even more vocal about the sources of modern communication that even more “grossly attack the Catholic Religion,” and the need for Catholics to draw their “purity of morals and doctrine” from authentic sources like the Sacred Scriptures—which in the case of the Turin translation were accompanied by commentaries from the great Fathers of the Church, in order to “preclude every possible danger of abuse.”[5]  If anything, such reading is imperative, for today the danger is greater, when so many people have developed the very lazy habit of just turning on the television to be told what to think.  Whether it is a football game, or a presidential address, or the election of a new Pope—we have become so accustomed to turning on the “tube”;  being first told what we were going to see;  and after we have seen it, what we are to think about it.

    In many cases we find that the media are tremendously successful in getting people to believe anti-Christian propaganda, precisely because people have allowed themselves to be ignorant of the essentials of the Faith, or the workings of their government, or the economy, or their own history, and, therefore, have no basis for comparison of what they are being told to believe, with what they should already know to be the truth.  A network anchor man, together with a few people with degrees from Oxford, Harvard, and M.I.T., are enough to make them believe that Christianity is evil, and that the traditional values of Western Civilization are the source of all oppression of the poor and the downtrodden.

    I would venture that, were they alive today, Pope Pius VI, or Leo XIII, or any of the great Popes of the modern era, would be even more insistent that “these most abundant sources ... ought to be left open to everyone”;  that every Christian ought to be familiar with and formed by wisdom of holy writ.  And, it is fair to say, as well, that such men would have also encouraged our familiarity with the other written sources of our Catholic civilization:  the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the encyclicals of the Popes (and not just those of Saint Peter)—and, beyond the purely religious writings of our culture, they would urge us to become familiar with the literature that is essential to being a good citizen and to preserving the Christian Civilization which we have inherited.  The wise Popes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were never shy about the realities of the modern world in which we Catholics must live.

    In the collect of today’s Mass we heard the priest pray:  “O God, to those who go astray, You display the light of Your truth, that they may return to the way of righteousness....”

    But how does God display the light of His truth?  He certainly doesn’t do it by taking some time during the half time show;  He doesn’t do it by means of a network “news” special, or through the commentators of the newspapers and magazines;  He doesn’t do it through those supposedly “intellectual” people on the documentaries.

    Saint Peter answers the question in this encyclical (or epistle) we read today.  God displays His truth through us.  He tells us: “Behave yourselves honorably among the pagans ... that through observing you, by reason of your good works, they may glorify God in the day of visitation.”  “By doing good, you will silence the ignorance of foolish men.”  And that ought to leave us with a strong sense of responsibility—in order for us to demonstrate the Faith to the ignorant and the pagans around us, we must first know the Faith.

    That doesn’t mean sitting down in front of the “tube” and waiting to be told what Jesus actually taught, or how Christendom came to be.  It means doing some very interesting reading, and learning to think in harmony with the Church instead of the Network.  There are any number of good things out there to read—a lot of them are right behind you in the parish library—and don’t forget the Holy Scriptures, “the abundant sources for everyone ... to draw purity of morals and doctrine.”

    It is time to turn off the TV and learn your Faith.


[1]   Epistle: 1 Peter ii: 11-19

[2]   E. Power, SJ, “The Languages, Texts, and Versions of the Bible,” A Catholic Commentary on the Scriptures, (NY Thos. Nelson, 1953), page 33.

[3]   Enchiridion of Indulgences, #50, Sacræ Scripturæ lectio.

[4]   Letter of Pope Pius VI in the unnumbered introductory pages of the Douay Rheims Bible (Baltimore & NY: John Murphy Company, 1914.

[5]   Ibid.


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