Thursday, September 03, 2009

Enthroning the Bible at Home

I got this from the US Conference of (ROMAN) Catholic Bishop's website. It's part of their renewed focus on catechesis. After looking over it, I wanted to post it and see if there were any responses from the Reform-minded folks that read my blog. The concept of a family altar is well established in Roman Catholic communities. It used to be well-established in Protestant families (normally the kitchen table), but I'm liking the idea of a place set especially apart. Maybe it will be so again.

To show that God is at the center of their lives, many families enthrone the Bible, the Word of God, in a visible place in their homes. By placing the Sacred Scriptures in a prominent place decorated with flowers and art, and by gathering at this spot for daily prayer, families show that God is present and active through his Word.

Enthroning the Bible in your home is easy. Simply pick a place where the Bible can be honored. The Bible should be placed where it will be seen regularly, but the location should be apart from the noise and confusion of the family entertainment. Place the Bible, opened to a favorite passage or the readings of the day (these can be found at, on a table or shelf. Decorate the area around the Bible with a cloth, flowers, and/or a candle—whatever makes sense to you. Use the following ritual prayer when you gather as a family to enthrone the Bible.

Things to Prepare

• Bible
• A shelf or table where the Bible will be placed (the shelf may be adorned with a cloth and candles)


When possible, the ritual may start outside the main door to the house or outside the main entrance to the room. One member of the family holds the Bible, raised slightly. The father, mother, or other leader begins the celebration with the opening litany:

Leader: Our Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Word of the Father.
Response: Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Leader: You became one with us to tell of the Father’s love.
Response: Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Leader: You are the light that shines in the darkness.
Response: Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Leader: You save us from fear and break the bonds of sin and death.
Response: Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Leader: You come to guide our steps and lead us to God.
Response: Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Leader: You are the Word of eternal life.
Response: Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Leader: You fill us with the Holy Spirit.
Response: Come, Lord Jesus, come.

As everyone enters the house or room, they may sing a suitable song.

Then one of the following Scripture passages is read from the Bible:

Matthew 4:17-23 Jesus calls and heals through the power of his Word.
Mark 4:1-20 The Word is like the seed.
Luke 4:14-21 Jesus proclaims the Word in Nazareth.
John 1:10-14 Jesus is the Word of God and the light of the world.

After the reading, the leader places the Bible in the place prepared for it. All bow deeply before the enthroned Bible.

We have heard your words, Jesus.
They give us joy and bring light and truth into our lives.
Your presence gives us peace in our troubled and divided world.
Let your Word create in our hearts a deep desire for you.
Be with us in our hearts and homes, in our community and country.
Give us your Holy Spirit to help us to understand your Word.
We enthrone now this Holy Bible in our midst.
Make your Word the center of our lives.
May your Word inspire all that we think and say and do.
May your Word bind us together in unity with each other and with you,
today and forever.

Response: Amen.

All join in saying the Lord’s Prayer.

All repeat after the leader:

We promise to respect the Word of God in our midst.
We shall read and reflect on it as a family of God.
May we draw from it inspiration for our decisions,
strength for our work,
and comfort in suffering.
Jesus, help us to be faithful to our promise,
you who live forever and ever.

The celebration concludes with a sign of peace.

Adapted from Enthroning the Bible in the Family, by Pauline Publications Africa. Used with permission.
Handouts may be reproduced to use in promoting Catechetical Sunday.

Copyright © 2009, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to duplicate this work without adaptation for non-commercial use.


Tim said...

Respectfully, as a Reformed pastor, I have great dislike for the use of the term "altar," as it brings forth connotations of sacrifice of animals, and Christ is our paschal lamb. Fear not, for have equal distaste for Protestants who make reference to "altar calls" and the like, for similar reasons.

I also not not care for the use of seasonal cloths and so forth, but having a Bible on the coffee table (I am an American after all ;) ) and having the family gather around the kitchen table for "family worship" is certainly encouraged.

I am somewhat confused, however, at the idea of a family altar being well established in Roman Catholic circles. How are we defining this? An emphasis on catechesis? Feel free to correct, but was not the reading of the Bible actually discouraged (or forbidden) by the laity prior to Vatican II? When did it become permissible by RCs to translate the Bible into the vernacular? It would seem unlikely that Bible readings were a part of such tradition before the last half century or so, unless I am missing something.

Fr. Chris Larimer said...

I was always uncomfortable with Paul's exhortation to offer ourselves as living sacrifices... But as I've come into a less polemical expression of the Reformation, I get less upset by people using a word with historic precedent. Altar calls aren't to sacrifice Jesus, but to sacrifice self. That's a profoundly Christian thing to do - and when motivated from true repentance, leads to amazing transformation.

Seasonal cloths are an innovation I like, so long as the symbolism is explained and taught. They can become an extremely useful tool in remembering Christ's life.

As for Romanists, many have a family shrine where they keep superstitious stuff. But simply because it's been abused doesn't mean it shouldn't be reformed. And I'll remind you that there have been English Bibles for Roman Catholics for the better part of two centuries. But it does say something that - like Muslims with Arabic - one was required to undergo formal training in the language before being able to read it willy-nilly.

Witness Joel Osteen...he'd never make it if he were required to learn Latin.

Tim said...

Two things bother me about the whole "altar call" thing:

1) When the communion table is referred to as an "altar," which it is not (worse still is when it is made to look like an altar).

2) When the "altar call," like "baby dedications," becomes a substitution for a biblical sacrament. The Lord's Supper appropriately leads to things like rededication, covenant renewal, and transformation. And our Lord, of course, did not institute such a thing, unknown in the church for 18 centuries.

Anonymous said...

I am fairly certain if Joel Osteen were forced to learn English he'd never make it.

I'd have to ditto with my ARP fellow here on this one. There a plethora of Reformed guys you could check on this (cf: Joel Beeke up in Grand Rapids for sure) that I think are exceedingly more helpful than the guys following the Bishop over in Italy.

Two things dealt the blow to family religion in America. One was the diminished part of the Christian Sabbath and the eradication of Family Worship.

By the way I am all for putting a Bible in a prominent place in your home. Just make sure it does not become something that has more dust on it than the top of your TV.

Fr. Chris Larimer said...

LOST - both the means and the ends, eh?

If more people would just pursue the Benedictine-inspired pattern of Morning and Evening Prayer in the BCP then there'd be a lot more thorough and even reading of the Scriptures.

But no...some dissenting types thought that greater fidelity was to be had in absolute freedom. :)

Kevin said...

It is a wonderful reminder of papal fallability. 400 odd years ago, Trent pronounced anathemas on anyone who would dare own a Bible.

Bill Crawford said...

The whole problem with ritual is not (always) what it intends but what it (usually) causes.

Bibleology is just a step away from what you are describing. The flowers, the special stand leads one to subconsciously understand that the object is special.

Then not very long in the future, the simple special placement of the book is sufficient to "venerate" the Word.

I would much rather see a bible, heavily used, on the bedside of each room and those folks gathering to talk about what they have read.

The idea of setting the book apart from the regular noise of the family seems exactly the opposite of what we want to happen.

the confusion occurs when you have someone lift up the bible and the leader leads the ritual to pray to Jesus? who are you praying to Jesus or the Bible that is being lifted up before all to see.

Fr. Chris Larimer said...

Kevin: Trent was a council, not a pope. I stand firmly for conciliarism - but, with the 39 Articles (and the WCF that built on them), I affirm that synods can and have erred; few more than Trent (though it did correct some eggregious errors).

Bill: Solid thoughts. We are homo religiosis - with idol factories for hearts. What is a sign and symbol and means of God's salvation can easily be turned into an idol (cf. 2 Kings 18:1-4). The Scriptures alone have the ability to self-correct on that.


Tim said...

Just as an historical clarification: the WCF technically did not built on the 39 Articles. True enough, the Westminster Assembly was originally given the task of revising the Articles (and did so to 16 of them), but Parliament then aligned itself with Scotland under the Solemn League and Covenant, that task was set aside and never picked up again. Scotland sent delegates to the Assembly, and from that point on the goal of the Assembly was to bring the Church of England more into uniformity with the Church of Scotland in four areas: Confession, Church Government, Worship, and Catechizing. In the words of Warfield, "the work of the Assembly ... was revolutionized, and not only directed to a new end but put upon a wholly new basis." The Assembly apparently did, however, make use of the Irish Articles in composing the WCF, if memory serves.

Fr. Chris Larimer said...

If I had my druthers, I'd be CoI. They still require rather strict adherence to the 39 Articles and the Irish Articles set the tone for the rest of their churchmanship. But I still have parents alive in the States, so no expatriation in my near future.