Sophia Institute Press’: The Catholic Reader’s Bible, The Four Gospels and Acts of the Apostles

This past Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (January 24, 2021), the Church, for the second time since the publication of the Holy Father Francis’ motu proprio, Aperuit Illis, celebrated the Sunday of the Word of God. “May the Sunday of the Word of God help his people to grow in religious and intimate familiarity with the sacred Scriptures,” said Pope Francis in the motu proprio. Yet, how can people “grow in religious and intimate familiarity with the sacred Scriptures” if the Bible(s) are sitting on bookshelves collecting dust? It is better to see a Bible that is worn than a brand new Bible on a bookshelf. I enjoy looking at Bibles and Breviaries that have been used so frequently that the ribbons are frayed, the pages wrinkly and stuffed with Holy Cards.

I know 2020 has been a year which saw Word on Fire Catholic Ministries’ first volume of The Word on Fire Bible: The Gospels and it has been widely reviewed, even on our blog for the 12 Days of Christmas Gifts series. However, an edition of the Gospels that seemed to have been overlooked, in my opinion, is Sophia Institute Press’ The Catholic Reader’s Bible: The Four Gospel and Acts of the Apostles, Confraternity Edition. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Word on Fire Bible, but a reason why I have reviewed a variety of Bibles on this blog is that if you are serious about reading the Word of God and understanding it, then you should own more than one. Each Bible I have reviewed on here meets a certain need at a specific time or purpose. That is why there are so many translations, a number of them Catholic approved. However, I find it so interesting to read other Catholic translations besides just the NRSV-CE that I hear in the Canadian Lectionary because reading other translations expands the horizons on the understanding of Scripture. If you are reading Scripture like a record, then there is some work to do. As Pope Francis said in Aperuit Illis, “When sacred Scripture is read in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written, it remains ever new.” (12)

The Word on Fire Bible is one way to read Scripture in a new way, but some traditional Catholics have critiqued it for using the modern NRSV-CE translation. Many traditional Catholics seem to prefer the Douay-Rheims Bible. What I say is the “in-between” translation among the Douay-Rheims and NABRE is the Confraternity Bible which began circulating among American Catholics in 1940s to the late 1960s. I am not going to go deep into the background of the translation, but the Confraternity Bible has a revised New Testament based on the traditional Douay-Rheims translation. Once in a while, I do like to reference Scripture passages from the Douay-Rheims/Confraternity editions because the translation just sounds so familiar to the Catholic ear compared to the NRSV or NABRE (used outside of the Lectionary texts). I take Luke 1:18 for an example:

And when the angel had come to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.”And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

The Confraternity translation uses the common, “full of grace,” while the more modern translations do that use that. I was confused with the use of “full of grace” vs. “favoured one,” and Catholic Answers gave the following answer:

Because of the familiarity people have with the Hail Mary prayer and the connotation that Protestant translators use “highly favored” to deny Catholic dogmas, the Lectionary for use at Mass still uses the phrase “Hail, full of grace!” But neither is technically an incorrect translation.

“Full of Grace” Versus “Highly Favored”

I highly suggest that you read the full article to gain a better sense of why Fr. Charles Grondin came to that response… very insightful.

However, translation is just one thing I want to talk about, but also take a look at the Bible itself, specifically its layout and features embedded within. Upon opening the Bible besides the Table of Contents and Foreword of the Confraternity Edition (from 1941), there is an informative excerpt from the encylical Spiritus Paraclitus of Pope Benedict XV (September 15, 1920) – over 100 years ago, “On the Reading of Holy Scripture.” This excerpt serves as a good reminder of how we are to read Scripture, and how Catholics are invited to read it daily, “gather thence food for their souls.” Reading Scripture is not merely a routine, but rather, necessary for our Spiritual lives, the encyclical reminds us.

What I like about this Bible is that there are extensive introductions including a Preface, Introduction to the Four Gospels, and even two pages of notes introducing each of the books. I do not know if these notes were available in the 1940s translation, or they are new to this edition. However, as I have mentioned in other Bible reviews, for a Catholic Bible, notes are very important and I am always interested in what the notes say about a book, and it is always in a sense, “refreshing” to read different notes in different Bibles. The notes in this edition, we are introduced to the historical context of the Bible, speaking to the events of the Church of the time the book was written. This helps frame the reader into how to read the book because each book of the Bible was written in a particular time, in a particular time in the history of God’s people, and a particular audience in mind. It is good to keep these points in the back of one’s mind when reading the Scriptures because that will help inform one of the style, genre, parables, and dialect used in a book. In that way, we will not read the Bible like a novel, but it an informed and conscious manner.

The most prominent point about this Bible is that there are no chapter numbers and no verse numbers. You might be asking, “How is that a prominent point!” I have mentioned that it is good for a Catholic to have several different types of Bibles because you might have different uses for each of them, maybe one for notetaking, one for serious study and one for prayer. This Bible is one that I recommend for prayer because all you have is the text of the Bible without any of the other bells and whistles. It is laid out similar to a novel form – just continuous reading, though there are headings throughout for ease of locating the start of a large Bible passage. However, if you are were to find a specific verse, more like a reference Bible, then I do not recommend this Bible because while the page header do indicate the chapter and verse numbers in which the passage of the page comes from, there is absolutely no indicated where a specific verse starts and ends. I assume this is why this is a “Reader’s Bible” because it is meant for reading. This Bible is good when you only want to focus on the text, very good for use during Lectio Divina.

I can only show you screenshots because I was sent an electronic review copy of this Bible. I do hope to get my hands on a hard copy of it in the near future because personally, nothing beats a hard copy version of a book, especially for a Bible to rid you of all the distractions that may come up on your screen, whether it be a phone call, e-mail or any other type of notification.

Overall, this is a very impressive simplistic edition of the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles. This is a very ideal tool for prayer with the Scriptures, but again I note, this is not an ideal Bible for Bible Study. Perhaps you might want to keep it by your beside for prayer before you go to sleep? Or for your office during your lunch break? Either way, remember, when you buy it, don’t leave it on the bookshelf but instead, read it, pray it and live it!

You can purchase a copy of the Bible here from Sophia Institute Press in both hardback and e-book versions.

You can also check out an interactive preview of their Bible here.

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