Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Lectionary Statistics - The Whole Bible?

I occasionally come across someone talking about how much scripture we Catholics hear in Church and how we read the whole Bible through every 3 years during Mass.

I'm always torn about how to respond to this. Maybe it's pride, but I have such a hard time ignoring inaccuracies - no matter how "unimportant" they seem to be (my poor, poor wife). Concerned with suppressing my reputation as a "know-it-all", I usually let the statement go uncorrected. I know the point is not so much that we read the whole Bible, but that we read/hear it as much if not more than most Protestants.

Let's look at the claim with some rough numbers. The total number of pages in my NAB Bible is:

1170(OT) + 425(NT) = 1595 total pages

So, there are two claims out there. First is that by just fulfilling our Sunday obligation of attending Mass we get the whole thing.

1595 / 156 (52 weeks * 3 years) = ~10.2 pages

Ok, kind of goes without saying that we do not read 10.2 pages of the Bible each Sunday.

So, the second claim is that we would really hear the whole thing if we attended Mass every day over the span of three years. Without getting into too much detail (oh how I'd love to), the daily Mass readings are not on a 3 year cycle, but a 2 year cycle - the following formula takes this into consideration:

1595 / 782 (unique days 313*2 + 52*3) = ~2.0 pages

Even though this may seem closer to possible, there is still no way we even come close to a 2.0 page daily average.

Recently I ran across the information I had been looking for to back up what we've looked at above. So, if we don't hear the entire Bible, what percent of it do we hear? Glad you asked. Below are a few tables with the percentages read listed for each genre. The percentages are given for Sunday Masses only, and for every day Masses of the entire 3 year cycle.

Old Testament:

BooksSundays OnlyEvery Day
Historical Books:1.5%9.4%
Wisdom Books:3.1%11.7%
Major Prophets:5.9%18.5%
Minor Prophets:6.0%25.9%

Old Testament:

BooksSundays OnlyEvery Day
Pauline Letters:31.3%56.7%
Catholic Epistles:24.7%67.6%
Book of Revelation:9.4%31.9%

So, the real average would be:

[(1170 * .135) + (425 * .715)] / 782 = ~.6 pages

Yes, a little over a half of a page each Mass would seem to be a pretty accurate number. So to those still reading, which books do you think are used the most and least? I know, the suspense is killing you.

Old Testamant:

2 Chronicles2.1%
1 Chronicles0.0%

New Testament:

1 John100.0%
2 John46.2%
1 Timothy45.1%
3 John26.7%
2 Peter24.6%

So what should you do next time someone says that we Catholics hear the entire Bible every three years at Mass? I still recommend just grinning a little, nodding your head, and keeping your mouth shut.


Laura The Crazy Mama said...

Wow, you showed amazing restraint. Good on ya! Heehee, I would have liked some more statistics and averages so I could memorize them and spout them at will, but I guess I'll take your suggestion and just nod politely.

Anonymous said...

Since you have a hard time ignoring inaccuracies ... I looked at your source for statistics. Excellent source. However, for the Sundays Only column, you chose the pre-Vatican II Lectionary column in the source rather than the Sundays (and Feasts) from the post vatican II Lectionary. A minor point but i wouldn't want you to fret about it.

Serviam! said...


Thanks for your response and I’m glad you liked the link. There’s a lot of very interesting material over at Fr. Just’s site.

And thank you also for pointing out the mistake I made copying over data from the site.

I have to admit that when I first read your comment I wasn’t sure why you had such a sharp tone. So I pulled up the post and read it over again. I have to tell you, I have to agree – I sound like an arrogant jerk! No excuse, you nailed it.

So I also thank you for that. I (more than most) need it pointed out from time to time.

I’ve made the needed corrections to the numbers (I hope), but I’ll leave the rest so others know what we’re talking about.