by Joe Bollig
WEA — Every Wednesday night, a hungry crowd gathers to be fed at Queen of the Holy Rosary Parish here. And no matter how many show up, the food never runs out, and everyone always leaves well-fed.
No, the pastor is not is not multiplying loaves and fishes. Rather, the hunger is spiritual, and those gathered are being fed by Scripture.
The program was brought to the parish by Shelly Mackey, a convert to the Catholic faith. Eight years ago, while participating in eucharistic adoration, she found a little daily devotional booklet called “One Bread, One Body,” published by Presentation Ministries. She started using this booklet regularly as an aid to prayer and reflection.
Soon, however, she decided that although it was nice, it wasn’t enough. So when RENEW 2000 came to her parish, Mackey was one of the first to sign up.
But that wasn’t enough, either.
Mackey wanted — in fact, felt she needed — a substantial Bible study.
Unfortunately, there was no parish-sponsored Bible study program in place. So when a non-Catholic friend invited Mackey to her own church’s Bible study — the very successful, 60-year-old Bible Study Fellowship — she agreed to go.
There was a lot that was very good about BSF, Mackey said.
But some things weren’t good at all.
“Last year was the hardest year for me,” she said. “I loved the way it was set up, but there were things in the notes that were so disturbing to me. I felt there was some anti-Catholic messages, and they just stuck out for me.”
While searching for a Catholic alternative, Mackey learned about Catholic Scripture Study, a Catholic version of BSF. With the blessing of her pastor, Father Larry Albertson, Mackey introduced the program at Queen this past September.
Now, nearly 100 people gather every week at the parish center for Catholic Scripture Study. The Bible is at the heart of the program, but it also draws from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, church documents, papal writings, and the writings of the saints.
“We considered [the] ‘Little Rock [Scripture Study program],’ but I liked this one the best,” said Father Albertson. “I like it because it has excellent Scripture, and it brings in a lot of tradition and dogma of the church.”
Initially, Father Albertson was concerned that the program would require so much preparation time from him that it would be unworkable, but it has not turned out that way. Catholic Scripture Study is lay-led, but laypersons have no teaching role. Mackey herself is the main study leader.
“It is self-contained,” said Father Albertson. “I don’t have to worry about being prepared for presentations.”
Bob Zarze, a small group leader, said this has turned out to be the most substantial Bible study he’s ever been i volved in.
“I’ve been exposed to a lot of Bible studies, and this, in my opinion, is the best,” said Zarze, a member of Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe. “Specifically, what makes it really neat is the way it’s written to tie into Old Testament references and the catechism.”
The format is simple. First, there is a 15-minute opening with songs, prayer and announcements. The group, usually about 100 strong, then splits into small discussion groups of about eight to 10 people. Next, everyone comes together for a 30-minute video lecture on the week’s lesson. Finally, the evening closes with fellowship and homework for next week.
The program, which spans five years, begins with the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles and continues until all 73 books of the Bible are studied. The classes meet according to the traditional school academic schedule, September through May. The cost of the program is approximately $400 and is borne entirely by the program participants.
The class has forced him to crack open the catechism for the first time in his life, said participant Ray Reuter, and has taken him more deeply into the Scriptures than anything he’s ever been involved with before.
“I have found it to be fairly significantly deeper,” said Reuter. “The questions are more thorough. I enjoy the priest’s lecture [on DVD]. It goes a level deeper than most things I’ve been involved with. It moves beyond discussion to true study.”
Zarze believes the numbers speak for themselves.
“I was shocked by the number of people who signed up for this thing,” said Zarze. “Although people are busy and can’t make every meeting, there are still a lot of people there every week.”
Father Albertson is so impressed with Catholic Scripture Study that he wants to make it the permanent foundation for adult religious education in the parish.
“I see it as the cornerstone,” he said. “This is a gem that should be shared. It takes real commitment, but the people who do so are coming away with a real knowledge of Scripture. As they say: Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”