103 For this reason, the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord's Body. She never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life, taken from the one table of God's Word and Christ's Body.
The sole source for Paragraph 103 is Vatican II’s Dei Verbum, “The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation,” specifically para. 21, verbatim. Dei Verbum is a remarkable turnabout for the official teaching Church, and such a statement would have been unthinkable coming from Vatican I in 1870. Vatican II and the Catechism reflect considerable change in attitude and emphasis on the Bible in terms of pastoral practice and theological method, and one only need to look at the nineteenth century to see the full scope of the change.
In his account of Vatican II John O’Malley defines the nineteenth century as extending from 1789 and the French Revolution to Vatican II (1962-65), and assessing events in the Catholic Church in that time frame, there is much to be said for that. The year 1789 sparked a series of changes across the European continent in every aspect of life—governance, thought, religion, economics—which had profound impact, naturally upon the Catholic Church. The 1800’s saw the enhancement/development of philosophies (as with Hegel), science (as with Darwin), and governance (as with Metternich) that essentially reshaped the world without revealed religion—or a recasting of religion for the needs of a nation or state.
For the Catholic Church the post-Napoleonic era was a two-fold challenge. The theological challenges posed by modern thought are too numerous to evaluate, though the eminent Jesuit philosopher Frederick Coppleston may have summed it up best in his assessment that the very idea of philosophy without a link to the primacy of theology constituted a seismic shift. Coppleston made this observation about the rise of nominalism in the fourteenth century; the difference between then and the nineteenth century was the union of church and state, which enabled the Church to control, to some degree, the propagation of novel and alternative philosophies.
Which brings us to the second issue for the Church: in the nineteenth century the papacy saw its secular power diminishing before its eyes. The Church viewed itself as a (the?) major player in secular affairs, though by 1800 the Holy Roman Empire was dismantling and as a major player the Church was effectively left with the papal states on the Italian peninsula, which it effectively lost in 1861 in the drive for Italian sovereignty. All that remains today of the Church’s “temporal power” is Vatican City’s sovereignty.
For much of the nineteenth century the leader of the Church was Pope Pius IX, staunchly determined to strengthen the Church on both fronts, the intellectual and the secular, though he would be more successful with in-house theological control. Within the Church itself there were two schools of thought about the best way to address the future. The first, and ultimately victorious position, was centralization of Church authority in the person of the pope, which happened in 1870 at the Council Vatican I, with the declaration of papal infallibility.
However, there were a number of Catholic scholars of another persuasion. They were concentrated in England and Germany primarily, and they advocated more interaction with Protestants, new systems of thought to express Catholic theology, and most importantly, an emphasis upon the Bible in Catholic preaching and thought. The most famous scholar of this school is Ignaz von Döllinger (1799-1890); I highly recommend The Pope and the Professor: Pius IX, Ignaz von Döllinger, and the Quandary of the Modern Age (2017). Dollinger was born about a century or so too early. His speeches and writings in the three decades prior to Vatican I won him much acclaim among non-Italian theologians, particularly his call for the regionalization of bishops by nation (an early theory of national conferences of bishops, such as our USCCB.)
However, Pius IX was very much aware of his work, too, and invited Dollinger and another Catholic man of letters, Lord Acton, for a papal audience in 1857. The English Lord Action is famous for his observation that “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Both men, fortunately, left details of the meeting with the pope in their diaries. The two men were required to make three separate genuflections, and only then to come forth and kiss the pope’s gold slipper. Pius emphasized to them three times that a theologian’s role was loyalty to the Church; Dollinger defended his studies of the Bible and history as critical to reform of the Church. In any event, both Dollinger and Acton determined that they would never visit Rome again.
Dollinger’s demise occurred one year after Vatican I (1871), when he was excommunication for his views on papal infallibility: "As a Christian, as a theologian, as an historian, and as a citizen, I cannot accept this doctrine." It was the beginning of a seven-decade period in which supreme authority of the pope and the scholastic theology of Thomas Aquinas replaced the burgeoning scholarship in the field of historical and biblical studies. Given that Biblical study through the early twentieth-century was a primarily Protestant venture, the place of the Sacred Scripture occupied a decidedly minor emphasis throughout the Church. Even in my own youth, the first half of the Mass was called “The Mass of the Catechumens.” A Catholic who missed the Liturgy of the Word on Sunday was guilty of a venial sin only. The second half of the Mass, centered upon the bread and wine, was called the “Mass of the Faithful.”
Pope Pius XII allowed Catholic biblical scholars to employ the methods and findings of Protestant scholars in 1943, a Magna Carta moment for Catholic universities and seminaries. But it was Vatican II (1962-1965) which produced the statement from Dei Verbum repeated in para. 103 of the Catechism. In para. 103 we find the remarkable statement that the “Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord’s Body.” In a general sense this is true, but it would not have been evident in the era of Pius IX.
There can be no separation of the Eucharist and the Scripture, since the latter proclaims the reality of the former. Immediately after Vatican II Church architects attempted to capture the reality of para. 103 by providing equal status to the ambo [the pulpit where the Scripture is enshrined] and the tabernacle [where the Eucharist is reserved.] Over the years though, for a number of reasons, churches continue to emphasize the Eucharist in design at the expense of the Scripture, overlooking that “the bread of life [is] taken from the one table of God's Word and Christ's Body,” per Vatican II and the Catechism.