When did it become common for Catholic laity to have a Bible


Hello, my question is when did it become common for the average Catholic layman to own a copy of the Scriptures. I know that it is false the Church discouraged Bible reading before Vatican II and I also know it is false the Church supressed the Bible in the middle ages. My question is when did it beocme common for an average Catholic to own a Bible.

Thank You


Probably the mid-twentieth century according to USCCB website.



Bibles were sort of nice coffee table ornaments for Catholics when I was a kid in the 50s-60s. I don’t think most people read them-they looked rather pristine in condition. But my Italian Catholic grandmother read hers. And I know that Pope Leo XIII wrote the encyclical
Providentissimus Deus in the 1890s that promoted reading the word by all the faithful. I’m not certain about the history otherwise but centuries earlier most people were illiterate-and individual interpretation of the bible led to a whole host of errors.


Thank you for your response but that was when Laity were encouraged to read the Bible more. defendingthebride.com/bb/vatican.html these quotations show that Catholic Laity (at least in the US) owned Bibles. But thank you for responding,

God Bless


I have a friend of mine who is the son of two Fallen away Catholics he is predominantly Irish and Cherokee but he does have some German ancestry and his dad’s still has a German Catholic Bible. I know he knows a little bit of rum and I’m not sure if his dad does but I know it is one of his favourite things about his family. I would say that it became common for Catholic lairy to have Bibles after the printing press and the prices went down


Probably at about the same time most protestants started doing the same;

When literacy began to transition to “normalcy” or “assumed” and the printed word became cheap enough for the common man to afford - which occurred centuries after the printing press.

All the printing press did in its opening centuries was transition books from being owned exclusively by ultra-wealthy people like Warren Buffett and opened it up to people like your successful local car dealer. The “common man” likely didn’t readily and casually afford it until well into the 20th century.

Keep in mind, we’re not talking about one-page pamphlets. We’re discussing a thousand-page, bounded book.


Early on it was more difficult -due to cost- to have a full Bible. Such had to be done by hand.

Then came the-] internet /-] the printing press.

The Bible has been printed since the printing Press (indeed the first book was a Catholic Bible). 1452

As it became more affordable to have one - people did.

Latin was the language of the day - those who could read - Latin was the Language often.

Each other language and area would likely have differing degrees of “commonly”.

For English the full Bible was translated and printed - the Douay- Rheims (1578 to 1593).

Bishop Richard Challoner (1691-1781) later worked further on the it and there were produced even smaller and less expensive ones.


If we take your question to mean when the “average” Catholic layperson owned a BIble, whether they read it or not, then it depends on what you define as “average”.
Taking the US as an example, there were Catholic Bibles available in the US all through the 1800s, You can easily find ones from that era on eBay.
However, they were often large and expensive for their time, and most Catholics in the US during the 1800s were working class/ poor immigrants. Also as someone else noted, many people were illiterate or only had basic literacy, not enough to read a Bible if they had one.
So between the cost of the Bible, the education needed to read it, and the fact that Catholics were discouraged at that time from reading it on their own, your “average” Catholic in USA likely did not own a Bible.
Not sure about any other countries. In some countries like England, I believe the Catholic Bible was suppressed during certain time periods, so on top of the expense and the literacy, you had the legal prohibition.


I think there’s a difference between “have” and “read.” I found a old Bible in my Grandparents’ attic that had family births, Baptisms etc. noted I it from the 1880’s. but it didn’t look as if it had been actually read much - in fact, it was huge and heavy - very uncomfortable to hold.


Many here are talking about “large family bibles” the existence of such - and of their being passed down -and of course being what it was -was only carefully opened and read from at times - does not mean that other smaller Bibles did not exist (they did!) and were used.

Of course it was the large ones that were kept in the family for they had family records etc.

The smaller ones that were used - would be less likely to be so carefully preserved…


Hello thank you for your responses. So would it around the 18th Century roughly or possibly 17th. At this period literacy was more common

God Bless


The printed Bible (hence more affordable) was rather earlier than that…

(see above)


:confused: I know he knows a little bit of rum and I’m not sure if his dad does but I know it is one of his favorite things about his family. Am I the only one that is confused by this sentence? Was there a spellcheck error?


No. The church never forbade the lay from reading scripture. In nearly all church of the middle ages, there was a bible and it was high ornate, but it was chained to prevent it from being stolen.Also, since most people couldn’t read, scripture was read to them and stained glass windows were made to help them. The bible was never suppressed. An indulgence was placed on reading scripture. It became more common for households to have a family bible after Pope Leo XIII had issued his encyclical Providentissimus Deus.


And I am sure the wealthier families were the first to own Bibles.
I am not sure when Bibles became affordable for the average families in the 17th and
18th centuries.
I would say it probably became common for families to have Bibles in the mid-19th
to early 20th century.


That’s what I was going to say. Books of any kind weren’t a priority until they became affordable. Affordability varies, depending on times & individual circumstances.


I find this question interesting.

Unlike many protestant and non-denominational churches, the Catholic Church cycles through the Bible in three years. Attending Daily mass and Sunday, a person could hear the Bible, almost the whole Bible at least.

So, listening to the Word of God was something everyone could do.

So, since many people were illiterate until the printing press, once that started up I could guess many educated people would own one. Even today, how many people own one vs reading it.


At Sunday Masses we have one reading from the Old Testament, a part of a Psalm, and a reading from the New Testament.

Then the priest reads the Gospel for that week. (From the New Testament).

His homily is about the readings.

There are specific readings at each Mass, including daily Mass.


A lot depends on your viewpoint.

In the US, there were very few Catholics, prior to the Revolutionary War. Those Catholics that WERE in the US then, were widely scattered across a huge continent. Technically, Colonial American Catholics were under the jurisdiction of Bishop Challoner, who, as is commonly known, published a revised English Translation of the Bible, several times during his own lifetime. Colonial Catholics, who had very rare opportunities of seeing a priest and receiving the Sacraments, depended entirely on their Catholic Bible to sustain their Faith. In the large cities like Philadelphia, where it was ok to practice Catholicism, the Jesuits were the predominant Catholic clergy. After the Revolutionary War, the Jesuit Priest John Caroll was installed in Philadelphia as the first Bishop of the US. About the same time, Mathew Carey printed the first Catholic US Bible in 1790. This was remarkable, as the first Protestant Bibles to appear in the US just a year earlier, required subsidies from the US Congress to pull off. By contrast, the tiny US Catholic Community printed their own Bible without any Government help. By 1825, Eugene Cummiskey of Philadelphia was printing small Octavo Catholic Bibles, Quarto ones, and even a complete reprint of the Famous Haydock Folio Bible of 1811. From that time forward, there were PLENTY of Catholic Bibles in the US for every kind of Catholic, whether rich or poor.

So (at least here in the US) the Catholic laity, almost from the earliest days, commonly had a Catholic Bible.

In England, we can even say that the better off Catholic laity had Catholic Bibles going back to the original Douay/Rheims Bible. Bibles in Elizabethan England were not cheap however, not even for Protestants. So the poor persecuted Catholics had a far more difficult time of getting possession of a Catholic Bible. Still, it would not be wrong to say that English speaking laity commonly had a Catholic Bible (assuming it was within their means.) But by Bishop Challoner’s time, with his small 12mo Bibles, which were relatively cheap, most Catholics had Catholic Bibles. From his time forward, the cost of Catholic Bibles decreased, and the number of cheap printings continued to increase in the UK.

English speaking countries are a special case. But in the rest of Continental Europe, Catholic Bibles in the Vernacular appeared earlier, more frequently, and cheaper.


I realize this post does not address your question, but you might find it interesting.

1829 “Devereaux” New Testament for Catholic School Children



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