At first glance, the physical scale of The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition may lead one to think that its impact is limited to the geographic areas where it has found a home. But this Lenten season, the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame is going a step further, giving lifelong learners an opportunity to connect with The Saint John’s Bible anywhere they can find an internet connection.
The McGrath Institute has launched a free, six-unit online course: Journey with The Saint John’s Bible, that brings insights and guidance from Notre Dame experts to help participants “deepen their knowledge of and relationship with Scripture.” With material on the history of illuminated manuscripts and the making of The Saint John’s Bible, plus units covering specific illuminations from the Bible and their corresponding Scripture passages, course takers will come away with a better understanding of the “beauty and tradition of illuminated manuscripts.” Participants will also “discover how to pray with Scripture and art through guided experiences of lectio and visio divina.”
A Bridge Between the Academy and the Parish
Carolyn Pirtle, Program Director at the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, part of the McGrath Institute, explained how developing the course was a natural fit for the organization. “Our mission is to be a bridge between the work that’s being done at the academy and the parish,” she said. “We connect the Catholic intellectual tradition and the riches of the Catholic heritage to people working in ministry, to people in the pews, and to people who just want to grow in their faith. Developing an online course around The Saint John’s Bible was a really wonderful way to bring together all of those things.”
Planning for the course began last fall, when the Institute received the Heritage Edition as a gift, following its Year with The Saint John’s Bible in 2017. After their previous experience with the Bible, Pirtle and her collaborators were ready to hit the ground running once they knew the Heritage Edition would find a permanent home at the McGrath Institute. Because the organization regularly creates online education programs, Pirtle knew that it would be a realistic goal to launch their new offering during the 2020 Lenten season. The course is designed to roll out one unit per week during Lent, with all units remaining available through Pentecost, May 31.
Insights From Notre Dame Experts
Pirtle faced an embarrassment of riches as she sought contributors to the course. “It was a very easy sell for our presenters,” she said. “Being able to draw from the incredible resources of the Notre Dame theology department, the Medieval Institute, and our Rare Books collection is a real gift in our work.”
“There is so much expertise in this program,” Pirtle continued. “We have Dave Gura [PhD, Curator of Ancient and Medieval Manuscripts] from our Rare Books department, who gives people a tour of medieval manuscripts and explains how those were created. We have Chris Baglow [PhD, Director of the Science & Religion Initiative at the McGrath Institute], talking about the Creation illumination and walking people through the first creation account. He’s able to bring his passion for integrating science and religion to bear on the first creation narrative. We have Jennie Grillo [DPhil, Assistant Professor of Theology], an expert in the wisdom literature. She’s going to be talking about the Pillars of Wisdom illumination and helping people understand how the wisdom literature operates.
“We also have faculty and staff from the McGrath Institute who are offering a pedagogy of patience and a way to pray with Scripture,” Pirtle said. “My colleague Tim Pisacich created some lectio divina meditations and I was able to create some guided experiences of visio divina. So, we’re offering people not just the chance to learn more about the illuminations and the Scripture passages that they depict, but also a way to pray with the scriptures and with art.”
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Enriching Participants’ Prayer Experiences
The early response to the Institute’s new offering has been enthusiastic, to say the least, with more than 1,200 people signing up to learn more after the initial announcement, and more than 800 now officially registered. Pirtle has also heard from parishes that are using the course in group settings, as part of their Lenten offerings. “They’re screening the videos and creating their own opportunities to have in-person conversations,” she said. “That, to me, is the best possible outcome for this course.”
Ultimately, Pirtle and her colleagues hope that the course gives participants new tools to encounter the Word of God, and they’ve designed the content to appeal to “anybody who wants to learn more about their faith.”
“I think people are not reluctant, but apprehensive about approaching Scripture by themselves,” she said. “They’re not quite sure how to undertake the process of reading the Bible or praying with Scripture and art. The hope in creating this course was to give people a point of entry in praying and encountering the Scriptures in a completely new way, so they’re hopefully thinking to themselves, ‘This is something that I can incorporate in my personal prayer life, even after this course is over.’”
Journey with The Saint John’s Bible will be available until May 31, 2020. Learn more and register.