This Sunday, January 22nd, Catholic Churches around the world will celebrate “Sunday of the Word of God”, a special day newly instituted by Pope Francis that inspires us to give proper attention to God’s Word in the Holy Bible, in our daily habits and in our relationship to God. May this new celebration inspire us all to make new habits of reading and living with the Word of God, even if it is a matter of two minutes a day, or once each week, reading the Sunday readings ahead of time.
The following are excerpts from the letter from Pope Francis to the whole Church. Some phrases are in bold type for emphasis.
APOSTOLIC LETTER ISSUED “MOTU PROPRIO” BY THE SUPREME PONTIFF FRANCIS, “APERUIT ILLIS”, INSTITUTING THE SUNDAY OF THE WORD OF GOD
- “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke Chapter 24, Verse 45). This was one of the final acts of the risen Lord before his Ascension. Jesus appeared to the assembled disciples, broke bread with them, and opened their minds to the understanding of the sacred Scriptures…
The relationship between the Risen Lord, the community of believers, and sacred Scripture is essential to our identity as Christians. Without the Lord who opens our minds to them, it is impossible to understand the Scriptures in depth. Yet the contrary is equally true: without the Scriptures, the events of the mission of Jesus and of his Church in this world would remain incomprehensible. Hence, Saint Jerome could rightly claim: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
- …We are reminded of the teaching of Saint Ephrem: “Who is able to understand, Lord, all the richness of even one of your words? There is more that eludes us than what we can understand. We are like the thirsty drinking from a fountain. Your word has as many aspects as the perspectives of those who study it. The Lord has colored his word with diverse beauties so that those who study it can contemplate what stirs them. He has hidden in his word all treasures, so that each of us may find a richness in what he or she contemplates.”
The Second Vatican Council gave a great impulse to the rediscovery of the word of God, thanks to its Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, a document that deserves to be read and appropriated ever anew.
- Consequently, I hereby declare that the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time is to be devoted to the celebration, study, and dissemination of the word of God. This Sunday of the Word of God will thus be a fitting part of that time of the year when we are encouraged to strengthen our bonds with the Jewish people and to pray for Christian unity…
On this Sunday, it would be particularly appropriate to highlight the proclamation of the word of the Lord and to emphasize in the homily the honor that it is due… showing the importance of learning how to read, appreciate and pray daily with sacred Scripture, especially through the practice of lectio divina. [holy meditation on Bible phrases]
- …The Bible cannot be just the heritage of some, much less a collection of books for the benefit of a privileged few. It belongs above all to those called to hear its message and to recognize themselves in its words… The Bible is the book of the Lord’s people, who, in listening to it, move from dispersion and division towards unity. The word of God unites believers and makes them one people.
- …Since it is the people’s book, those called to be ministers of the word must feel an urgent need to make it accessible to their community. When we take time to pray and meditate on the sacred text, we can speak from the heart and thus reach the hearts of those who hear us… May we never tire of devoting time and prayer to Scripture, so that it may be received “not as a human word but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess 2:13).
- A profound bond links sacred Scripture and the faith of believers. Since faith comes from hearing, and what is heard is based on the word of Christ (cf. Rom 10:17), believers are bound to listen attentively to the word of the Lord, both in the celebration of the liturgy and in their personal prayer and reflection.
- The journey that the Risen Lord makes with the disciples of Emmaus ended with a meal. The mysterious wayfarer accepts their insistent request: “Stay with us, for it is almost evening and the day is now far spent” (Lk 24:29)… This scene clearly demonstrates the unbreakable bond between sacred Scripture and the Eucharist. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, “the Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she has venerated the Lord’s body, in that she never ceases, above all in the sacred liturgy, to partake of the bread of life and to offer it to the faithful from the one table of the word of God and the body of Christ” (Dei Verbum, 21).