In his Apostolic Letter of 30 September 2019, Aperuit illis Pope Francis established that the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time is to be the Sunday of the Word of God. He had already proposed something similar at the end of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Sunday of the Word of God is a day to be devoted to the celebration, study, and spreading of the Word of God. Pope Francis is clear from the very first paragraph of this letter that the relationship between the Risen Lord, a community of believers, and sacred Scripture is essential to who we are as Christians.
The Sunday assembly gathering to celebrate the Eucharist is the unique moment in the week where a community gathers in a particular place and when their communal identity is nourished by Word and Sacrament. An important advance in 20th century theological reflection is that every sacramental celebration is founded and constructed upon the Word of God, and that every proclamation of the Word of God is sacramental.
Sunday of the Word of God is not a new feast! After all, the Word of God is proclaimed at every Sunday Eucharist, and one of the great blessings of the liturgical reform and renewal flowing from the Second Vatican Council is a greater appreciation of the foundational role of the Word of God in every liturgical celebration. The reform of the lectionary has led to much more scripture being proclaimed during our liturgical gatherings and a greater awareness of the role of the Word of God in the life of faith.
This Sunday builds on the texts and prayers of the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time and is conscious that it comes just after the celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. While we are not yet united around the table of the Eucharist, we do share on many Sundays of the year the same scriptural readings in our different Christian assemblies. Pope Francis urges us to strengthen our bonds with the Jewish people and to continue our prayer for Christian unity.
This Sunday is a time when the community is called to give greater attention not just to the Word of God. It is also urged to reflect on how we honour that Word in our celebrations, the books that we proclaim the Word from. Is the Gospel book carried in procession? Is it a well-made book that shows forth its life-giving content? Is it honoured with incense, and do we sing during the Gospel procession? Are the readers who proclaim the Word formed in the art of proclamation, and the knowledge of what they are announcing?
Pope Francis suggests in his letter that this Sunday is an ideal time to reflect on these issues. For presiders, it is also a call to reflect once again on their preaching of the Word of God. This Sunday has in the past offered an appropriate opportunity to commission and bless those who serve the community as readers, and initiate new ones to this essential ministry. If the parish community does not enthrone the Word of God every Sunday, maybe today is an opportunity to start. Another way of nourishing the role of scripture is praying quietly together in a lectio divina style of prayer.
What is the Word of God?
We often identify the Bible as the Word of God. This is not wrong, but God speaks to our hearts in many different ways. For instance, he speaks to us in prayer and through our conscience, and often through other people. Hence, the Word of God covers much more than a printed book. Nevertheless, the Bible is the privileged collection of communications between God and his people. These stories and poems have nourished the lives of the people of Israel and the Christian Church right through the centuries, and they continue to nourish us today. They tell the story of God’s love and our salvation from ancient times onwards. The scriptural texts offer us both challenge and encouragement for our lives, and are especially valuable to us through the hope they offer us at dark moments.
The Holy Spirit and the Scriptures
The Holy Spirit was at work in the whole process of the formation of the Scriptures. This is why, even though many people across different times and places contributed to the writing, we believe that the Scriptures are divinely inspired. But the Holy Spirit’s work does not come to an end with the writing of the text. The Holy Spirit, who dwells in us by virtue of our baptism, is also at work in us as we listen to the text. Therefore, through the Spirit’s inspiration, the words of Scripture can become a living Word of the Lord to us here and now.