Monday, September 30, 2019

Aperuit Illis

At the Lateran Basilica today, Pope Francis observed the beginning of the 1600th anniversary year of the death of Saint Jerome (347-420), the ascetic Scripture scholar who translated the Bible into the Latin Vulgate and is one of the four great Doctors of the Latin Church. To mark the occasion the Pope issued a Motu Proprio Aperuit Illis, which takes its name from the Gospel quote with which it begins, "He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures" (Luke 24:45).The immediate practical object of this Motu Proprio is the dedication of the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time as The Sunday of the Word of God.

The Pope's purpose in this is to highlight the centrality of the Sacred Scriptures to our Christian identity - specifically the three-fold relationship among "the Risen Lord, the community of believers and sacred scripture." This observance will also "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." The Pope proposes that on that Sunday the proclamation of the word be highlighted and the honor due to it be emphasized in the homily - and "that in the Eucharistic celebration the sacred text be enthroned, in order to focus the attention of the assembly on the normative value of God's word." 

Exactly what form all this will take in local liturgical practice means to be seen. The calendar is already marked with special days devoted this or that theme that often hardly get noticed - sometimes because not adequately publicized, sometimes because of other already established local themes or special collections or other special activities assigned to that day. Yesterday., for example, was the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. How many people had even heard of it? Of all such special Sundays, the recent renaming of the Sunday after Easter as "Divine Mercy Sunday" may well have been the most successful such effort - probably because it built upon an already existing (albeit modern and far from universal) popular devotion.

That said, this newest papal initiative seems especially timely. The Bible, the Pope points out "belongs above all to those called to hear its message and to recognize themselves in its words." It "is the book of the Lord's people, who, in listening to it, move from dispersion and division towards unity." What could be more timely than that?

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