Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Sunday of the Word of God

For centuries in the Roman Rite, liturgical feasts of double rank or higher routinely took precedence over the Office and Mass of an occurring ordinary Sunday, so much so that in some places green vestments seldom ever even made an appearance. The 20th-century liturgical movement reprobated this practice; and, beginning with Pope Saint Pius X's reforms, the celebration of a feast in preference to an occurring Sunday was gradually reduced to the relatively few such occasions in the current calendar. So now thematic Sundays, superimposed on the liturgical formularies of the Sunday without actually altering them, have become increasingly common. For example, the Sunday unofficially called "Good Shepherd Sunday" has for over half a century now been the "World Day of Prayer for Vocations."

Now, by the Motu Proprio Aperuit illis, issued last September on the feast of Saint Jerome, Pope Francis has designated the 3rd Sunday per annum (this year, January 26) as "The Sunday of the Word of God." (This year marks the 1600th anniversary of the death of Saint Jerome, the ascetic Scripture scholar who translated the Bible into the Latin Vulgate and is one of the four great Doctors of the Latin Church.) Aperuit Illis  takes its name from the Gospel quote with which it begins, "He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures" (Luke 24:45).Its immediate practical object was the establishment of "The Sunday of the Word of God," 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, the Pope suggests, 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, the honor due to it be emphasized, 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." 

"Devoting a specific Sunday of the liturgical year to the word of God," the Pope claims, "can enable the Church to experience anew how the risen Lord opens up for us the treasury of his word and enables us to proclaim its unfathomable riches before the world." 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."

In The Church and the Age (1887), Servant of God Isaac Hecker, the Founder of the Paulist Fathers, wrote: “The reading of the Bible is the most salutary of all reading. We say to Catholic readers, read the Bible! Read it with prayer, that you may be enlightened by the light of the Holy Spirit to understand what you read. Read it with gratitude to God’s Church, which has preserved it and placed it in your hands to be read and to be followed.”

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