By the Motu Proprio Aperuit illis, issued in September 2019, on the feast of Saint Jerome, Pope Francis designated the Third Sunday per annum (this year, January 24) as "The Sunday of the Word of God." 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."
Today's 1st Reading (Jonah 3:1-5, 10) illustrates what the proclamation of the word of God can accomplish. The word of the LORD came to Jonah, saying: “Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and announce to it the message that I will tell you.” The result was that the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth. In response, God repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.
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.”
(Photo: Pope Francis venerates the Book of the Gospels, Saint Peter's Basilica, Rome)