Something happened recently within the Catholic Church that went largely unnoticed by many people, both inside the Church and out. On September 30, 2019, Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Letter by a means known as “Motu Proprio” which means he deemed his personal reasons were sufficient enough to issue the letter to the people by his own accord and not on the advice of the Cardinals or any other advising body. So what is it that Pope Francis thought was important enough to issue directly? He officially instituted a new celebration in our liturgical year. The new celebration is called “The Sunday of the Word of God” and will fall on the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time from now on, beginning on January 26, 2020. I will spend this week and next breaking down the Pope’s official letter to us and explaining the importance of this new day in our calendar.
Pope Francis begins with the title of the document: Aperuit Illis, which means “opened to them.” He titled the letter after Luke 24:45, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” which took place after Our Lord’s Resurrection when two of His disciples were traveling on the road to Emmaus. He returned to them, explained the Scriptures, and then broke bread with them, which enabled and enlightened them to fully understand the meaning of all that had happened throughout Salvation History. It was not God’s will that we are left to interpret the Scriptures for ourselves, rather, He willed His own Son, Jesus, to interpret them for us so there would be no mistake. Our human minds could never understand the depth and breadth of the Word of God, so. Jesus’ interpretation is inseparable from what we believe as Catholics. What happened in the days prior to the Ascension was, essentially, the first catechesis of early Christians. Then, at Pentecost, the Lord sent the Holy Spirit to safeguard all this teaching as it has been passed down through the Church to us today. God wants us to know His Word and its meaning and He has perfectly arranged for us to have access to it without error.
The Pope goes on to explain that there has been a renewed interest from the faithful to better know and understand the constant conversation between God and His people. He credits the grassroots efforts of local Churches in making the study of Scripture more accessible to the people. We can see that here within our own parish of Corpus Christ through the variety of Bible studies and formation classes that have been started over the years. We can also see it at the publishers’ level with a vast amount of new books and studies that have been made so easily available to the lay of the Church. The point of the institution of the Sunday of the Word of God is an ecumenical point to highlight the movement within the Church to know and love the word of God. In other words, this day allows the Church all over the world to come together in unity to celebrate and reflect on the gift we have in the richness of God’s Word.
In the third paragraph of Aperuit Illis, Pope Francis provides thoughts and ideas for ways this new day could be celebrated within our parishes. I would caution some patience here as this is still a relatively unknown day, but we can certainly look forward to more to come over the years. Also, there is nothing stopping you from honoring this special day within your own families and homes as soon as next week. The Pope’s first and primary suggestion is to pray for Christan unity and to acknowledge and strengthen our bonds with the Jewish people. Our Scripture is all the same, at least in part, and it is not God’s will for us to be divided by it. He also suggests marking the day with solemnity, in part, by doing things such as enthroning our Bibles in special ways and praying with sacred Scripture through the practice of Lectio Divina. (If you are unfamiliar with Lectio Divina, please consider joining the Lord Teach Me To Pray series.) Take some time to meditate on the gift we have in the Word of God.
The Pope goes on to explain how the public reading of Scripture has been what unites His people throughout all Salvation History.
The book of Nehemiah explains how the people of Israel returned after the Babylonian exile and gathered together “as one” to hear the public reading of the Law (Neh 8:1). As Ezra was preparing to read from the scroll, he stood on a platform so that all the people could see it (Neh 8:4-5). (This should seem familiar as this is what the priest or deacon does with the Book of the Gospels at every Mass). When the people were overcome with their realization of the depth of their shared experience and history, they wept. Ezra tells them that rather than weeping they should “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!” (Neh 8:10). The Bible is not intended for just a select number of people, but for anyone who is open to its message. We are all unified in our belief in God’s Word.
After Christ’s death and subsequent Resurrection, there was a sadness within the Christian community because of the misunderstandings they had regarding the means by which they would be liberated. They expected a King to save them through some grand means but were confused and disappointed when the man they thought was the Messiah was humiliated and executed on the cross instead. It was on the road to Emmaus that Christ came to the two disciples and explained the Scriptures, showing how everything happened as it was all foretold in the Old Testament. At this moment, Christ becomes the first exegete, or interpreter, of Scripture in its entirety, relating the Old and the New Testaments to one another. Therefore, Christ cannot be separated from the interpretation of Scripture; we cannot do it on our own. Without Scripture and its proper interpretation, provided through the safeguards of the Church instituted by Christ, we cannot correctly understand what was accomplished by His passion, death, and resurrection, which is central to our Catholic Christan Faith.
Next week we’ll look at the second half Pope Francis’ apostolic letter on the Sunday of the Word of God...BACK TO LIST