When I was growing up, we had a family Bible on our bookshelf in our living room. I rarely picked it up to read except for Good Friday, when I would read about the Passion and Death of Jesus from one Gospel narrative or another. Although I had read some passages of the Bible as a child, it was not until my late teens that I really began to look more deeply into the Scriptures.
After I attended Catholic elementary school, I entered public junior high and high school, and I participated in our parish’s religious education program on the weekends. In my junior year, we focused on the Sacred Scriptures in our religion class, and each student was given a copy of his or her own New American Bible, St. Joseph Edition. Our catechist taught us how to look up passages in the Bible, using the reference points of book, chapter and verse. Because this edition was equipped with introductions to each book of the Bible and footnotes, it was an excellent study Bible.
Having my own Bible motivated me to learn more about my faith through reading, studying and meditating on Sacred Scripture. I soon found that the Bible would become for me an essential means for strengthening my relationship with Jesus. By taking in the words of the Gospels, I became more familiar with the teachings and mission of Jesus the Christ.
Scripture is an indispensable dimension of Christian life. The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) states, “The spouse of the incarnate Word, which is the Church, is taught by the Holy Spirit. She strives to reach day by day a more profound understanding of the sacred Scriptures, in order to provide her children with food from the divine words.” (Dei Verbum, 23)
In 2019, Pope Francis wrote an apostolic letter issued motu proprio (meaning “by his own initiative”) with the Latin title “Aperuit illis,” which literally means “he opened for them,” from Luke’s Gospel: “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” (Luke 24:45) By means of this apostolic letter, the pope declared that the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time would be “Sunday of the Word of God.” This day is to be “devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God.” (Aperuit illis, 3) This year, the Sunday of the Word of God falls on Jan. 21.
Pope Francis encourages faith communities to mark the Sunday of the Word of God with solemnity, enthroning the sacred text to focus the attention of the faithful on the value of God’s word. Efforts should be made to highlight the proclamation of the word of God, and to emphasize its significance in the homily.
Pope Francis suggests that the Sunday of the Word of God could provide an opportunity for pastors to find ways to give a Bible or one of its books to the entire assembly, emphasizing the value of praying with the Sacred Scriptures. (Aperuit illis, 3)
One of the main reasons for celebrating Sunday of the Word of God is to promote the idea that the Bible is for everyone. It is not just for Scripture scholars, clergy and catechists. Pope Francis writes, “It belongs above all to those who hear its message and recognize themselves in its words.” (Aperuit illis, 4)
This apostolic letter does, nevertheless, emphasize the key role that pastors play in explaining the Scriptures to the faithful and helping them to understand their meaning and significance. Pope Francis points out that the homily has “a quasi-sacramental character.” By means of the homily, the preacher helps the people to enter more profoundly into the word of God. “This is a pastoral opportunity that should not be wasted,” writes Pope Francis. “For many of the faithful, in fact, this is the only opportunity they have to grasp the beauty of God’s word and to see it applied to their daily lives.” (Aperuit illis, 5) Therefore, sufficient time must be devoted to homily preparation, including time to pray and meditate on the sacred text.
Pope Francis writes, “A profound bond links sacred Scripture and the faith of believers. Since faith comes from hearing, and what is heard is based on the word of Christ (cf. Romans 10:17), believers are bound to listen attentively to the word of the Lord, both in celebration of the liturgy and in their personal prayer and reflection.” (Aperuit illis, 7) The faithful are called to open their minds and hearts to the word of God proclaimed and explained in the celebration of the liturgy, and to use Scripture as a rich source of prayer and reflection.
Declaring one Sunday during the year as the Sunday of the Word of God should not imply that it is simply a yearly event. Rather, it should highlight that which should be seen as a daily activity throughout the year — listening to the Lord speak and acting on his word. (Aperuit illis, 8)
Pope Francis reminds us, “The Bible is not a collection of history books or a chronicle but is aimed at the integral salvation of the person.” (Aperuit illis, 9) The primary goal of the books of the Bible is our salvation. As Christians, we must learn to cherish the word of God, meditate on the mysteries it unfolds for us, and put its teachings into practice.
The Holy Spirit who was active in the formation of the Sacred Scriptures is active in the hearts of those who hear God’s word, as well. The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the Scriptures and continues to provide inspiration when the Church teaches the Scriptures to the faithful, and whenever a person incorporates them into his or her life. (Aperuit illis, 10)
If you are not in the habit of reading the Bible, the Sunday of the Word of God will provide an excellent starting point for you to begin your journey familiarizing yourself with the word of God in Scripture. If you already read and meditate on the Sacred Scriptures on a regular basis, the Sunday of the Word of God will serve as an opportunity to commit yourself to integrating God’s word into your prayer and your actions more profoundly. May we always reflect on these words of Scripture: “The word is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.” (Deuteronomy 30:14)