POPE FRANCIS has established “Word of God Sunday” to celebrate and encourage a better understanding of the Bible.
The Pope made the declaration in his Apostolic Letter (motu proprio) Aperuit Illis, published on Monday. It states: “The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time is to be devoted to the celebration, study, and dissemination of the Word of God.” In the Roman calendar, this falls around the end of January.
The publication coincided with the feast of the fourth-century Latin Doctor of the Church St Jerome, who was responsible for much of the Vulgate translation. He is known to have said: “Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.” This year marks 1600 years since his death.
The title of the letter, Aperuit Illis, is taken from St Luke’s Gospel, which describes how the risen Jesus “opened the minds” of his disciples to understand the scriptures.
Pope Francis writes: “A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the risen Lord.
“For this reason, we need to develop a closer relationship with sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, struck as we are by so many forms of blindness.”
Priests should facilitate this learning, he writes; but he warns against “long, pedantic homilies or wandering off into unrelated topics”, in favour of simple language to reach all people.
“The Bible cannot be just the heritage of some, much less a collection of books for the benefit of a privileged few. It belongs above all to those called to hear its message and to recognise themselves in its words. . . The Word of God unites believers and makes them one people.”
Also on Monday, the Pope told representatives of Italian missionary congregations: “The missionary needs the joy of the gospel: without this one cannot be on a mission, one does not proclaim a gospel that does not attract. . . This attraction is the heart of mission.”