By Barry Schoedel

Special to The Catholic Commentator

This year, on the liturgical memorial of St. Jerome, Pope Francis announced that the third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jan. 26, “is to be devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the Word of God.” Similar to Catechetical Sunday, this will be a yearly observance.

In the Apostolic Letter “Aperuit Illis: Instituting the Sunday of the Word of God,” the Holy Father writes:

“The relationship between the risen Lord, the community of believers and sacred Scripture is essential to our identity as Christians. Without the Lord who opens our minds to them, it is impossible to understand the Scriptures in depth. Yet the contrary is equally true: without the Scriptures, the events of the mission of Jesus, and of his church, in this world would remain incomprehensible. Hence, St. Jerome could rightly claim: ‘Ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.’ ”

It was at the end of the Year of Mercy that Pope Francis initially proposed setting aside a Sunday where the church would focus on the word of God. He hoped it would be an occasion for the church to grow in understanding of the “dialogue between the Lord and his people.”

The letter also mentions both “Dei Verbum,” from the Second Vatican Council, and “Verbum Domini,” by Pope Benedict XVI, as relevant sources of church teaching on the word of God. Understood this way, this observance is a practical fruit of the Second Vatican Council’s renewed emphasis on the centrality of the sacred Scriptures to the life of every Christian. It should be evidence of and an opportunity for deepening our commitment as a church to that very renewal.

Some suggestions that Pope Francis makes in terms of how to observe Word of God Sunday are:

Enthronement of the sacred text during the eucharistic celebration.

Highlight the importance of the proclamation of the word of God by emphasizing in the homily the honor that it is due.

Bishops could celebrate the Rite of Installation of Lectors or similar commissioning of readers.

Renewed efforts at training members of the faithful to be compelling proclaimers of the word.

Pastors could give away Bibles or a book of the Bible to the entire assembly combined with emphasizing how to read and pray with the word of God.

The Holy Father emphasized that catechists, who assist people to grow in their faith, ought to feel an urgent need for personal renewal through familiarity with and study of the sacred Scriptures.

In closing, let us turn to that document of the Second Vatican Council that was so much a part of the renewal of devotion to the Scriptures. It encouraged that,

“… through the reading and study of the sacred books, the word of God may spread rapidly and be glorified” (2 Thes 3:1) and the treasure of revelation, entrusted to the church, may more and more fill the hearts of men. Just as the life of the church is strengthened through more frequent celebration of the eucharistic mystery, similarly we may hope for a new stimulus for the life of the Spirit from a growing reverence for the word of God, which ‘lasts forever’ (Is. 40:8; see 1 Peter 1:23-25; “Dei Verbum,” 26).

May the Scriptures be ever-more our wisdom and our peace!

Schoedel is associate director of the office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Diocese of Baton Rouge.

(A version of this article originally appeared on Nov. 13, 2019, on the blog for the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis at evangcatbr.org.)