“The People of God have the right to hear the Word of God and to receive a coherent explanation of the Word of God…”
The President of the Pontifical Council for New Evangelization, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, told this to ZENIT when they inquired about why it is necessary to have a Sunday of the Word of God when every Sunday at Mass we read and reflect on the Word of God.
The Archbishop was speaking to journalists in the Holy See Press Office, Jan. 17, 2020, at a press conference to present the first such Sunday since its institution by Pope Francis, to be celebrated on January 26th.
In his letter Aperuit Illis, Pope Francis instituted the annual appointment, which is to always fall on the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time.
“It’s an initiative that Pope Francis entrusts to the whole Church, so that ‘the Christian community may concentrate on the great value that the Word of God has in its daily existence’ (Aperuit Illis),” the Archbishop told the press.
ZENIT asked Archbishop Fisichella why the need for such a day.
Recovering Contact with the Essence
“Several times in these months this question has arisen: The Word of God is listened to every Sunday at Mass. Why, then, was there a need for a Sunday of the Word of God?” Archbishop Fisichella responding to the question, acknowledged himself.
“In these cases,” he said, “I always make reference to the other feast, that of Corpus Domini, which is very much felt in the midst of the People of God. Every Sunday we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, and the Holy Eucharist is the heart of our life. This notwithstanding, beginning in the Medieval Age the feast of Corpus Domini was instituted, which has been increasing more and more throughout the Church and which is always celebrated with a particular Solemnity.”
The Vatican official then asked what was the reason for celebrating the Corpus Domini.
“There was a motive historically,” he said, “because there were problems connected with the recognition of the real presence of Christ’s Body in the Eucharistic species, as regards the historical and theological dimension; and,” he continued, “in any case, the feast had its effectiveness in the life of the Church despite the Eucharist being celebrated every Sunday.”
He expressed his belief that, analogously, the same discourse can be made now.
Restoring Strength & Recovering Time Lost
“Catholics have, they need, they should feel, the need to recover contact with the Word of God,” he said, lamenting that “according to the statistics compiled now and then –, our people listen to the Word of God, in fact, only exclusively when they go to Mass on Sunday.”
“That’s why I’ve said that it must not be a book placed on shelves,” he warned.
While reminding that the Bible is the most widespread book worldwide, and all have one at home, he lamented that in spite of this, “it’s probably full of dust.”
“Therefore, a Sunday of the Word of God,” Archbishop Fisichella encouraged, “can restore strength to our people, to Pastors, to priests, to catechists, to all those components of the People of God, so that the time we’ve lost is recovered.”
The President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization gave an example.
“When I was a student in Middle School, so I was 10, 11 or 12 years old, the Bible could only be read by those studying Theology in the Seminary. No one read the Bible, one couldn’t, even he passages of the Old Testament couldn’t be read, and this gives an idea of the whole recovery we must undertake in this field.”
This, he said, is a new beginning at the level of evangelization, of the New Evangelization.
Archbishop Fisichella also emphasized the importance of those doing the readings, lamenting that it is standard practice to just call on anyone–regardless of how disinterested or unprepared– who gets into the church or parish first, or any religious or future religious, to do readings.
“The Liturgy can’t be treated this way! There is a need of persons who not only can read, but who also know what they are reading; they are proclaiming the Word of God.”
Receiving Coherent Explanations Are a Right
This as an initiative of evangelization, the Italian Archbishop underscored, can help our communities and also our priests. “You made reference to the homily,” he recalled, adding how important it is “not to be improvisers in communicating the Word of God.”
“The People of God have the right to hear the Word of God and to receive a coherent explanation of the Word of God, not what the priest thinks at that moment, but of the Word of God.”
On September 30, 2019, 1600 years after the death of Saint Jerome, a great scholar of Sacred Scripture and translator in Latin of the original texts, the Pope made the Apostolic Letter Aperuit Illis, instituting next Sunday, public.
At the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy, in the Apostolic Letter Misericordia et Miserae, Pope Francis had already made an allusion to this prospect when he wrote: “It would be opportune that every community, in a Sunday of the Liturgical Year, be able to renew the commitment for the diffusion, knowledge and further reflection on Sacred Scripture: a Sunday dedicated entirely to the Word of God, to understand the inexhaustible richness, which stems from that constant dialogue of God with His people…”
Following the Second Vatican Council’s Dei Verbum, and the Synod on the Word of God in 2008 and its associated Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, there were many and different pastoral initiatives intended to put at the center knowledge, diffusion, reflection and study of Sacred Scripture.
Archbishop Fisichella also shared during the press conference what to expect around the world to commemorate this day.
In South America, in Brazil, 150,000 biblical aids will be distributed for free. In Argentina, in September, a Bible Month will be organized, whereas in Colombia, the Word of God will be proposed to children through a puppet game, hoping to make them smile and reflect.
“In Venezuela, the crisis notwithstanding,” he pointed out, “a diploma has been created to take care of the biblical animation of all pastoral care.”
From the United States to the Philippines
In the United States in November, he said, the International Day of the Bible will be observed in the country, the American Bible Society works to circulate and make the Bible, in various languages and formats, accessible, especially in poor areas.
“For the celebration of the Year of the Bible, which has young people as protagonists,” he said, “the Together Generation in Washington in June will be an interlacing of music, testimonies and readings.”
In the Philippines, Archbishop Fisichella continued, the Minister of the Interior has proclaimed Jan. 20-26, 2020, as National Bible Week, exhorting those that have the possibility of doing so, to extend the Week to the whole month. For ten years in the country, the National Bible Quiz initiative “has succeeded in involving the whole nation, through a biblical competition involving all the country’s Catholic schools,” he said.
The Pope, with his Letter Aperuit Illis,–the Archbishop reminded–expressed his intention to make always more loved and known God’s Word.
“Therefore, this Sunday of the Word of God, placed as a pastoral initiative of the New Evangelization,” he said, is meant to “revive the responsibility that believers have in knowledge of Sacred Scripture and in keeping it alive through an endeavor of permanent transmission and understanding, capable of giving meaning to the life of the Church in the different conditions in which She finds herself.