Sunday of the Word of God 2021:
In his Apostolic Letter of 30 September 2019, ‘Aperuit illis’ Pope Francis established that the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time is to be the Sunday of the Word of God. He had already proposed something similar at the end of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Sunday of the Word of God is a day to be devoted to the celebration, study, and spreading of the Word of God. Pope Francis is clear from the very first paragraph of this letter that the relationship between the Risen Lord, a community of believers, and sacred Scripture is essential to who we are as Christians.
The Sunday assembly gathering to celebrate the Eucharist is the unique moment in the week where a community gathers in a particular place and when their communal identity is nourished by Word and Sacrament. An important advance in 20th century theological reflection is that every sacramental celebration is founded and constructed upon the Word of God, and that every proclamation of the Word of God is sacramental.
Sunday of the Word of God is not a new feast! After all, the Word of God is proclaimed at every Sunday Eucharist, and one of the great blessings of the liturgical reform and renewal flowing from the Second Vatican Council is a greater appreciation of the foundational role of the Word of God in every liturgical celebration. The reform of the lectionary has led to much more scripture being proclaimed during our liturgical gatherings and a greater awareness of the role of the Word of God in the life of faith.
This Sunday builds on the texts and prayers of the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time and is conscious that it comes just after the celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. While we are not yet united around the table of the Eucharist, we do share on many Sundays of the year the same scriptural readings in our different Christian assemblies. Pope Francis also urges us to strengthen our bonds with the Jewish people and to continue our prayer for Christian unity.
Sunday of the Word of God is a time when the community is called to give greater attention not just to the Word of God. It is also urged to reflect on how we honour that Word in our celebrations, the books that we proclaim the Word from. Is the Gospel book carried in procession? Is it a well-made book that shows forth its life-giving content? Is it honoured with incense, and do we sing during the Gospel procession? Are the readers who proclaim the Word formed in the art of proclamation, and the knowledge of what they are announcing?
Pope Francis suggests in his letter that this Sunday is an ideal time to reflect on these issues. For presiders, it is also a call to reflect once again on their preaching of the Word of God. This Sunday has in the past offered an appropriate opportunity to commission and bless those who serve the community as readers, and initiate new ones to this essential ministry. We realise that this year, this is not a feasible option due to Covid-19 restrictions, but you may wish to include a prayer for your Ministers of the Word. If the parish community does not enthrone the Word of God every Sunday, maybe today is an opportunity to start once we are back in public workship again. Another way of nourishing the role of scripture is praying quietly together in a ‘lectio divina’ style of prayer.