Several years ago, friends from St. Bernard Parish in Green Bay invited my wife and me to join them in a weekly Bible study. Breaking open the word of God each week and following the blueprint offered by Norbertine Fr. Alfred McBride’s “Guide to the Bible” has been an enjoyable and enlightening experience. Not only do we have the opportunity to read Scripture and discuss Fr. McBride’s study guide reflections, the time together serves as a faith-sharing opportunity.
Catholic Bible study has grown over the years, thanks in great part to the Second Vatican Council. It was the Council Fathers’ foundational document, “Dei Verbum” (Constitution on Divine Revelation) that emphasized the central role of Scripture in the life of every Catholic. As a result, bishops began encouraging Catholic laity to read and study the Bible. This was a sharp contrast from the 16th-century Council of Trent, which taught that interpreting the Bible was a duty reserved for bishops. From Dei Verbum came many important resources for Catholic Bible study, such as the Little Rock Scripture Study.
In a major step honoring the word of God and Bible study, Pope Francis has declared the third Sunday in Ordinary time (usually the last Sunday in January) as “Sunday of the Word of God.” The announcement was made Sept. 30 in an apostolic letter, “Aperuit Illis,” a title based on a verse from the Gospel of St. Luke, “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”
“The relationship between the risen Lord, the community of believers and sacred Scripture is essential to our identity as Christians,” said Pope Francis in the beginning of his apostolic letter.
He went on to say that devoting a specific Sunday of the liturgical year to the word of God “can enable the church to experience anew how the risen Lord opens up for us the treasury of his word and enables us to proclaim its unfathomable riches before the world.”
Pope Francis acknowledged that it is now common for Catholics to set aside time for Scripture study. “The various local churches have undertaken a wealth of initiatives to make the sacred Scripture more accessible to believers,” he said.
In declaring the Sunday of the Word of God, the pope offered ways parishes can celebrate this day at Mass. In addition to priests reflecting on the importance of God’s word in their homilies, Pope Francis said bishops could celebrate the Rite of Installation of Lectors in their dioceses or pastors could offer a commissioning of readers on this day.
“Pastors can also find ways of giving a Bible, or one of its books, to the entire assembly as a way of showing the importance of learning how to read, appreciate and pray daily with sacred Scripture, especially through the practice of lectio divina,” he said.
The U.S. bishops call the Bible “a book for the family.” They offer an entire website to the topic: https://catholic.bible. This site features resources, including a guide for families to “enthrone the Bible” in a visible place in their homes.
“By placing the Sacred Scriptures in a prominent place decorated with flowers and art, and by gathering at this spot for daily prayer, families show that God is present and active through his Word,” the guide states.
Catholics have come a long way in making daily or weekly Scripture reading a part of their lives. The new Sunday of the Word of God observance will, in the words of Pope Francis, “help (us) to grow in religious and intimate familiarity with the sacred Scriptures.”