“He opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” (Luke 24:45)
Pope Francis begins his apostolic letter Aperuit Illis with this quote from Luke, which resounds so appropriately to instituting the Sunday of the Word of God in this time. Immediately we are transported to the road to Emmaus, walking with those disciples going away from Jerusalem in the aftermath of the death of Jesus.
Here in Australia we are emerging into a COVID-normal following a time when so many have been unable to pray and celebrate Eucharist together in the way we have been accustomed. This wonderful invitation of Pope Francis is timely for us to set our hearts on the Word on the first Sunday in February.
In making his declaration, Pope Francis encourages that this would be “a celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God” and, at the same time, an opportunity “to strengthen our bonds with the Jewish people and pray for Christian unity.” In these words there is an invitation to return to our home with God, gathered “as one” around the sacred Scripture (Neh 8:1) just as those returning after the Babylonian exile, and just as those disciples on the road to Emmaus who on hearing the scriptures and breaking the bread returned to Jerusalem (Luke 24:33).
In many parts of world and in Australia, perhaps especially in Victoria through the long lockdown, we have been dispersed. Opportunities to join livestream Mass, Lectio Divina and Liturgy of the Word via audio or shared-video options have assisted us to be connected to the nourishment of our souls through the Word. At a time when it was hard to remain hopeful, praying with the Word and with each other revealed the invitation of God.
The constancy of those who offered the Word daily, and especially on Sunday, has brought that hope and invitation into our exile. To dwell on a passage of Scripture such as in the Letter to the Ephesians “Be strong in the Lord… Take up the whole armour of God. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace” (Eph 6:10, 13a, 15) is to renew your inner strength and resolve to answer the call of your Baptism. Pope Francis affirms this in saying: “The Bible is a book of the Lord’s people, who in listening to it, move from dispersion and division to unity. The word of God unites believers and makes them one people.”
There will be many ways in which communities decide to celebrate this Sunday of the Word of God. Some of the suggestions include giving additional reverence to the table of the Word or commissioning proclaimers of the Word. At the time of writing, there are still only 20 people allowed to attend Sunday Eucharistic celebrations. By February there should be a greater COVID-normal, yet I hope that communities might make some resolve on that Sunday for ongoing engagement and outreach of the Word through Lectio Divina, Bible study, Liturgy of the Word or by whatever means to keep in touch with those who are unable to come to weekend liturgy, who are homebound, lonely and ill.
The dispersion and separation caused through the pandemic restrictions are also the opportunity to renew ourselves. I recently put my name down to be at Mass among the 20 and offered to proclaim the Word. It was the first time since March, and in proclaiming the Word I found myself unexpectedly emotional to be sharing in my community again. It reminded me of another reflection in the dispersion from Titus: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour” (Titus 3:4-6).
May our celebration of the Sunday of the Word of God embrace the Spirit being so generously poured out over us. As Pope Francis says: “The Holy Spirit, then, makes sacred Scripture the living word of God, experienced and handed down in the faith of the people.”
Dr Rosemary Canavan is currently the President of the Australian Catholic Biblical Association (ACBA) and Academic Dean and a Senior Lecturer in New Testament at Catholic Theological College, University of Divinity, Melbourne. She currently teaches Letters of Paul, the Synoptic Gospels and is Coordinator of the Study Tour of the Biblical Lands.
The Sunday of the Word of God will be celebrated in parishes in Australia on February 7, 2021. It will be marked on the first Sunday in February each year.
Images: Rosemary Canavan (supplied)
Scriptures, Stephen Radford, Unsplash
 Francis, “Aperuit Illis” Apostolic Letter (2019), 1.
 Francis, “Aperuit Illis”, 3.
 Francis, “Aperuit Illis”, 4.
 Francis, “Aperuit Illis” 9