Commentary

Pope institutes the Sunday of the Word of God, to be celebrated on the Third Sunday in Ordinary TIme, beginning on Jan. 26, 2020

Originally Appeared in : 9924-11/21/19

On the day of his resurrection, that first Easter, the Risen Christ accompanied two of his disciples, one of whom was named Cleopas (the other’s name is unknown), on their way to Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. So disheartened were they by the gruesome death of Jesus of Nazareth and so baffled by reports that “some women from our group” had found his tomb empty and that they “had seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive,” that they simply did not recognize the stranger in their midst. Later, they recounted that their hearts were strangely warmed as he opened the Scriptures to them and showed them how the prophets had foretold that “the Messiah would have to suffer these things and so enter into his glory.” Then he joined them at supper and “they recognized him in the breaking of the bread.” And then he vanished. When they returned to Jerusalem and joined the Eleven in the Upper Room and heard them say, “The Lord has truly been raised and has been appeared to Simon.” And so, they shared with the Eleven their encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Emmaus.

 

First the Lord Jesus “opened the Scriptures” to Cleopas and the other disciple, showing them how the prophets had foretold that “the Messiah would have to suffer these things and so enter into his glory.” Only then were they prepared to recognize him in the breaking of the bread at supper. The Emmaus story in Luke 24 brilliantly narrates the relationship between the Word of God proclaimed in the Scriptures and the Eucharist —the “breaking of the bread”—which is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as the sacrament of his sacrificial death and resurrection.

 

As Pope Francis writes, the encounter on the road to Emmaus “was one of the final acts of the risen Lord before his Ascension. Jesus appeared to the assembled disciples, broke bread with them and opened their minds to the understanding of the sacred Scriptures. To them, amid their fear and bewilderment, he unveiled the meaning of the paschal mystery: that in accordance with the Father’s eternal plan he had to suffer and rise from the dead, in order to bring repentance and the forgiveness of sins (cf. Lk 24:26.46-47). He then promised to send the Holy Spirit, who would give them strength to be witnesses of this saving mystery (cf. Lk 24:49).”

 

The pope adds, “On this Sunday, it would be particularly appropriate to highlight the proclamation of the word of the Lord and to emphasize in the homily the honor that it is due.”

 

It won’t be long before we celebrate the Sunday of the Word of God for the first time. We are nearing the end of one Liturgical Year (C)—the 34th and last Sunday of which falls on Nov. 24, which is also the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The next Sunday, Dec. 1, will be the First Sunday of Advent in the new Liturgical Year (A). Within two months, the Sunday of the Word of God will be celebrated as such for the first time. On Jan. 26, we will hear from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 8:23-9:3 (“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light”), from Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 1:10-13, 17 (“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning”) sees Jesus’ initial proclamation of the Gospel in Galilee (“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”) as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy announced in the first reading.

 

That Sunday will give us an opportunity to reflect on the importance of the Word of God for us as the Church. As 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, Saint Jerome could rightly claim: ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ’.”

 

It is a shame that the Holy Father’s initiative in instituting the Sunday of the Word of God in September has been overshadowed by the controversies that arose in October in connection with the Synod, because this annual celebration could go a long way in dispelling ignorance of the Scriptures and of Christ himself.

 

Father Douglas K. Clark is the retired pastor of Saint Matthew Church, Statesboro.

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