Vatican’s liturgy congregation stresses importance of Sunday of the Word of God

The Vatican's liturgy congregation issued a note Saturday encouraging Catholic parishes around the world to celebrate the Sunday of the Word of God with new vigor.

In the note published Dec. 19, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments suggested ways that Catholics should prepare for the day devoted to the Bible.

Pope Francis instituted the Sunday of the Word of God with the apostolic letter "Aperuit illis" on Sept. 30, 2019, the 1,600th anniversary of St. Jerome's death.

"The purpose of this Note is to help reawaken, in the light of the Sunday of the Word of God, an awareness of the importance of Sacred Scripture for our lives as believers, beginning with its resonance in the liturgy which places us in living and permanent dialogue with God," said the text dated Dec. 17 and signed by the congregation's prefect, Cardinal Robert Sarah, and secretary, Archbishop Arthur Roche.

The annual observance takes place on the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, which fell on Jan. 26 this year and will be celebrated on Jan. 24 next year. 

The congregation said: "A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the Risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers."

The document listed 10 guidelines for marking the day. It encouraged parishes to consider an entrance procession with the Book of the Gospels "or simply placing the Book of the Gospels on the altar."

It advised them to follow the indicated readings "without replacing or removing them, and using only versions of the Bible approved for liturgical use," while recommending the singing of the Responsorial Psalm.

The congregation urged bishops, priests, and deacons to help people to understand Sacred Scripture through their homilies. It also highlighted the importance of leaving room for silence, which "by favoring meditation, allows the word of God to be received inwardly by the listener."

It said: "The Church has always paid particular attention to those who proclaim the word of God in the assembly: priests, deacons and readers. This ministry requires specific interior and exterior preparation, familiarity with the text to be proclaimed, and the necessary practice in the way of proclaiming it clearly, avoiding all improvisation. It is possible to preface the readings with appropriate and short introductions."

The congregation also emphasized the importance of the ambo, the stand where the Word of God is proclaimed in Catholic churches.

"It is not a functional piece of furniture, but a place that is in keeping with the dignity of the word of God, in correspondence with the altar," it said.

"The ambo is reserved for the readings, the singing of the Responsorial Psalm and the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet); the homily and the intentions of the universal prayer can be delivered from it, while it is less appropriate to use it for commentaries, announcements or for directing singing."

The Vatican department urged parishes to use high-quality liturgical books and treat them with care.

"It is never appropriate to resort to leaflets, photocopies, and other pastoral aids as a substitute for liturgical books," it said.

The congregation called for "formation meetings" in the days before or after the Sunday of the Word of God to highlight the importance of Sacred Scripture in liturgical celebrations.

"The Sunday of the Word of God is also a fitting occasion to deepen the link between Sacred Scripture and the Liturgy of the Hours, the praying of the Psalms and Canticles of the Office, as well as the biblical readings. This can be done by promoting the community celebration of Lauds and Vespers," it said.

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The note ended by invoking St. Jerome, the Doctor of the Church who produced the Vulgate, a fourth-century Latin translation of the Bible.

"Among the many saints, all of whom witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, St. Jerome can be proposed as an example because of the great love he had for the word of God," it said.

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