As much of the Catholic world was consumed with developments at the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region last October, the Holy See quietly released Aperuit Illis, an apostolic letter instituting the Sunday of the Word of God on the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time annually. In paragraph 2, Pope Francis writes:
“At the conclusion of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, I proposed setting aside ‘a Sunday given over entirely to the word of God, so as to appreciate the inexhaustible riches contained in that constant dialogue between the Lord and his people’ (Misericordia et Misera, 7). 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.”
In the previous paragraph, the Holy Father quotes Saint Jerome’s hallowed dictum, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
The observance of the inaugural Sunday of the Word of God is already past, but the Church is just now entering into the great penitential season of Lent, intended to renew the grace of baptism in the life of all believers and, particularly, to prepare those who will receive the sacraments of initiation and rebirth at the Easter Vigil and during the Easter season for the surpassing mysteries they will experience.
Throughout the time of the catechumenate, and especially in the final, most intense period of prayer and spiritual formation, the Church’s catechumens and candidates are immersed in the word of God. It can truly be said, “Knowledge of the Scriptures is knowledge of Christ!”
And, of course, this year, they and we will be exposed to the ancient catechumenal readings of Cycle A on the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent. These texts from Saint John’s Gospel (The Woman at the Well; The Man Born Blind; and The Raising of Lazarus) comprise the oldest set of readings specifically used in the preparation of those about to be baptized. Why are they so significant? Taken together, they closely correspond to the journey of encounter and conversion leading to baptism; and they powerfully convey the importance of faith in Christ as the mark of readiness to follow his way.
One of the beauties and strengths of our Catholic liturgical tradition is that the entire parish can consider and pray the same readings as the elect are doing, even if those who are in final preparation for the sacraments of initiation are not present at every Eucharistic celebration on these pivotal Sundays. In this way, the whole parish family is bound together.
It also unifies the prayer life of the parish, as all focus their prayer and supplication specifically on the complete conversion of the elect. Through these readings, moreover, the faithful can deepen their own conversion in preparation for renewing their baptismal promises.
Wondrously, we move from word to the table of Eucharist, and find Christ in each!