Motu Proprio on the Sunday of the Word of God: Two Reactions

Today, on the feast of St. Jerome, Pope Francis issued a motu proprio “Aperuit Illis,” establishing a “Sunday of the Word of God” on the Third Sunday in Ordinary time. Pray Tell provides two reactions: from Fritz Bauerschmidt and Anthony Ruff OSB. At the end of this post is a list of the readings for the Third Sunday of the Year.


It is not clear to me whether this Sunday will be provided with propers or whether the prayers and reading already appointed for that Sunday will be retained (making it less like Trinity Sunday and more like Divine Mercy Sunday). The readings for cycle C already have a scriptural focus (the reading of the Law in the book of Nehemiah—which comes in for some discussion in the motu proprio (para. 4)—and Luke’s account of Jesus reading the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue), but the other years not so much.

The motu proprio notes that different communities will find their own ways to solemnize this Sunday, but mentions that it would be an appropriate time for the institution of lectors or the commissioning of other readers.

While I am in favor of much that the motu proprio calls for, especially with regard to the training of those who read the Scriptures in the liturgy, I must admit that I am skeptical about the value of adding such celebrations to the calendar. Perhaps this simply reflects my innate liturgical conservatism. But I do wonder where this sort of thing ends. Does every Sunday eventually end up with a “theme”? Does this sort of tinkering with the liturgical year actually yield much in concrete results? Maybe time will tell.


Here are my first thoughts on this motu proprio.

  • Emphasis on the Scriptures is always good of course.
  • This initiative strengthens our ecumenical bonds with all Christians of all traditions, which is great. Indeed, the pope calls us to “strengthen our bonds with the Jewish people and to pray for Christian unity” (3).
  • It would be nice if this initiative were a joint one, e.g. with the Patriarch of Constantinople and the World Council of Churches. But that would no doubt take many years to achieve, with lots of complications about varying liturgical calendars.
  • The liturgical year doesn’t need more themes imposed on it, however worthy. The primacy of the Sundays of the year on their own terms is an important principle of liturgical reform. (That’s why I don’t really care for Divine Mercy on such an important day as the Second Sunday of Easter.) This is my major misgiving with today’s announcement.
  • There don’t appear to be any major liturgical implications for this new Sunday of the Word of god – no changes to the missal or lectionary. But it seems likely that the new theme of the day will be popular and engulf the Sunday liturgy.
  • The motu proprio speaks of “enthroning” the sacred text – what would this look like?
  • The pope suggests distributing Bibles or books of the bible on this Sunday – great.
  • There is a suggestion to celebrate the Rite of Installation of Lectors – which would be a nice annual custom. But most parish ministries begin their annual cycle in the fall with the start of the academic year. And unfortunately there is little alignment between who is installed as lector (only men can be) and who can actually lector (most women and men are never installed) – why can’t this be fixed?
  • There is good emphasis on quality preaching – “Those of us who are preachers should not give long, pedantic homilies or wander off into unrelated topics.” (5) This is an important concern of Pope Francis, and rightly so.
  • The emphasis on the tie between Scripture and Eucharist (8, citing the Emmaus story) is excellent.
  • The theological understanding of what Scripture is follows Vatican II, especially Dei Verbum: “human words written in human fashion become the word of God.” (9) This view is informed by modern scripture scholarship and decidedly not fundamentalist (in the evangelical or Catholic versions). But it’s not arid intellectualism either, and rightly emphasizes the real point: our salvation, our transfiguration, our growing in love, through our encounter with Scripture.

* * * * *

For your reference, here are the readings for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time in the Roman lectionary.

Year A, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isa 8:23b-9:3, They have seen a great light
Psalm 27, The Lord is my light and my salvation
1 Cor 1:10-13, 17, No divisions
Matt 4:12-23 or 4:12-17III-A, Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled

Year B, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jon 3:1-5, 10, The Ninevites repent
Psalm 25, Teach me your ways, O Lord
1 Cor 7:29-31, This world is passing away
Mark 1:14-20, Repent and believe!

Year C, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10, Ezra reads the Law
Psalm 19, Your words, Lord, are spirit and life. (cf. Jn. 6:63c)
1 Cor 12:12-30   or 12:12-14, 27, We are one body
Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21, Jesus fulfills the Law



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18 responses to “Motu Proprio on the Sunday of the Word of God: Two Reactions”

  1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
    Karl Liam Saur

    Considering that the Sunday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time falls between 16 and 22 Jan, that means there will be considerable overlap with the Octave of Christian Unity between 18 and 25 Jan.

    Note that the MP is dated for the 1600th anniversary of St Jerome’s death.

  2. James Hadley, OblSB Avatar
    James Hadley, OblSB

    Given that the documents refers to ecumenism, perhaps it would have been helpful for Rome to consider that churches of the reformed tradition have celebrated a “Bible Sunday”, began by the American Bible Society, since 1915. It generally falls in various church calendars in October or November. It is already a global celebration.

  3. Lee Bacchi Avatar
    Lee Bacchi

    I thought Jerome died in 420, which would make next year the 1600th anniversary of his death.

    I guess I think of every Sunday as a Sunday of the Word, as well as a Sunday of the Eucharist. With a homily usually based on the Scripture readings and leading to the sharing of the Lord’s Table, I don’t think I have too many problems with this. It might be a good way for Catholics to be reminded (shortly after the New Year begins) as Jerome taught us, that “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      Perhaps he (or his clerk, as it were) is counting inclusively in that older pre-Christian Roman calendrical way?

  4. Alan Hommerding Avatar
    Alan Hommerding

    The fourth proclamation of scripture (from the psalter) for those Sundays:

    Year A – The Lord is my light and my salvation. (Ps. 27)

    Year B – Teach me your ways, O Lord. (Ps. 25)

    Year C – Your words, Lord, are spirit and life. (cf. Jn. 6:63c/Ps. 19)

    1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
      Anthony Ruff, OSB

      Good completion, Alan. I’ll add it to the post where it belongs.

      1. Alan Hommerding Avatar
        Alan Hommerding

        Thank you!

  5. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    The Bishops of England and Wales had quite some time ago designated 2020 as a Year of the Word, under the title The God Who Speaks, in celebration of St Jerome’s 1600th anniversary next year, and 10 years since Benedict XVI’s Verbum Domini. An intensive focus on the Word begins on the 1st Sunday of Advent 2019 and continues throughout 2020, so Pope Francis’s Sunday of the Word on 3 OT will obviously fit in well with that.

    Full details on this page:
    and scroll down for a host of resources.

  6. Fr. Jack Feehily Avatar
    Fr. Jack Feehily

    I would like to put in a word for another Moto Propio, one declaring that both men and women may be instituted as Lectors after completing a discernment and training process. Ideally this wished for MP would also make a similar provision for the institution of male and female Acolytes. Years ago, the US bishops took umbrage with the provision for only instituting male lectors and acolytes and determined to limit those ceremonies to those on the way to Holy Orders. Anybody have Francis’ email address?

    1. Paul F. Ford Avatar
      Paul F. Ford

      Excellent ideas, Jack!

  7. Anthony Hawkins Avatar
    Anthony Hawkins

    Enthroning the Word of God is something I would like to see, but a Bible not just a Book of the Gospels. So – are there any Lectern Bibles in a Catholic edition?

    1. Timothy McCormick Avatar
      Timothy McCormick

      I agree with you about avoiding a Book of the Gospels to enthrone, instead an actual bible would be so much better. However, I do not believe there is a specific Catholic Bible in a Lectern edition available. There are editions available with the full apocrypha/deuterocanonicals in the NRSV, REB, and KJV translations. Perhaps one could get a volume of the St. John’s Bible for that Sunday? Of course, there are also various Family-sized Catholic Bibles that might work too.

      1. Brian Duffy Avatar
        Brian Duffy

        I used to find huge copies of the Douay-Challoner bible in the oddest places. Once in a junk shop and twice in barns deep in the country. Presently there are several copies commanding respectable prices on eBay.

        There’s an elaborate copy of the Douay- Confraternity on line too, but the seller doesn’t seem to give its dimensions.

        I do remember seeing enormous but boring copies of the New American Bible, but, unless the dealer were to give them to me, I’d never buy them.

        Oh, I almost forgot, the Jerusalem bible with the Salvador Dali illustrations is always a plea$ant find.

        Most of these would make interesting ceremonial copies of lectern bibles.

  8. Adam Booth, CSC Avatar

    I think the Year A readings, with their focus on the fulfillment of prophecy, give plenty of scope to preach from in the context of a celebration of God’s gift of the scripture. I’d hope that preachers would re-read the PBC’s 2001 document “The Jewish People and Their Scriptures in the Christian Bible” before attempting this! ( )

  9. Peter Kwasniewski Avatar
    Peter Kwasniewski

    Since Pope Francis makes such a big deal in the motu proprio of the role of the Holy Spirit in reading and assimilating Scripture, he should have proposed renaming Green Sundays “Sundays after Pentecost,” which reminds the Church of the intimate bond between Christ, His Word, and His Spirit of Love and Truth—rather than “Sundays of Ordinary Time.”

    1. Todd Flowerday Avatar

      Why? The texts of the Mass make the Holy Spirit’s agency clear in all the Sundays of ordinal, or counted time. Green Sundays before and after Pentecost are part of a whole that progresses from the call of the first disciples to Christ’s eschatological preaching and his enthronement as King. The Roman Missal of today is far superior to the one used prior to Vatican II.

      1. John Kohanski Avatar
        John Kohanski

        We use the Revised Common Lectionary which is in essence similar to the Roman one but with (much needed) corrections and expansions, yet we order our green Sundays as Sundays after the Epiphany and Sundays after Pentecost. It works.

    2. Michael Slusser Avatar
      Michael Slusser

      I rather like Peter Kwasniewski’s idea! The whole sweep that progresses, as Todd Flowerday points out, from the call of the first disciples to Christ’s eschatological preaching and his enthronement as King”” really does speak to ordinary life after Pentecost, provided we don’t get hung up on calendars.

      I found this whole discussion from last September helpful in view of the upcoming Third Sunday “after Pentecost.”

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