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Father Muench Says...

Celebrating the Word of God

January 22, 2020

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

Each time we, Catholics, join together for the celebration of the Eucharist, our Mass begins with readings from the Sacred Scriptures, the Word of God. These readings are a sacred and important part of our celebration of Mass. Actually, every time we, Catholics, celebrate a Sacrament, we begin with readings from the Bible. This Word of God guides us to realize why we take the time to pray. The Scriptures remind us that Jesus came to be among us to transform our lives. As we pray together as the People of God and celebrate each Sacrament, we begin by placing ourselves in the presence of Our Savior by reading the Scriptures together and recognizing God’s message for us – a message that was brought to us by Jesus, who lived with us, who taught us, who died for us and rose again to new life.

The Bible is God’s great gift to us. The Bible is our best prayer book. Our reading of the Bible is an important and necessary part of our following of the Lord, Jesus. The Bible is the Word of God. To emphasize the importance of our reading of the Word of God, Pope Francis has designated a Sunday (the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 26) as a celebration of the Word of God. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, hopes to encourage us all to recognize the importance of the reading of the Bible. This celebration is a time for us to make reading the Bible an important part of our prayer life.

The Second Vatican Council – sixty years ago – made an effort to encourage all Catholics of the importance of the study of the Bible. I remember only too well those days, when most other Christian churches were more Bible-centered than we Catholics. Many families owned a Bible, but very few read any part of it. The Council proclaimed as one of its important documents a Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. This document taught us of our Church’s firm belief, made in faith, that God’s message came to us through the Incarnation of Jesus.

We believe that Jesus came to this world to live among us and to teach us of God’s great love for us. Jesus chose apostles and disciples to continue to evangelize this message throughout the world. In this way, our Catholic Church was formed. In time, this revelation was written in the Sacred Scriptures. We believe that these Scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit. We believe the Holy Spirit guided the many authors of the various books of the Bible and led them to bring God’s message to people like you and me.

I remember well, in the time after the Second Vatican Council, one of the important changes in my ministry as a priest was the forming of programs in the parish about the Sacred Scriptures. There were study groups to learn more about the Bible. There were also programs that encouraged the reading of the Bible at home. The parish religious education programs included sections that focused on the Bible.

In addition, during Mass, the priests were instructed to give a homily rather than a sermon. The difference was this: the homily was a talk developed from the Scripture Readings that were assigned for that Mass. The Scripture readings of the Mass became the foundation for the homily. We, priests, were to allow the message of the Lord that was in the Scriptures to be our guide for our message to the people.

The result was and continues to be a profound closeness of the Scriptures for us, priests, and now, for the deacons who take part in this preaching ministry. Speaking for myself, I begin each week by making the next Sunday’s Scriptures a part of my prayer and study as I prepare my Sunday homily. In a sense, these Scriptures become my friends for the week. The Word of God is an integral part of all that I do as a priest.

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