Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – Sunday of the Word of God & Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity (22 & 23/1/22)

posted 28 Jan 2022, 02:35 by Parish Office

Today we celebrate Sunday of the Word of God, which also takes place during the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, and of course the two are linked. The Scriptures have been a point of both unity and disunity between Catholics and Protestants, and perhaps these fallings-out and disagreements have helped to fuel a certain distrust of the Scriptures among Catholics. But, of course, the Bible is a Catholic book, and at the time of the Reformation, during the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church defined the books of the Bible – you may be aware that a Protestant Bible has only thirty-nine books in the Old Testament, whilst a Catholic one has forty-six. Following the Second Vatican Council, the scripture readings are now read in the language of the people, and preaching during Sunday Mass is supposed to take its theme from the readings and/or the celebration of the day, rather than the preacher just picking a theme of his own. So with that in mind, let’s have a look at today’s readings.

The Gospel reading begins with the very beginning of St Luke’s Gospel. Luke is saying to his reader that what he has written wasn’t just hastily cobbled together: it is the fruit of careful research, speaking to people who were eyewitnesses to all Christ said and did and to those who have now been preaching Christ. Remember that it was written in the first century. If anyone disagreed with what was written, all it needed was for someone to go and speak to one of the Apostles as they travelled around the Roman Empire, or to others who had heard and seen Christ for themselves.

And the Scriptures are not just one ordinary historical document among many. They were written by human beings, yes, and their accuracy in part was down to the fact that one of the teaching methods of the time was learning by rote – rabbis would get their disciples to recite phrases together just like children learning their times tables, or like the Penny Catechism of old. But that’s not all. Because behind and through all this, God is at work. The Scriptures are the word of God written down in the words of men – whilst it was written by different human authors, God still made sure that the message He wanted to be conveyed, was conveyed. Or as Vatican II put it (Dei Verbum 11): “it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more”.

The Gospel reading today then jumps from chapter one to chapter four. Christ reads the scriptures in the synagogue, and then explains that the passage He has just read is all about Himself. If we are to be people who love God, then, we have to love the Scriptures. They not only tell us all about God, but show us how someone who loves God should behave, and our mission in the world. And just as Our Lord read the scriptures in the synagogue, so our reading of scripture today has to be, so to speak, “in the church”. I don’t mean that we can only read the Bible whilst we are in the church building; what I mean instead is that it has to be with the correct interpretation, as identified by the Catholic Church. The Bible is not the whole of God’s revelation. Part of that revelation was written down and now forms the Bible, but the rest is part of what we call Sacred Tradition, with a capital “T”. There are things that are not explicitly recorded in the Scriptures, but which form part of our faith, such as the Assumption of Our Lady, and that Sacred Tradition and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the Catholic Church makes sure we get the interpretation right and stay on the right track. There is one Catholic Church – but how many different Protestant divisions are there, each claiming the correct interpretation of the Bible?

The first reading also gives us a few hints as to how we should reverence the Scriptures. When Ezra, priest and scribe, reads from the Book of the Law, i.e. the first five books of the Old Testament, it says the people listened attentively.

It can be so easy when the readings are read in Mass to just switch off after a while. Maybe something or someone in the church distracts you, or you suddenly remember that you forgot to thaw out the chicken. Sometimes it can be easier to keep our focus if we have read through the readings ourselves before Mass begins and if we follow the text in our hands whilst it is being read, although different things work for different people.

So to conclude, the Bible is something that is essential to our lives as Catholics. It is, after all, the word of God, written in the words of men. Its interpretation always needs to go together with the rest of divine revelation in Sacred Tradition, as interpreted by the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, and in that way Sacred Scripture faithfully informs our lives, drawing us to Christ and leading us to deeper conversion.