This document, an apostolic exhortation of Pope Paul VI, has long been regarded as one of the most important papal pronouncements about evangelization in modern times. I intend to comment on it, number by number, until we finish all eighty-two numbers of the document. It would be better to have a copy of the document before you when you read this commentary. If you do not have a copy of the document, you can get one from the Vatican web site, www.vatican.va.
The document is dated December 8, 1975, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, but was not released until ten days later, on December 18. The main reason for its being written was the request of the 1974 third general assembly of the Synod of Bishops that the pope write a document on the theme of that synod, which was evangelization.
Other reasons for the document’s being written were to conclude the 1975 Holy Year, one of whose themes was evangelization, and to extend the benefits of the Holy Year into the “third millennium of Christianity.” The year 1975 was also the tenth anniversary of the closing of Vatican Council II, whose documents are frequently quoted in Evangelii Nuntiandi.
The document consists of an introduction, seven chapters, and a conclusion. The chapters are:
I. From Christ the Evangelizer to the Evangelizing Church (nos. 6-16)
II. What is Evangelization? (nos. 17-24)
III. The Content of Evangelization (nos. 25-39)
IV. The Methods of Evangelization (nos. 40-48)
V. The Addressees of Evangelization (nos. 49-58)
VI. The Agents of Evangelization (nos. 59-73)
VII. The Spirit of Evangelization (nos. 74-80)
In the introduction (nos. 1-5) the pope gives the reasons for his writing the document. The very first sentence of the document gives the most basic reason - for proclaiming the Gospel: “The zealous proclamation of the Gospel to the men of our time, who are full of hope yet often also tormented by fears and anxieties, is undoubtedly a service not only to the Christian community but to the whole of mankind.”
Besides the reasons noted above, he points out the need to strengthen his brothers the bishops in their task of evangelization. Another reason is “to make the Church of the 20th century ever more fit to preach the Gospel to the men of our day.” Pope Paul also wanted to fulfill the wish of the 1974 Synod Fathers that he provide “a new impulse which would launch a more prosperous period of evangelization in a Church more richly suffused with the perennial power and energies of Pentecost.”
In the final paragraph of the Introduction the pope gives still another reason: “We regard this exhortation as extremely important because the preaching of the Gospel is not something the Church is free to do or omit. It is a duty the Lord Jesus has assigned the Church so that men may believe and be saved.”
Mary, Mother of the Church, may we be zealous preachers of the Gospel in all we say and do!