VATICAN CITY—The first great event of the new millennium fell on the First Sunday of Advent this year, Nov. 29, as Pope John Paul II officially declared the Grand Jubilee of the Year 2000, with celebrations throughout the world and the granting of special indulgences — remissions of temporal punishment due to sin — for a variety of pilgrimages, prayers, and works of mercy.
Before celebrating Mass in St. Peter's Basilica to begin the year dedicated to God the Father, the third and final year of preparation for the Holy Year of 2000, Pope John Paul II presided over the delivery and reading of the papal bull, Incarnationis Mysterium (The Mystery of the Incarnation), officially proclaiming the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.
While the Jubilee has been planned for years, this papal bull — a special type of document used to issue important papal decrees — officially proclaimed the event.
“I therefore decree that the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 will begin on Christmas Eve 1999, with the opening of the holy door in Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican [and] will continue until the closing of the Jubilee Year on the day of the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, January 6, 2001.”
With those words, the Great Jubilee, which the Holy Father mentioned in his first encyclical in 1979, was definitively proclaimed. Indeed, during his homily the Pope made reference to his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis (The Redeemer of Man), illustrating that the Great Jubilee celebrates the central reality of all human history, Jesus Christ, who through the mystery of the Incarnation begins the redemption of the human race.
“Christ is our Redeemer: Redemptor mundi et Redemptor hominis, the Redeemer of the world and the Redeemer of man,” he said. “He has come among us to help us to cross the threshold which leads to the door of life, the ‘holy door’ that is Himself.”
The bull was read in front of the holy door of St. Peter's Basilica. Of the five doors on the front of the basilica, one — the holy door — is usually sealed shut and bricked-up, and is only opened during holy years. The opening of the holy door next Christmas Eve will begin the holy year, and the Pope himself will be the first to walk through it.
The three other patriarchal basilicas in Rome also have holy doors which will be opened for the Jubilee. Those responsible for those basilicas — St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran, and St. Paul Outside-the-Walls — were on hand to receive a copy of the bull from the Holy Father, to be likewise read at each basilica.
The bull Incarnationis Mysterium provides directives for the participation of the faithful in the Jubilee, and highlights the importance of pilgrimages, the holy door, and indulgences. (See article on Page 6.)
“I open today, as bishop of Rome,” said the Holy Father in his homily, “the third year of preparation for the Great Jubilee.”
Having proclaimed the Jubilee itself, the Holy Father focused on this last year of “intense preparation” — the last year of the second Christian millennium. It is a year to focus to the mercy of God the Father. Crafting his homily around the responsorial psalm — “Let us go with joy to meet the Lord” — the Holy Father preached on the Son as both the revealer of the Father and the way to the Father.
He spoke of the whole year as marking a special experience of the liturgical formula by which we go “to the Father, by the way that is Our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.”
Special emphasis was given to the mercy of the Father, experienced most clearly in the forgiveness of sins. At the general intercessions, the Holy Father's prayer for the third year of preparation for the Great Jubilee was offered for the first time; that prayer speaks about the Father first in terms of his mercy.
The theme of the Father “rich in mercy” was underscored throughout the Mass. In the homily the Holy Father made reference to the parable of the Prodigal Son and also to his encyclical on the Father, given on the First Sunday of Advent in 1980, entitled Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy). A special edition of the encyclical, published by the organizing committee for the Jubilee and bearing on its cover an image of Rembrandt's painting of the return of the Prodigal Son, was distributed by the thousands to pilgrims who attended the Mass.
Raymond de Souza is a seminarian in the Diocese of Kingston, Ontario.