GENERAL AUDIENCE 1997 62
1. "When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman" (Ga 4,4). Marian devotion is based on the wondrous divine decision, as the Apostle Paul recalls, to link forever the Son of God’s human identity with a woman, Mary of Nazareth.
The mystery of the divine motherhood and of Mary’s co-operation in the work of Redemption has filled believers in every age with an attitude of praise, both for the Saviour and for her who gave birth to him in time, thus co-operating in Redemption.
A further reason for grateful love for the Blessed Virgin is offered by her universal motherhood. By choosing her as Mother of all humanity, the heavenly Father has wished to reveal the motherly dimension, so to speak, of his divine tenderness and concern for all people in every era.
On Calvary, with the words: "Behold, your son!", "Behold, your mother!" (Jn 19,26-27), Jesus gave Mary in advance to all who would receive the Good News of salvation, and was thus laying the foundation of their filial affection for her. Following John, the faithful would prolong Christ’s love for his Mother with their own devotion, by accepting her into their own lives.
2. The Gospel texts attest to the presence of Marian devotion from the Church’s origins.
The first two chapters of St Luke’s Gospel seem to relate the particular attention to Jesus’ Mother on the part of Jewish Christians, who expressed their appreciation of her and jealously guarded their memories of her.
Moreover, in the infancy narratives we can discern the initial expressions of and reasons for Marian devotion, summarized in Elizabeth’s exclamations: "Blessed are you among women.... And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord" (Lc 1,42).
Traces of a veneration already widespread among the first Christian community are present in the Magnificat canticle: "All generations will call me blessed" (Lc 1,48). By putting these words on Mary’s lips, Christians recognized her unique greatness, which would be proclaimed until the end of time.
64 In addition, the Gospel accounts (cf. Lc 1,24-35 Mt 1,23 and Jn 1,13), the first formulas of faith and a passage by St Ignatius of Antioch (cf. Smyrn. 1, 2: SC 10,155) attest to the first communities’ special admiration for Mary’s virginity, closely linked to the mystery of the Incarnation.
John’s Gospel, by noting Mary’s presence at the beginning and at the end of her Son’s public life, suggests that the first Christians were keenly aware of Mary's role in the work of Redemption, in full loving dependence on Christ.
3. The Second Vatican Council, in stressing the particular character of Marian devotion, says: "Mary has by grace been exalted above all angels and men to a place second only to her Son, as the most holy Mother of God who was involved in the mysteries of Christ: she is rightly honoured by a special cult in the Church" (Lumen gentium LG 66).
Then, alluding to the third-century Marian prayer, "Sub tuum praesidium" — "We fly to thy patronage" — it adds that this characteristic emerges from the very beginning: "From the earliest times the Blessed Virgin is honoured under the title of Mother of God in whose protection the faithful take refuge together in prayer in all their perils and needs" (ibid. LG 66).
4. This assertion has been confirmed in iconography and in the teaching of the Fathers of the Church since the second century.
In Rome, in the catacombs of Priscilla, it is possible to admire the first depiction of the Madonna and Child, while at the same time, St Justin and St Irenaeus speak of Mary as the new Eve who by her faith and obedience makes amends for the disbelief and disobedience of the first woman. According to the Bishop of Lyons, it was not enough for Adam to be redeemed in Christ, but "it was right and necessary that Eve be restored in Mary" (Demonstratio apostolica, 33). In this way he stresses the importance of woman in the work of salvation and lays the foundation for the inseparability of Marian devotion from that shown to Jesus, which will endure down the Christian centuries.
5. Marian devotion is first expressed in the invocation of Mary as "Theotókos", a title which was authoritatively confirmed, after the Nestorian crisis, by the Council of Ephesus in 431.
The same popular reaction to the ambiguous and wavering position of Nestorius, who went so far as to deny Mary’s divine motherhood, and the subsequent joyful acceptance of the Ephesian Synod’s decisions, confirm how deeply rooted among Christians was devotion to the Blessed Virgin. However "following the Council of Ephesus, there was a remarkable growth in the devotion of the People of God towards Mary, in veneration and love, in invocation and imitation" (Lumen gentium LG 66). It was expressed especially in the liturgical feasts, among which, from the beginning of the fifth century, "the day of Mary Theotókos" acquired particular importance. It was celebrated on 15 August in Jerusalem and later became the feast of the Dormition or the Assumption.
Under the influence of the "Proto-Evangelium of James", the feasts of the Nativity, the Conception and the Presentation were also introduced, and notably contributed to highlighting some important aspects of the mystery of Mary.
6. We can certainly say that Marian devotion has developed down to our day in wonderful continuity, alternating between flourishing periods and critical ones that, nonetheless, often had the merit of fostering its renewal even more.
Since the Second Vatican Council, Marian devotion seems destined to develop in harmony with a deeper understanding of the mystery of the Church and in dialogue with contemporary cultures, to be ever more firmly rooted in the faith and life of God’s pilgrim people on earth.
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:
Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Korea, Japan and the United States, I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. The Second Vatican Council states that devotion to the Blessed Virgin, "as it has always existed in the Church, for all its uniqueness, differs essentially from the cult of adoration, which is offered equally to the Incarnate Word and to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and it is most favourable to it" (Lumen gentium LG 66).
With these words the Constitution Lumen gentium stresses the characteristics of Marian devotion. Although the veneration of the faithful for Mary is superior to their devotion to the other saints, it is nevertheless inferior to the cult of adoration reserved to God, from which it essentially differs. The term "adoration" indicates the form of worship that man offers to God, acknowledging him as Creator and Lord of the universe. Enlightened by divine Revelation, the Christian adores the Father "in spirit and truth" (Jn 4,23). With the Father, he adores Christ, the Incarnate Word, exclaiming with the Apostle Thomas: "My Lord and my God!" (Jn 20,28). Lastly, in this same act of adoration he includes the Holy Spirit, who "with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified" (DS 150), as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed recalls.
When the faithful call upon Mary as "Mother of God" and contemplate in her the highest dignity conferred upon a creature, they are still not offering her a veneration equal to that of the divine Persons. There is an infinite distance between Marian veneration and worship of the Trinity and the Incarnate Word.
As a consequence, although the Christian community addresses the Blessed Virgin in language that sometimes recalls the terms used in the worship of God, it has a completely different meaning and value. Thus the love of the faithful for Mary differs from what they owe God: while the Lord must be loved above everything with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul and with all one’s mind (cf. Mt 22,37), the sentiment joining Christians to the Blessed Virgin suggests, at a spiritual level, the affection of children for their mother.
2. Nevertheless there is a continuity between Marian devotion and the worship given to God: indeed, the honour paid to Mary is ordered and leads to adoration of the Blessed Trinity.
The Council recalls that Christian veneration of the Blessed Virgin "is most favourable to" the worship of the Incarnate Word, the Father and the Holy Spirit. It then adds from a Christological viewpoint that "the various forms of piety towards the Mother of God, which the Church has approved within the limits of sound and orthodox doctrine, according to the dispositions and understanding of the faithful, ensure that while the Mother is honoured, the Son through whom all things have their being (cf. Col 1,15-16) and in whom it has pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell (cf. Col 1,19) is rightly known, loved and glorified and his commandments are observed" (Lumen gentium LG 66).
Since the Church’s earliest days, Marian devotion has been meant to foster faithful adherence to Christ. To venerate the Mother of God is to affirm the divinity of Christ. In fact, the Fathers of the Council of Ephesus, in proclaiming Mary Theotókos, "Mother of God", intended to confirm the belief in Christ, true God.
The conclusion of the account of Jesus’ first miracle, obtained at Cana by Mary’s intercession, shows how her action was directed to the glorification of her Son. In fact the Evangelist says: "This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him" (Jn 2,11).
66 3. Marian devotion also encourages adoration of the Father and the Holy Spirit in those who practise it according to the Church’s spirit. In fact, by recognizing the value of Mary’s motherhood, believers discover in it a special manifestation of God the Father's tenderness.
The mystery of the Virgin Mother highlights the action of the Holy Spirit, who brought about the conception of the child in her womb and continually guided her life.
The titles of Comforter, Advocate, Helper attributed to Mary by popular Christian piety do not overshadow but exalt the action of the Spirit, the Comforter, and dispose believers to benefit from his gifts.
4. Lastly, the Council recalls the "uniqueness" of Marian devotion and stresses the difference between adoration of God and veneration of the saints.
This devotion is unrepeatable because it is directed to a person whose personal perfection and mission are unique.
Indeed, the gifts conferred upon Mary by divine love, such as her immaculate holiness, her divine motherhood, her association with the work of Redemption and above all the sacrifice of the Cross, are absolutely exceptional.
Devotion to Mary expresses the Church’s praise and recognition of these extraordinary gifts. To her, who is Mother of the Church and Mother of humanity, the Christian people turn, encouraged by filial trust, to request her motherly intercession and to obtain the necessary goods for earthly life in view of eternal happiness.
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, the Holy Father said:
I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from England, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Japan, Canada and the United States. I invoke upon you strength and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. After giving doctrinal justification to veneration of the Blessed Virgin, the Second Vatican Council exhorts all the faithful to promote it: "The Sacred Synod teaches this Catholic doctrine advisedly and at the same time admonishes all the sons of the Church that the cult, especially the liturgical cult, of the Blessed Virgin, be generously fostered, and that the practices and exercises of devotion towards her, recommended by the teaching authority of the Church in the course of centuries, be highly esteemed" (Lumen gentium LG 67).
With this last statement the Council Fathers, without going into particulars, intended to reaffirm the validity of certain prayers such as the Rosary and the Angelus, dear to the tradition of the Christian people and frequently encouraged by the Supreme Pontiffs as an effective means of nourishing the life of faith and devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
2. The conciliar text goes on to ask believers "that those decrees, which were given in the early days regarding the veneration of images of Christ, the Blessed Virgin and the saints, be religiously observed" (Lumen gentium LG 67).
Thus it reproposes the decisions of the Second Council of Nicaea, held in 787, which confirmed the legitimacy of the veneration of sacred images in opposition to those who wished to destroy them, since they considered them inadequate for representing the divinity (cf. Redemptoris Mater RMA 33). "We define", said the Fathers of that Council, "with full precision and care that, like the representation of the precious life-giving Cross, so the venerated and holy images either painted or mosaic or made of any other suitable material, should be exposed in holy churches of God on sacred furnishings and vestments, on walls and panels in homes and streets, be they images of the Lord God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, or of our immaculate Lady, the Holy Mother of God, of the holy angels, or of all the saints and the just" (DS 600).
By recalling this definition, Lumen gentium intended to stress the legitimacy and validity of sacred images, in contrast to certain tendencies to remove them from churches and shrines in order to focus full attention on Christ.
3. The Second Council of Nicaea does not only affirm the legitimacy of images, but seeks to describe their usefulness for Christian piety: "Indeed, the more often these images are contemplated, the more those who look at them are brought to remember and desire the original models and, in kissing them, to show them respect and veneration" (DS 601).
These directives apply in a particular way to the veneration of the Blessed Virgin. Images, icons and statues of Our Lady, present in houses, public places and countless churches and chapels, help the faithful to invoke her constant presence and her merciful patronage in the various circumstances of life. By making the Blessed Virgin’s motherly tenderness concrete and almost visible, they invite us to turn to her, to pray to her trustfully and to imitate her in generously accepting the divine will.
None of the known images is an authentic reproduction of Mary’s face, as St Augustine had already acknowledged (De Trinitate, 8, 7); however they help us establish a more living relationship with her. Therefore the practice of exposing images of Mary in places of worship and in other buildings should be encouraged, in order to be aware of her help in moments of difficulty and as a reminder to lead a life that is ever more holy and faithful to God.
68 4. To encourage the proper use of sacred images, the Council of Nicaea recalls that "the honour paid to the image is really paid to the person it represents, and those who venerate the image are venerating the reality of the person it represents" (DS 601).
Hence in adoring the Person of the Incarnate Word in the image of Christ the faithful are making a genuine act of worship, which has nothing in common with idolatry.
Similarly, when he venerates images of Mary, the believer’s act is ultimately intended as a tribute to the person of the Mother of Jesus.
5. Therefore, the Second Vatican Council urges theologians and preachers to refrain from both exaggerating and minimizing the special dignity of the Mother of God. It adds: "Following the study of Sacred Scripture, the Fathers, the doctors and liturgy of the Church, and under the guidance of the Church’s Magisterium, let them rightly illustrate the duties and privileges of the Blessed Virgin, which always refer to Christ, the source of all truth, sanctity and devotion" (Lumen gentium LG 67).
Authentic Marian doctrine is ensured by fidelity to Scripture and Tradition, as well as to the liturgical texts and the Magisterium. Its indispensable characteristic is the reference to Christ: everything in Mary derives from Christ and is directed to him.
6. Lastly, the Council offers believers several criteria for authentically living their filial relationship with Mary: "Let the faithful remember moreover that true devotion consists neither in sterile nor transitory affection, nor in a certain vain credulity, but proceeds from true faith, by which we are led to recognize the excellence of the Mother of God, and we are moved to a filial love towards our Mother and to the imitation of her virtues" (Lumen gentium LG 67).
With these words, the Council Fathers put people on guard against "vain credulity" and the predominance of sentiment. They aim above all at reaffirming authentic Marian devotion, which proceeds from faith and the loving recognition of Mary’s dignity, fosters filial affection for her and inspires the firm resolution to imitate her virtues.
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:
I offer a special word of welcome to the visitors from Trondheim, Norway, led by the Catholic Bishop, the Lutheran Bishop and the Mayor, and including the Cathedral Boys’ Choir. Dear friends, you have wished to return the visit which I made to your city eight years ago. I congratulate you and your fellow citizens on the 1,000-year celebration of Trondheim’s foundation. Thank you and God bless you!
Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from England, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, the Philippines, Canada and the United States, I invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. Down the centuries Marian devotion has enjoyed an interrupted development. In addition to the traditional liturgical feasts dedicated to the Lord’s Mother, there has been a flowering of countless expressions of piety, often approved and encouraged by the Church’s Magisterium.
Many Marian devotions and prayers are an extension of the liturgy itself and have sometimes contributed to its overall enrichment, as is the case with the Office in honour of the Blessed Virgin and other pious compositions which have become part of the Breviary.
The first known Marian invocation goes back to the third century and begins with the words: "We fly to thy patronage (Sub tuum praesidium), O holy Mother of God...". However, since the 14th century the most common prayer among Christians has been the "Hail Mary".
By repeating the first words the angel addressed to Mary, it leads the faithful to contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation. The Latin word "Ave" translates the Greek word "Chaire": it is an invitation to joy and could be translated "Rejoice". The Eastern hymn "Akathistos" repeatedly stresses this "rejoice". In the "Hail Mary" the Blessed Virgin is called "full of grace" and is thus recognized for the perfection and beauty of her soul.
The phrase "The Lord is with thee" reveals God’s special personal relationship with Mary, which fits into the great plan for his covenant with all humanity. Next, the statement "Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus" expresses the fulfilment of the divine plan in the Daughter of Zion’s virginal body.
Calling upon "Holy Mary, Mother of God", Christians ask the one who was the immaculate Mother of the Lord by a unique privilege: "Pray for us sinners", and entrust themselves to her at the present moment and at the ultimate moment of death.
2. The traditional prayer of the "Angelus" also invites Christians to meditate on the mystery of the Incarnation, urging them to take Mary as their point of reference at different times of their day in order to imitate her willlingness to fulfil the divine plan of salvation. This prayer makes us relive in a way that great event in human history, the Incarnation, to which every "Hail Mary" refers. Here we find the value and attraction of the "Angelus", expressed so many times not only by theologians and pastors but also by poets and painters.
In Marian devotion the Rosary has taken on an important role. By repeating the "Hail Mary", it leads us to contemplate the mysteries of faith. In nourishing the Christian people’s love for the Mother of God, this simple prayer also orients Marian prayer in a clearer way to its goal: the glorification of Christ.
Pope Paul VI, like his Predecessors, especially Leo XIII, Pius XII and John XXIII, held the recitation of the Rosary in great esteem and wished it to be widely spread among families. Moreover, in the Apostolic Exhortation Marialis cultus, he explained its doctrine by recalling that it is a "Gospel prayer, centred on the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation", and stressing its "clearly Christological orientation" (n. 46).
Popular piety frequently adds a litany to the Rosary. The best known is the one used at the Shrine of Loreto and is therefore called the "Litany of Loreto".
With very simple invocations it helps us concentrate on Mary's person, in order to grasp the spiritual riches which the Father's love poured out in her.
70 3. As the liturgy and Christian piety demonstrate, the Church has always held devotion to Mary in high esteem, considering it inseparably linked to belief in Christ. It is in fact based on the Father’s plan, the Saviour’s will and the Paraclete’s inspiration.
Having received salvation and grace from Christ, the Blessed Virgin is called to play an important role in humanity’s redemption. Through Marian devotion Christians acknowledge the value of Mary’s presence on their journey to salvation, having recourse to her for every kind of grace. They especially know that they can count on her motherly intercession to receive from the Lord everything necessary for growing in the divine life and for attaining eternal salvation.
As the many titles attibuted to the Blessed Virgin and the continual pilgrimages to Marian shrines attest, the trust of the faithful in Jesus’ Mother spurs them to call upon her for their daily needs.
They are certain that her maternal heart cannot remain indifferent to the material and spiritual distress of her children.
By encouraging the confidence and spontaneity of the faithful, devotion to the Mother of God thus helps to brighten their spiritual life and enables them to make progress on the demanding path of the Beatitudes.
4. Lastly, we would like to recall that devotion to Mary, by highlighting the human dimension of the Incarnation, helps us better to discern the face of a God who shares the joys and sufferings of humanity, the "God-with-us" whom she conceived as man in her most pure womb, gave birth to, cared for and followed with unspeakable love from his days in Nazareth and Bethlehem to those of the Cross and Resurrection.
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:
Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from England, Japan, Canada and the United States, I invoke God’s blessings of grace and peace.
1. After explaining the relationship between Mary and the Church, the Second Vatican Council rejoices in observing that the Blessed Virgin is also honoured by Christians who do not belong to the Catholic community: "It gives great joy and comfort to this sacred Synod that among the separated brethren too there are those who give due honour to the Mother of our Lord and Saviour ... " (Lumen gentium LG 69 cf. Redemptoris Mater RMA 29-34). In view of this fact, we can say that Mary’s universal motherhood, even if it makes the divisions among Christians seem all the sadder, represents a great sign of hope for the ecumenical journey.
Many Protestant communities, because of a particular conception of grace and ecclesiology, are opposed to Marian doctrine and devotion, maintaining that Mary’s co-operation in the work of salvation prejudices Christ’s unique mediation. In this view, devotion to Mary would compete in a way with the honour owed the Son.
2. In recent years, however, further study of the thought of the first Reformers has shed light on positions more open to Catholic doctrine. Luther’s writings, for example, show love and veneration for Mary, extolled as a model of every virtue: he upholds the sublime holiness of the Mother of God and at times affirms the privilege of the Immaculate Conception, sharing with other Reformers belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity.
The study of Luther and Calvin’s thought, as well as the analysis of some texts of Evangelical Christians, have contributed to a renewed attention by some Protestants and Anglicans to various themes of Mariological doctrine.
Some have even arrived at positions very close to those of Catholics regarding the fundamental points of Marian doctrine, such as her divine motherhood, virginity, holiness and spiritual motherhood.
The concern for stressing the presence of women in the Church encourages the effort to recognize Mary’s role in salvation history.
All these facts are so many reasons to have hope for the ecumenical journey. Catholics have a deep desire to be able to share with all their brothers and sisters in Christ the joy that comes from Mary’s presence in life according to the Spirit.
3. Among the brethren who "give due honour to the Mother of our Lord and Saviour", the Council mentions Eastern Christians, "who with devout mind and fervent impulse give honour to the Mother of God, Ever-Virgin" (Lumen gentium LG 69).
As we can see from their many expressions of devotion, veneration for Mary represents a significant element of communion between Catholics and Orthodox.
However, there remain some disagreements regarding the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, even if these truths were first expounded by certain Eastern theologians — one need only recall great writers like Gregory Palamas (†1359), Nicholas Cabasilas († after 1369) and George Scholarios († after 1472).
These disagreements, however, are perhaps more a question of formulation than of content and must never make us forget our common belief in Mary’s divine motherhood, her perpetual virginity, her perfect holiness and her maternal intercession with her Son. As the Second Vatican Council recalled, this "fervent impulse" and "devout mind" unite Catholics and Orthodox in devotion to the Mother of God.
72 4. At the end of Lumen gentium the Council invites us to entrust the unity of Christians to Mary: "The entire body of the faithful pours forth urgent supplications to the Mother of God and of men that she, who aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers, may now, exalted as she is above all the angels and saints, intercede before her Son in the fellowship of all the saints" (ibid. LG 69).
Just as Mary’s presence in the early community fostered oneness of heart, which prayer strengthened and made visible (cf. Ac 1,14), so the most intense communion with her whom Augustine called the "Mother of unity" (Sermo 192, 2; PL 38, 1013) will be able to bring Christians to the point of enjoying the long-awaited gift of ecumenical unity.
We ceaselessly pray to the Blessed Virgin so that, just as at the beginning she supported the journey of the Christian community’s oneness in prayer and the proclamation of the Gospel, so today she may obtain through her intercession reconciliation and full communion among all believers in Christ.
Mother of men, Mary knows well the needs and aspirations of humanity. The Council particularly asks her to intercede so that "all families of people, whether they are honoured with the title of Christian or whether they still do not know the Saviour, may be happily gathered together in peace and harmony into one People of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity" (Lumen gentium LG 69).
The peace, harmony and unity for which the Church and humanity hope still seem far away. Nevertheless, they are a gift of the Spirit to be constantly sought, as we learn from Mary and trust in her intercession.
5. With this petition Christians share the expectation of her who, filled with the virtue of hope, sustains the Church on her journey to the future with God.
Having personally achieved happiness because she "believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord" (Lc 1,45), the Blessed Virgin accompanies believers —and the whole Church — so that in the world, amid the joys and sufferings of this life, they may be true prophets of the hope that never disappoints.
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:
I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from England, Canada and the United States, and invoke upon all of you peace and joy in our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. The Year 2000 is now close at hand. I therefore consider it opportune to focus the Wednesday catecheses on themes which will more directly help us understand the meaning of the Jubilee, in order to live it in depth.
In the Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente, I asked all the Church’s members "to open their hearts to the promptings of the Spirit", to prepare to "celebrate the Jubilee with renewed faith and generous participation" (TMA 59). This exhortation becomes more and more urgent with the approach of that historic date. In fact the event acts as a watershed between the past two millenniums and the new phase dawning for the future of the Church and of humanity.
We must prepare for it in the light of faith. Indeed, for believers the passage from the second to the third millennium is not merely a stage in the relentless march of time, but a significant occasion to become more aware of God's plan unfolding in the history of humanity.
2. This new cycle of catecheses aims to do precisely this. For a long time we have been conducting a systematic programme of reflections on the Creed. Our last theme was Mary in the mystery of Christ and the Church. We had previously reflected on Revelation, the Trinity, Christ and his saving work, the Holy Spirit and the Church.
At this point, the profession of faith would invite us to consider the resurrection of the body and life everlasting, which concern the future of man and of history. But precisely this escatological theme coincides naturally with what has been proposed by Tertio millennio adveniente, which described a path of preparation for the Jubilee in a Trinitarian key, planning this year to focus especially on Jesus Christ and then to move on to the year of the Holy Spirit and later to that of the Father.
In the light of the Trinity the "last things" also acquire meaning, and it is possible to understand more deeply the journey of man and history towards their ultimate goal: the world’s return to God the Father, to whom Christ, the Son of God and Lord of history, leads us through the life-giving gift of the Holy Spirit.
3. This broad horizon of history in motion suggests several basic questions: What is time? What is its origin? What is its goal?
Indeed, as we look at Christ’s birth, our attention focuses on the 2,000 years of history which separate us from that event. But our gaze also turns to the millenniums that preceded it and spontaneously we look back to the origins of man and the world. Contemporary science is involved in formulating hypotheses about the beginning and development of the universe. Nevertheless, what can be grasped by scientific instruments and criteria is not everything, and both faith and reason refer, beyond verifiable and measurable data, to the perspective of mystery. This perspective is indicated in the first sentence of the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gn 1,1).
Everything was created by God. Therefore nothing existed before creation except God. He is a transcendent God, who created everything by his own omnipotence, without being constrained by any necessity, by an absolutely free and gratuitous act, dictated only by love. He is God the Trinity, who reveals himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
4. In creating the universe God created time. From him comes the beginning of time, as well as all its later unfolding.
The Bible stresses that living beings depend at every moment on divine action: "When you hide your face they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth" (Ps 104,29-30 ).
Time therefore is God's gift. Continuously created by God, it is in his hands. He guides its unfolding according to his plan. Every day is a gift of divine love for us. From this standpoint, we also welcome the date of the Great Jubilee as a gift of love.
74 5. God is Lord of time not only as creator of the world, but also as author of the new creation in Christ. He intervened to heal and renew the human condition, deeply wounded by sin. He spent much time preparing his people for the splendour of the new creation, especially through the words of the prophets: "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy" (Is 65,17-18).
His promise was fulfilled 2,000 years ago with the birth of Christ. In this light, the jubilee event is an invitation to celebrate the Christian era as a period of renewal for humanity and the universe. Despite the difficulties and sufferings, the past years have been 2,000 years of grace.
The years to come, too, are in God’s hands. The future of man is first of all God's future, in the sense that he alone knows it, prepares it and brings it about. Of course, he calls for and invites human co-operation, but he never ceases to be the transcendent "director" of history.
With this certainty we prepare for the Jubilee. Only God knows how the future will be. We know, however, that in any event it will be a future of grace; it will be the fulfilment of a divine plan of love for all humanity and for each one of us. That is why, as we look to the future, we are full of hope and are not overcome with fear. The journey to the Jubilee is a great journey of hope.
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:
Today I extend a special welcome to the staff and students of the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Switzerland, who are in Rome as part of their Graduate School programme. Dear friends, during the last few months you have had an opportunity to deepen your ecumenical commitment and responsibility. It is my hope that your visit will further enourage you to be servants of the unity for which Christ prayed on the night before he died (cf. Jn 17,21). God bless you all!
I am also pleased to greet the participants in the course organized by the NATO Defense College: may your dedicated professional efforts always be aimed at building a world of true and lasting peace.
Upon all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims I gladly invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
GENERAL AUDIENCE 1997 62