Incarnationis Mysterium
Mystery of the Incarnation

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Above all others, let the creature who reasons celebrate him always as the great King and good Father".(9)

4. May this hymn to the Trinity for the Incarnation of the Son rise with one voice from all who have been baptized and share the same faith in the Lord Jesus. May the ecumenical character of the Jubilee be a concrete sign of the journey which, especially in recent decades, the faithful of the different Churches and Ecclesial Communities have been making. It is only by listening to the Spirit that we shall be able to show forth visibly in full communion the grace of divine adoption which springs from Baptism: all of us children of the one Father. The challenging call of the Apostle rings out again for us today: "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all" (Eph 4:4-6). To use the words of Saint Irenaeus: after receiving the Word of God as rain falling from heaven we cannot allow ourselves to present to the world an image of dry earth; nor can we ever claim to be one bread if we prevent the scattered flour from becoming one through the action of the water which has been poured on us.(10)

Every Jubilee Year is like an invitation to a wedding feast. From the different Churches and Ecclesial Communities throughout the world, let us all hasten to the feast now being prepared; let us bring with us everything that already unites us and, by fixing our gaze on Christ alone, let us grow in the unity which is the fruit of the Spirit. The present task of the Bishop of Rome, as the Successor of Peter, is to make the invitation to the Jubilee celebration all the more insistent, in order that the two thousandth anniversary of the central mystery of the Christian faith may be experienced as a journey of reconciliation and a sign of true hope for all who look to Christ and to his Church, the sacrament "of intimate union with God and the unity of the entire human race".(11)

5. How many historic memories the Jubilee evokes! We can recall the year 1300 when, responding to the wish of the people of Rome, Pope Boniface VIII solemnly inaugurated the first Jubilee in history. Resuming an ancient tradition which offered "abundant remission and pardon of sins" to those who visited Saint Peter's Basilica in the Eternal City, he wished on that occasion to grant "a pardon of sins which would be not only more abundant, but complete".(12) From that time onwards, the Church has always celebrated Jubilees as significant steps on her journey towards the fulness of Christ.

History shows how enthusiastically the People of God have entered into the Holy Years, seeing them as a time when Jesus' invitation to conversion makes itself more deeply felt. In this long experience there have been abuses and misunderstandings, but the testimonies of true faith and sincere charity have been very much greater. An exemplary witness to this is Saint Philip Neri who, for the Jubilee of 1550, established the "Roman charity" as a tangible sign of welcome to pilgrims. A long story of holiness could be told on the basis of the Jubilee experience and the fruits of conversion which the grace of pardon has produced in so many believers.

6. During my Pontificate, I have had the joy of proclaiming in 1983 the Extraordinary Jubilee for the 1950 years since the Redemption of the human race. Accomplished in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, this mystery is the consummation of an event which has its beginning in the Incarnation of the Son of God. The coming Jubilee, therefore, can well be considered "Great", and the Church declares her fervent desire to embrace all believers in order to offer them the joy of reconciliation. From the whole Church there will rise the hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the Father, who in his incomparable love has granted us in Christ to be "fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" (Eph 2:19). On the occasion of this great feast, a warm invitation to share our joy goes out to the followers of other religions, as it does to those who are far from faith in God. As brothers and sisters in the one human family, may we cross together the threshold of a new millennium that will demand effort and responsibility on the part of all.

For us believers, the Jubilee Year will highlight the Redemption accomplished by Christ in his Death and Resurrection. After this Death, no one can be separated from the love of God (cf. Rm 8:21-39), except through their own fault. The grace of mercy is offered to everyone, so that all who have been reconciled may also be "saved by his life" (Rm 5:10).

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, a few hours before the inaugural celebration planned for Jerusalem and Bethlehem and the opening of the holy door in each of the other Patriarchal Basilicas of Rome. At Saint Paul's Basilica, the holy door will be opened on Tuesday, 18 January, when the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins, as a way of emphasizing the distinctive ecumenical character of this Jubilee.

I also decree that in the particular Churches the Jubilee will begin on the most holy day of the Nativity of the Lord Jesus, with a solemn Eucharistic Liturgy presided over by the diocesan Bishop in the Cathedral, as also in the Co-Cathedral where the Bishop may delegate someone else to preside at the celebration. Since the rite of the opening of the holy door is proper to the Vatican Basilica and the other Patriarchal Basilicas, it would be appropriate that the opening of the Jubilee in the individual Dioceses be done by having the station in one church and a procession from there to the Cathedral, by liturgical reverencing of the Book of the Gospels and a reading of parts of this Bull, in accordance with the directives of the "Ritual for the Celebration of the Great Jubilee in Particular Churches".

May Christmas 1999 be for everyone a feast filled with light, the prelude to an especially deep experience of grace and divine mercy, which will continue until the closing of the Jubilee Year on the day of the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 6 January 2001. Let all the faithful welcome the invitation of the angels who ceaselessly proclaim: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased" (Lk 2:14). Thus the Christmas season will be the pulsing heart of the Holy Year, bringing to the life of the Church an infusion of the copious gifts of the Spirit for a new evangelization.

7. In the course of its history, the institution of the Jubilee has been enriched by signs which attest to the faith and foster the devotion of the Christian people. Among these, the first is the notion of pilgrimage, which is linked to the situation of man who readily describes his life as a journey. From birth to death, the condition of each individual is that of the homo viator. Sacred Scripture, for its part, often attests to the special significance of setting out to go to sacred places. There was a tradition that the Israelite go on pilgrimage to the city where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, or visit the shrine at Bethel (cf. Jg 20:18), or the one at Shiloh where the prayer of Samuel's mother, Hannah, was heard (cf. 1 Sam 1:3). Willingly subjecting himself to the Law, Jesus too went with Mary and Joseph as a pilgrim to the Holy City of Jerusalem (cf. Lk 2:41). The history of the Church is the living account of an unfinished pilgrimage. To journey to the city of Saints Peter and Paul, to the Holy Land, or to the old and new shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the Saints: this is the goal of countless members of the faithful who find nourishment for their devotion in this way.

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