Tertio Millennio Adveniente

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Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter, As the Third Millennium Draws Near, dated Nov. 10, 1994 outlines in great detail preparations to celebrate the Year of Jubilee at the beginning of the third millennium. The first of the five parts focuses on the person of Jesus Christ and explains the significance of the incarnation for salvation and redemption. Through the mediation of Christ, the Father sends the Holy Spirit, who enables humans to share the inmost life of God.

Part two situates the Year of jubilee in the history of salvation, recalling its origins and observance in the Old Testament, which included the emancipation of slaves, restoration of ancestral property, and the cancellation of debts. The foundations of this tradition were grounded in the theology of creation and divine providence, which holds that "the riches of creation were to be considered as a common good of the whole of humanity." Individuals who possessed goods as personal property "were really only stewards, ministers charged with working in the name of God." The jubilee year, meant to restore social justice, is a basis of the Church's social teaching that was reclaimed in the encyclical rerum novarum. A second important aspect of "this year of the

Lord's favor" (Isaiah's description), is that it is a time "of remission of sins and of the punishments due them, a year of reconciliation between disputing parties, a year of manifold conversions and of sacramental and extrasacramental penance." In human terms, jubilees mark anniversaries in the lives of individuals and institutions, and the extraordinary jubilee that marks 2,000 years since the birth of Christ is significant "not only for Christians but indirectly for the whole of humanity, given the prominent role played by Christianity during these two [past] millennia." Jubilee speaks not merely of an inner joy but a jubilation that is manifested outwardly "for the coming of God is also an outward, visible, audible and tangible event."

Part three interprets many events of the past century, notably "the providential event" of the Second Vatican Council, as steps in the preparation for the celebration of the year of jubilee. The council drew much from the experiences of the immediate past, "especially from the intellectual legacy left by Pius XII," and the efforts of other popes. During the council, the Church examined its own identity, reaffirmed the universal call to holiness, made provision for the reform of the liturgy, gave impetus to renewal of church life at every level, and promoted the variety of Christian vocations from laity and religious to deacons, priests, and bishops. "No council had ever spoken so clearly about Christian unity, about dialogue with non-Christian religions, about the specific meaning of the old covenant and of Israel, about the dignity of each person's conscience, about the principle of religious liberty, about the different cultural traditions within which the Church carries out her missionary mandate and about the means of social communication." The apostolic letter continues, "the best preparation for the new millennium" and, therefore, is a renewed commitment to the teachings and spirit of Vatican II. The series of synods, general and regional, national and diocesan, begun after the council have contributed to the preparation for the Year of Jubilee by promoting "evangelization, or rather the new evangelization." The popes of the past century, each in his own way, prepared for the new millennium by his efforts "to promote and defend the basic values of peace and justice in the face of contrary tendencies of our time."

John Paul II states that the theme of the Great Jubilee as "a new Advent" is "as it were a hermeneutical key to my pontificate." It is the key to understanding the importance he gives to his travels throughout the world, to visits with world leaders, and to his conversations with leaders of other churches. The Great Jubilee of the year 2000 builds on other jubilee years celebrated in the past century, notably the Marian Year and the Year of the Family.

The first three parts are prologue. The fourth and longest part of Tertio millennio adveniente outlines "a specific program of initiatives for the immediate preparation of the Great Jubilee," the product of consultation with the College of Cardinals and proposals made by presidents of episcopal conferences. Initiatives during the first phase of the immediate preparation (199496) would be designed to raise the consciousness of the faithful as to the significance of the year of jubilee and the need for repentance, conversion, and renewal. "The holy door of the Jubilee Year 2000 should be symbolically wider because humanity, upon reaching this goal, will leave behind not just a century but a millennium." The Church cannot cross the threshold into a new millennium without encouraging her children to purify themselves, acknowledging their past errors, infidelities, and weaknesses. Among the sins that require repentance are those that have contributed to wound church unity in the past 1,000 years. The Great Jubilee demands fitting ecumenical initiatives so we can celebrate it, "if not completely united, at least much closer to overcoming the divisions of the second millennium." Another "painful chapter" that the Church must review in a spirit of repentance "is the acquiescence given, especially in certain centuries, to intolerance and even the use of violence in the service of truth." Above all, we must examine our conscience regarding the evils of the present day: religious indifference, confusion in the ethical sphere "even about the fundamental values of respect for life and the family," erroneous theological views, and the crisis of obedience vis-à-vis the Church's magisterium. Must not Christians ask themselves about their acquiescence concerning the violation of human rights by totalitarian regimes? The examination of conscience must also consider the reception given to Vatican II. The witness of martyrs in our own century cannot be forgotten. In preparation for the year 2000, the Apostolic See would undertake to update the martyrologies for the universal Church. "In particular, there is a need to foster the recognition of the heroic virtues of men and women who have lived their Christian vocation in marriage" to encourage other Christian spouses. The cardinals and bishops emphasized the need for more regional synods in America, Oceania, and Asia, to address local problems of evangelization and other challenges.

The second phase in the preparations would take place over a span of three years (199799), each with its own focus and particular themes. The theme of year one is distinctly Christological, with a focus on "Jesus Christ, the one savior of the world, yesterday, today and forever." It emphasizes baptism, the gift of faith, personal renewal, and solidarity with one's neighbor, especially the most needy. The theme of year two focuses on the Holy Spirit, the principle of God's self-communication in the order of grace, who makes present in the Church and in the soul of each individual the unique revelation of Christ. It calls for a renewed appreciation of the Sacraments, in particular Confirmation, the variety of charisms and ministries, and the new evangelization. In view of the eschatological perspective of the kingdom of god at the end of time, this year should be a time of revitalizing the theological virtue of hope. The final stage of preparation aims at broadening horizons so that believers will see things in the perspective of Christ's revelation of the Father in heaven. Because God is Father of all, year three is a time for special emphasis on interreligious dialogue, preeminently with Jews and Muslims. The third year of preparation highlights charity, recalling its twofold aspect, love of God and love of neighbor, as summing up the moral life of the believer. In each of the three years, different aspects of Mary's role in the story of salvation receive special attention.

The actual celebration of the Great Jubilee, the focus of the three years of preparation, is a separate phase. It will take place in the Holy Land, in Rome, and the local churches throughout the world. Its aim will be "to give glory to the Trinity, from whom everything in the world and in history comes and to whom everything returns." The celebration will be "intensely Eucharistic," culminating the International Eucharistic Congress in Rome. "The ecumenical and universal character of the sacred jubilee can be fittingly reflected in a meeting of all Christians," but it must be carefully prepared in collaboration with Christians of other traditions and "a grateful openness to those religions whose representatives might wish to acknowledge the joy shared by all the disciples of Christ."

Part five concludes the apostolic letter with a reaffirmation, citing Vatican II and Pope John Paul II's own encyclicals, of the Church's missionary character. "Indeed, missionary outreach is part of her very nature." It also says, "the future of the world and the Church belongs to the younger generation" who will reach maturity in the coming century. Beneath the changes in human history the Church maintains there are also many unchanging realities that "have their ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday and today and forever."

Bibliography: For the text of Tertio millennio adveniente, see Acta Apostolicae Sedis 82 (1995) 541 (Latin); Origins 24, no. 24 (Nov. 24, 1994): 401416 (English); The Pope Speaks 40 (1995) 85113 (English).

[b. l. marthaler]