BISHOP WORLOCK of PORTSMOUTH writes an introduction to Holy Year
As the masons prepare to knock through the holy doorways into the Roman basilicas, a unique observance of the Holy Year in this country is coming to an end.
On previous occasions Ho]; Year outside Rome was almost an afterthought. It came after the year of pilgrimages to the very heart of the Church. It was a not very attractive consolation prize for those who for one reason or another had not been able to do the real thing.
It seemed almost a spiritual sop to the sick and the poor and even to those who had neither the time nor the inclination to make pilgrimage to the tombs of the apostles.
To be told that instead of visiting St Peter's in Rome you could visit your cathedral, recite certain prayers for the Sovereign Pontiffs intentions and receive a plenary indulgence, did little for the reform of the spirit. Like holidays-at-home, the idea. appealed to very few.
The year which is now closing has been very different. The Holy Year in 1974 (at home) and in 1975 (in Rome) was like many other things in the Church rethought and renewed. What was decided has turned out to be a successful way of involving more people than ever before in the genuine meaning and observance of a year of Jubilee.
Modern times and mean.: of travel have brought about great change in the character of pilgrimages. Finance permitting, they have meant that the record number of pilgrims in 1950 is likely to be surpassed in 1975.
Some hardship is an indispensable part of true pilgrimage. The footsore weariness of the past has now yielded to the uncomfortable burdens of overcrowding and traffic-jams. But it is what you do rather than how you travel that Is important.
Although the idea of pilgrimage is still central to the. Holy Year, Pope Paul has wanted to place the emphasis on attitudes and relationships rather than on places to be visited.
This Holy Year was to be thought of in terms of reconciliation and renewal rather than of saving up for a coach trip to the Eternal City via the south of France or other suitable seasonal ports of call.
The year before Rome's Holy Year was to be a time when the rest of the world sorted itself out. Nine years have passed since the end of Vatican Two. If its decrees are not implemented now, it is unlikely that they ever will be. So this Holy Year was
to be the final push to carry through the reforms and acts of renewal called for by the Church in Council.
It was to be renewal inspired by reconciliation. This would lead in turn to the fulfilment of the mandate to spread the good news of Christ.
Reconciliation, renewal and evangelisation. These words
have given a new concept to the whole idea of Holy Year. As preparatory themes for
pilgrimages to the tombs of the apostles they could not have been bettered. The Pope's choice of Evangelisation as the theme for the Synod last October was clearly related to this. To start with it was not a particularly easy idea to put across.
People's minds were too fixed on Holy Year as a trip to Rome. And this was linked with an unpopular and largely inaccurate notion of plenary indulgences.
Deciding to concentrate on the theme of reconciliation, many dioceses thought it best to begin by linking this new idea of Holy Year with their growing custom of Lenten Station Masses. This was a good and helpful move.
In the diocese of Portsmouth, travelling from one deanery to another, I was able to stress that it was not a question this time of going through a certain holy door in a Roman basilica. Rather was it the opportunity for a step forward into a new beginning.
To enter into a new life in Christ requires that we be at peace with God and with one another. This is where reconciliation comes in.
Reconciliation means that we must be at peace with our con science. So long as we retain in a corner of our heart any hostility towards thers, we
cannot truly feelarr deace with
God. His words o us are quite simple: "Love me. Love your
neighbour. And by your word and example, lead others back to my love."
The large numbers approaching the Sacrament of Penance at the time of these Lenten Station Masses and at other penitential services and indeed other Station Masses, for in many deaneries during the year all the priests have gathered at each church in the
deanery to hear confessions and concelebrate the Eucharist
this has been strong evidence of the people's response to this call to start by putting their own
There is also some evidence that many have taken very seriously the further call to help
in reclaiming the lapsed. And there have been many new initiatives to help bring the Faith to those who even now have not heard the name of Jesus Christ.
It is an interesting feature of communication that to ensure an adequate response the appeal itself has to be personal. Thus to appeal in general terms to a congregation to help in the work of reclaiming the lapsed meets with scant result.
To ask a church-full to sit in silence so that each person there can think and decide who is the one he is going to try to bring back often produces a successful commitment to a specific task.
1 remember an old lady in one of our churches waiting on after a Station Mass to thank me for making such a specific appeal to bring back the lapsed: not just to welcome them on their return.
"I was lapsed for 14 years," she told me. "There were Catholics living on either side of me. In my heart I longed for someone to come and take me back to Mass. But it didn't happen till I moved house and someone found me."
Please God, there may be many such who have been brought back during the past year.
It has been important to help people to keep the Jubilee pardon in its proper perspective: to explain to them that even when an offence is repented and forgiven, there can still remain areas of damage caused by the offence which has been forgiven. The Holy Year pardon has to be seen as the special gift which the Church, drawing on the infinite mercy of Christ, applies to wipe out these penalties and to give us a fresh start.
Obviously there is nothing automatic about it. Mere presence at a Holy Year celebration does not guarantee its reception. Its acceptance depends upon the sincerity of repentance and the wholeheartedness with which we carry out the community acts which the Church asks of us. Put in this wi,y, it has been seen as a blessed consequence of Holy Year efforts but not as the object of the Holy Year.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of this Holy Year at home has been the people's growing conviction that repentance at home must mean concern for the work of the Gospel amongst non-believers.
1 shall always he grateful that the priests and people came to realise during this year that reconciliation and renewal could not be given effect without commitment to the missionary activity of the Church in areas where the task of primary evangelisation has still to be carried out.
Just as it was necessary to be specific about the lapsed, so we have had to specify where our missionary commitment is to be carried out. So, as a result of initiatives taken with the Diocesan Pastoral Council and the Council of Priests, our first two priest-missionaries have in these last days arrived in the Cameroon.
These young priests, sent with the prayers and backing of their fellow-clergy and the people, arc now working in the diocese of Bamenda, just north of the Equator. They have gone in the name of our diocese but at the disposal of the Cameroonian bishop. They represent our commitment to the Holy Year's spirit of renewal which finds expression in the desire to spread the good news of salvation, the message of hope.
"Will it make any difference?" people asked when they heard that there was to be another Holy Year. For these two priests it certainly has. But I suspect it has also for many more besides. Holy Year 1974 has indeed been a year of grace. What can we make of 1975?