Q: What role does devotion to Mary play in the Church's preparations for the Third Millennium?

A: Mary's role in the preparation for the third millennium can be called an indirect but definite presence.

The Coming Third Millennium, Pope John Paul II's 1995 letter, outlines an ambitious program of preparation to mark the two-thousandth anniversary of the Incarnation and birth of Jesus Christ. Far from triumphalism or apocalyptic expectations, this anniversary of the event to which Christianity owes its existence is a "challenge involving a special grace of the Lord for the Church and the whole of humanity."

A first challenge to the Church is one of asking forgiveness for past intolerance, and for the use of violence to advance orthodoxy. New efforts, the letter insists, must be made to heal the divisions which occurred during Christianity's second millennium. With every greater insistence, the Church prays to the Holy Spirit for the grace of Christian unity (CTM 34).

The entire millennium observance is a great "prayer of praise and thanksgiving, for the gift of the Incarnation of the Son of God and of the Redemption." In the three-year preparatory period, 1997-99, each year is dedicated to one of the persons of the Blessed Trinity, Christ (97), the Holy Spirit (98), the Father (99); to the virtues of faith (97), hope (98), and charity (99); and to the sacraments--Baptism (97), Confirmation (98), Penance (99), and the Eucharist (2000).

References to the Virgin Mary are found throughout letter (1, 2, 4, 7, 26, 27, 28, 43, 48, 54, 55, 59). The Virgin Mary illustrates the bonds which unite the Church and humanity to the Trinity, and she is the model or exemplar of faith, hope, and charity. The letter speaks of the Virgin Mary as indirectly or obliquely present to the Church throughout the celebration; her presence is always totally directed and related to the Trinity and to Christ, the main focus of the millennium.

1997 is the year of Christ, dedicated to a renewed appreciation of the Scriptures, the sacrament of Baptism, and the virtue of faith. Through the Divine Motherhood, Mary is related as none other to the mystery of Christ's Incarnation, and she is "model of faith in practice."

1998 is the year of the Holy Spirit, devoted to a renewed appreciation of the Spirit's gifts, the sacrament of Confirmation, and the virtue of hope. Christ's birth was made possible through the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. She is woman open to the voice of the Spirit, the woman of hope who, like Abraham, accepted God's will "hoping against hope" (cf. Rom. 4:18).

1999 is the year of the Father who is the source of all creation and of the Church. Here there is an acknowledgement that both God's plan of creation and the witness of the Church has been clouded by sin (sacrament of Penance). The Virgin Mary was chosen by the Father for the "unique mission" of being the Mother of the long-awaited Savior. Her motherhood is felt as a loving and urgent invitation to have reverence for creation and to bring all peoples into God's family.

2000 is the Great Jubilee. In the Hebrew Scriptures, every fiftieth year was a "jubilee," a time when slaves were freed, debts remitted, equality restored. This was the "year of God's favor" announced by the prophet Isaiah and fulfilled by the coming of Jesus. Since the year 1300, the Church has continued the tradition of jubilee years by declaring Holy Years to mark the beginning of a new century, and later, the divisions within the century.

In preparation for the Great Jubilee, there will be special synods of bishops, ecumenical meetings, and papal journeys. But the main celebrations of the Great Jubilee will all be within the context of the liturgical year. The Holy Year will begin on November 28, 1999, the First Sunday of Advent and will conclude on November 26, 2000, the Solemnity of Christ the King. With the opening of the Holy Door of the Jubilee of the Year 2000 at the Christmas Mass of 1999, the Church crosses the threshold into the new millennium (CTM 33). Friday, December 31, 1999, will be day of prayer of praise and thanksgiving for Incarnation, and Saturday, January 1, 2000, will be the commemoration of Mary's Divine Motherhood and the World Day of Prayer for Peace.

The themes of the preparatory period and the Jubilee itself are illustrated within the liturgy. Every Eucharist begins and ends with the Trinity: "The grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit." The Eucharistic Prayer proclaims that all comes from the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit.

The Virgin Mary's relation to the Trinity is illustrated in various Marian feasts, liturgical seasons, and commemorations. The Advent and Christmas season and the Solemnity of the Mother of God on January 1 are a "prolonged celebration of the divine, virginal and salvific motherhood." In the liturgy, the Church sees Mary as the "exemplar" and model of faith, hope, and charity.

The Incarnation of the Son of God, rather than the birth of Christ, is the focus of the Jubilee. March 25 was once known as the Incarnation of Christ; it is now the Annunciation of the Lord, but a "joint feast of Christ and the Blessed Virgin." (MC 6) The Annunciation liturgy celebrates the "the Blessed Virgin's free consent and cooperation in the plan of redemption." (MC 6) Mary's reply to the Angel made possible the Incarnation. "Never in human history did so much depend, as it did then, upon the consent of one human creature." (CTM 1)

The Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary illustrates the bonds relating the Virgin Mary to the Trinity. Mary gave birth to the "son of the eternal Father," (2). Through her relation to Christ, she is "mother of God" (Dei Genetrix, Deipara, 2,4,30), "mother of the savior" (1), "mother of the Lord," "mother and associate of the redeemer" (20, 33), and "the most splendid fruit of redemption." (37)

At the Annunciation, Mary received "the angel's message in faith and conceived by the power of the Spirit" (2), and she was formed by the Holy Spirit "to be a new creation" (3). Attentive to the voice of the Spirit (20), her heart was the "home of the Eternal Word, the sanctuary of the Spirit." (28)

Evangelization is integral to the Great Jubilee. It is Mary who is the first evangelizer. "The first disciple of her Son, she receives the message of the Gospel, treasures it in her heart, and reflects on it in her mind" (17). Her example encourages "new preachers of the Gospel, cherishes them with a mother's love, and sustains them by her unceasing prayer, so that they may bring the good News of Christ the Savior to all the world." (18). At Mary's Visitation, we pray that we "may bring Christ to others and proclaim God's greatness by the praise of our lips and the holiness of our lives." (3)

After affirming Mary's presence to the Church throughout the Great Jubilee and its preparatory period, the Pope entrusted "to the maternal intercession of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer" the entire Jubilee and its preparatory period. "She, the Mother of Fairest Love, will be for Christians on the way to the Great Jubilee of the third Millennium the Star which safely guides their steps to the Lord. May the unassuming Young Woman of Nazareth, who two thousand years ago offered to the world the Incarnate Word, lead the men and women of the new millennium towards the One who is "the true light that enlightens every man." (Jn. 1:9)(CTM 59)

Bibliography:

I. M. Calabuig. "Il Calendario delle Celebrazioni alla luce della Tertio Millennio Adveniente," Rivista Liturgica, 1996, no. 2 (marzo-aprile), 175-194.
A. Rum. "Maria nella Lettera Apostolica Tertio millennio adveniente. Reflessione teologica e spunti operativi." Theotokos, IV, 1996/2, 599-614.


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