Pope Benedict XVI opened the Year of Faith this morning at a Mass in St Peter’s Square attended by 14 surviving Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.
The open-air Mass, which also marks the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, was preceded by a grand procession of 400 or so bishops.
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelisation, said yesterday: “When you look at the television images of Vatican II from 50 years ago, first of all you see a big procession with all the bishops. We will repeat the same.
“It should be a moment of prayer, a moment of spirituality, and also a moment when we can take into serious consideration the teachings of Vatican II,” he said.
The papal Mass was concelebrated by bishops and theologians who, like the Pope, served as Council Fathers or experts at Vatican II.
Also present were the presidents of the bishops’ conferences from around the world, including Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster.
Archbishop Nichols told The Catholic Herald: “It will be an honour to concelebrate the papal Mass to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II ecumenical council and to celebrate the inauguration of the Year of Faith.
“The work of the Council remains our work today and our hope is that this Year of Faith and the 50th anniversary will help us to see the way in which its documents strengthen the great tradition of our faith.
“I’m also pleased to accompany Archbishop Rowan Williams, who has been invited by Pope Benedict to address the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelisation, as we explore afresh the Church’s role in society and engage in dialogue with its different voices.”
After the episcopal procession, the Sacred Scriptures were enthroned, just as they were in a ceremony before the Second Vatican Council. Archbishop Fisichella has said this is to “remind everyone that they were at the service of the Word of God, which lies at the heart of the Church’s activities”.
He said the lectern and copy of the Sacred Scriptures would be the same ones as used 50 years ago.
Archbishop Fisichella also said that during the ceremony, extracts from the Council’s four constitutions would be read out.
After the Mass, meanwhile, Benedict XVI will issue a series of “Messages to the People of God” in a re-enactment of Pope Paul VI’s conclusion of the Council. These messages will be directed to rulers, scientists, artists, women, workers and the young.
Scottish composer James MacMillan will represent the world’s artists by receiving from the Pope a copy of the Church’s “Message to Artists” composed 50 years ago.
Earlier this week Mr MacMillan said: “I am honoured and humbled to have received this invitation. I have long been aware of Pope Paul’s message to artists at the end of the Second Vatican Council. I have always found it moving. It shows that the Church does not discriminate. It was a message to all artists not just Catholic ones. In it he said: ‘If you are friends of genuine art, you are our friends.’ This reminds us that the Church’s historic mission is the same as Christ’s – to the whole of mankind.
“Art can be a window on to the mind of God. Through this window we can encounter beauty and divine truth. Artists can be peculiarly susceptible to the breath of the Holy Spirit which can then inspire their work. As a Catholic artist I have always felt overwhelmed that my Church has recognised this truth, and continues to do so. I am proud that the Holy Father has invited me to the Mass in Rome to represent my fellow artists. I am excited that the on-going dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and creative people is continuing and that I can play a part in it.”
The Year of Faith is intended to mark the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. During the ceremony today the Pope will present a special edition of the Catechism to two representatives of catechists, one of whom will be Dr Caroline Farey of the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham.
Meanwhile, in cathedrals through England and Wales bishops will mark the start of the Year with their own Masses. In some dioceses the Masses will be on Sunday instead of today.
The Year concludes on November 24 2013, the Solemnity of Christ the King.