On Christmas Eve, 1999, John Paul II will slowly climb up the steps leading to the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica. He will bang the door-knocker with his hand (without using the hammer as on other occasions) and then open both sides of the door. At this moment, the Vatican Basilica will be ablaze with light, and the Holy Father will kneel in silent prayer on the Door's threshold for a few moments.
This gesture is symbolic, the Bishop explained, "of the step that every Christian must take from sin to grace... The Pope will be the first to cross the Holy Door with this spirit on Christmas Eve. After crossing the threshold, he will show the Holy Gospel to the Church and the world, as the source of life and hope for the third millennium."
Bishop Marini reflected on the importance this gesture has for the Pope. John Paul II who "began his pontificate with the cry 'open the doors wide to Christ' and who has written 'Crossing the Threshold of Hope' will cross the threshold of the Great Jubilee that celebrates with joy the two thousand years since Jesus Christ's birth."
The Master of Pontifical Liturgical celebrations gave examples of some of the most expressive moments of the rite, such as the procession of Cardinals, Bishops, heads of State, members of the Diplomatic Corps, and ordinary people from around the world, which will leave the historic Constantine Passage at 11 p.m. to go to the Holy Door. The whole ceremony will be laced with expressions and languages from all countries and cultures. After the procession for example, African horns will be heard as a sign of rejoicing. Once the Holy Father opens the Door, it will be adorned with perfumes and flowers from Asia and Oceania.
Bishop Marini said that some 55,000 people have requested participation in the opening ceremony of the Holy Door, but St. Peter's Basilica can only accommodate 7,000 adequately. Therefore, giant screens and chairs will be placed in St. Peter's Square, so that all pilgrims can follow the event. Faithful throughout the world will be able to follow the ceremony live thanks to the request for transmission by an unprecedented number of television channels. ZE99121408
According to a press statement of the Vatican Committee for the Preparation of the Jubilee, the Holy Year's "Evening Prayer" will last a half hour and will begin with a reading from the Gospel, followed by singing of the Creed and prayer for the Pope. It will end with singing of the Our Father and the apostolic blessing imparted by a bishop on behalf of John Paul II.
The Jubilee Committee clarified that there have been misunderstandings regarding the Evening Prayer. Some have erroneously spread the news that the Pope will appear at his window every evening to bless the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square. This is not, in fact, in the plans. However, it would not be surprising if John Paul II decided to join the pilgrims in Evening Prayer from time to time during the Jubilee Year.
During the winter, the prayer will begin at 7 p.m., and in summer at 7:30 p.m. It will be held every day with the exception of those days when a Jubilee celebration of general interest is scheduled.
Also it was announced that among the services the Vatican is offering pilgrims during the Holy Year 2000 will be a new "Pilgrim's Newspaper." Angelo Scelzo, coordinator of publications of the Committee of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, presented the first issue this morning.
The publication is in seven languages: Italian, English, French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Polish. A million copies of every issue will be published and distributed free of charge.
The Pilgrim's Newspaper can be found in various kiosks, information booths, and visitors' centers in Rome. ZE99121501 and ZE99121410
When Dionysius Exiguus computed the date of Christ's birth in the Middle Ages, he named the year of the Nativity 1 A.D., and stated that Jesus' birthdate was December 25 of that year. The year immediately before this was the year 1 B.C. Whether from mathematical ignorance or design, he did not include a year zero.
This complicates the calculation of the dates of the Jubilee. Christmas of the year 2 A.D. was the 1st anniversary of Christ's birth, according to Dionysius' calculations; similarly, the second anniversary of that birth fell in the year 3 A.D. Taking this forward a few centuries, we find that the 2000th anniversary of Christ's birth should fall on December 25, 2001.
To complicate matters further, it seems that Dionysius' made an error in his calculations. Herod the Great, who the Bible says was alive at the time of Christ's birth, died in the year 4 B.C., based on the reports of Josephus. According to the Gospel of Matthew, when Herod was unable to trick the astrologers into leading him to the Child, he ordered the slaughter of all the male babies in Bethlehem. Since Herod's command (which is not attested outside the Gospels, but is consistent with his historical character) was to kill all babies under age 2, this event occurred no more than 2 years after Christ's birth. If we assume that this happened near the end of Herod's life (which seems likely), this puts Christ's birth in the year 5 or 6 B.C.
In that case, the 2000th anniversary of Christ's birth has already gone by, having been in 1993 or 1994. Naturally at the distance of years, it is practically impossibile to say with certainty what year Christ was actually born, though sometime between 7 B.C. and 1 B.C. seems all but certain.
If this is the case, why is the Church celebrating the year 2000 with such solemnity? The answer is simple: because the world is celebrating this date. In his Apostolic Letter "Tertio Millennio Adveniente," the Holy Father wrote, "In view of this, the two thousand years which have passed since the Birth of Christ (prescinding from the question of its precise chronology) represent an extraordinarily great Jubilee, not only for Christians but indirectly for the whole of humanity, given the prominent role played by Christianity during these two millennia. It is significant that the calculation of the passing years begins almost everywhere with the year of Christ's coming into the world, which is thus the centre of the calendar most widely used today. Is this not another sign of the unparalleled effect of the Birth of Jesus of Nazareth on the history of mankind?"
For the Pope, the year 2000 is a sign of the centrality of Christianity in our society, hence it is cause for celebration and Jubilee. ZE99121521
The 85-foot tree has been placed at the center of the square, near the obelisk, where it will stand beside the Vatican's large creche.
This year, the tree is a gift from the Czech Republic. It arrived in Rome by train, along with 30 other smaller trees, cut from the forest near Moravka and presented to the Vatican. The other trees will decorate the Paul VI auditorium, the papal apartment, and the offices of the Roman Curia. Each of the trees has been decorated with dried flowers, ornaments fashioned from straw, and other adornments made in the Czech region of Ostrava-Opava.
Czech President Vaclav Havel is due to visit Rome on December 18, for the official blessing and lighting of the Christmas tree. Cardinal Miloslav Vlk of Prague will also be on hand, along with Czech groups who will perform traditional folk music.
Meanwhile, the mayor of Bethlehem said on Tuesday that city of Jesus' birth was ready for an expected flood of visitors coming to celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of His birth.
Mayor Hanna Nasser said more than 50,000 visitors were expected on Christmas Day and 2.5 million over the next year, almost double the average in recent years. Bethlehem underwent a major facelift this year, including Manger Square adjacent to the Church of the Nativity being converted from a parking lot to a walking plaza. The city received $86 million, including a $25 million loan from the World Bank, for its renovation project.
Palestinian Authority officials said that they had made special security precautions for Christmas Eve. Nabil Qassis, in charge of "Bethlehem 2000," the city's renovation and celebration program for the millennium, said security would be adequate, but would give no details.