The Irish Bishops’ Conference issued the following Pastoral Letter
on the new Millennium for Advent 1996
The New Millennium
Jubilee: Times of Grace
We are all familiar with the custom of celebrating Jubilees on the
anniversaries of weddings and ordinations. It is also customary to
celebrate the Jubilee of churches and parishes, as well as the Centenary
or the Millennium of towns and cities. For individuals and communities,
Jubilees are times of joy and thanksgiving, opportunities for renewal
and returning to ideals.
The second Millennium of the birth of Christ is an event which deserves
to be celebrated not only by Christians but by the whole of humanity in
view of the remarkable contribution Christianity has made to the world
during the past 2000 years.
The Holy Years and Jubilees, which the Church celebrates, have their
roots in the Old Testament. The people of Israel celebrated a Jubilee
Year every 50th year. The Jubilee Year was a time of favour and grace.
The earth was to be left fallow, slaves were to be liberated, debts were
to be cancelled and disputing parties reconciled.
Celebrating Our Christian Heritage
Our celebration of the millennium will look to the past and to the future.
In Ireland we will remember and celebrate fifteen and a half centuries of
Christian history. Every locality has some remains of our Christian past
from the great monastic cities of Clonmacnoise and Glendalough to the humble
Mass rocks in lonely remote places. Reclaiming and celebrating that heritage
is a challenge for young and old in every parish. More urgent is a
rediscovery of our traditional Irish spirituality with its characteristic
traits so relevant to our modern world: a keen awareness of God’s presence
in our lives; a deep respect for God’s creation; a profound reverence for
every human being.
Repenting for Our Sins
We remember with sadness that the divisions between Christians occurred
during this Millennium (we are particularly conscious of the divisions in
our country). We must all respond generously to the Pope’s call to the
whole Church for a collective examination of conscience regarding the
mistakes and sins of this Millennium, especially sins against Christian
Looking forward with Hope
As we celebrate the second Millennium of the birth of Jesus Christ we not
only lookback, we also look forward. The world in which we live and our
perception of it have changed radically in the last 2000 years. The rate
of that change continues to increase year after year. In all this change
and turmoil there is one constant: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today
and forever” (He 13:8). In the past we have often betrayed each other.
But he is with us always (Mt 28:20) and continues to call us to follow
his way of love, and demanding way of respect, justice, forgiveness,
reconciliation, unity and peace. Jesus Christ is “the light of the world”
(John 9:5) the light that comes from him can help humanity to find its
way through the third Millennium.
A Time of Preparation
In his letter about the Millennium, Pope John Paul 11 speaks of a new
Springtime of Christianity. He invites us to prepare for this new
Springtime of faith by focusing our attention on the mystery of God
during the three years (1997 – 1999). The year 1997 will be a year of
faith in which Christians will seek to renew their appreciation of baptism
and their relationship to Jesus Christ. The second year (1998) will be a
year of hope and will concentrate on the Holy Spirit and the sacrament of
confirmation. The third year (1 999) will focus on God the Father, the
virtue of love and the sacrament of reconciliation.
This three year period of preparation should be seen by every baptised
Christian and by every parish community as a God-given opportunity
for conversion and renewal. We make a special appeal to people who
feel alienated from the Church and those who have been hurt by people
representing the Church to avail of this time of grace to come home to
your Church where you will find welcome and healing. We will all be
enriched by your return.
A Church for the Third Millennium
The celebration of the Millennium will require the co-operation and
participation of us all: women and men; young and old; lay, religious
and clerical. Through the Lenten Pastoral we have been involved in
a process of listening and dialogue at deanery and parish level.
Our celebration of the Millennium offers us an opportunity to continue
this process of realising more fully the kind of Church promoted by
the Second Vatican Council and, a Church where all members have equal
dignity and value and each has a contribution to make.
The Millennium belongs to Jesus Christ
As the year 2000 approaches there will be a great outburst of excitement,
activity, events and projects to welcome the new Millennium. Most of
these will have little or nothing to do with Jesus Christ. As Christians
we must remember and insist that the Millennium belongs to Jesus Christ.
We must remind ourselves that the Millennium is a call to renew our faith
in Jesus Christ, to express our gratitude for all we have received from
him and to rededicate ourselves to working for justice, solidarity and
peace in our country and in our world.
On behalf of the Irish Bishops’ Conference
+Sean Brady, Archbishop of Armagh
+Desmond Connell, Archbishop of Dublin
+Dermot Clifford, Archbishop of Cashel and Emly
+Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam