Initially the proposal for A Year of Grace was framed around the Bishops' Ad Limina to Rome in October 2011 and the Fiftieth Anniversary, in October 2012, of the Opening of the Second Vatican Council. Then it was suggested that it coincide with the Liturgical Year, beginning on the First Sunday of Advent 2011 and concluding on the Feast of Christ the King, 2012. However it was noted that, in Australia, with summer holidays, it is difficult to "get anything moving" over December-January, so finally the decision was taken by the Bishops that the Year of Grace would go from Pentecost 2012 to Pentecost 2013.
In October 2011 Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed a Year of Faith for the whole Church, to begin on 11 October 2012, the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. We have taken this into our planning. As Archbishop Wilson wrote, as President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference: "We are confident that, with grace leading to faith, and faith responding to grace, the Year of Faith and our Year of Grace will complement each other".
We have decided to extend the Year of Grace, so that it concludes in November 2013, with a Celebration of Holiness, as described below.
A Diocesan Coordinator has been appointed in every Diocese, Eparchy and Ordinariate in Australia. They will have a key role in adapting and developing the proposed Year of Grace to the local circumstances, and of enlisting the energies and support of the whole local Church. We see the contact between the Project Officer and the Diocesan Coordinators as being as vital to the outcome of A Year of Grace as the support of the local Bishop.
We propose to respond to the following challenge:
Our Christian communities must become genuine "schools" of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly "falls in love". (NMI 33).
Through the personal example of the Bishop, the support of Diocesan Liturgy Commissions, and the leadership of Parish Priests and their Associates, we will encourage parishioners to deepen their life of prayer.
We will seek to do this in a variety of ways, including but not limited to the following:
- inviting clergy and people to celebrate the Church's Liturgy ever more prayerfully, seeking that "full, conscious, active" participation proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council
- We will direct our greatest attention to the way we celebrate the Eucharist, in our cathedral and parish celebrations of the Lord's Day, in our weekday celebrations, and in our occasional Masses such as for funerals and weddings.
- We will encourage our people to make greater use of the Prayer of the Church, as part of parish life, and at meetings and gatherings.
- We see the importance of prayer in the home, and will develop ideas for family prayer, 'tabletop liturgies', etc.
- Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction is a way that we can deepen and extend our sense of communion with Jesus present to us in the Church, in the Word of God and in the Eucharist.
- Our clergy and religious, and many of our other fellow Catholics, have had fruitful experiences of taking "time out" to make a retreat. We will invite them to join us in offering such retreat experiences – of several days, or a weekend, or just some hours in a single day.
- Many of our parishes already have regular prayer groups of different format or traditions – meditation groups, charismatic prayer, Taizé-style prayer, circulation of a Rosary Statue, looking at the Readings of the coming Sunday, and so on. We will encourage these groups to let others know, through parish bulletins and diocesan publications, about their activities and their meeting times, inviting others to "come and see" (John 1:39).
- preparing resources such as prayer cards for use privately or at parish meetings
The Word of God
Pope John Paul II (NMI 39, 40) talks of the importance of listening to the Word and proclaiming the Word. "It is especially necessary that listening to the word of God should become a life-giving encounter". At our Plenary Conference, Bishops noted that it is in the Scriptures, and especially in the Gospels, that we meet Jesus, and a principal aim of A Year of Grace is to know Jesus, not just to know about Jesus.
We will seek to do this in a variety of ways, including but not limited to the following:
- encouraging Bishops, Priests and Deacons to delve more deeply as they break open the Word of God in their homilies
- encouraging the practice of lectio divina (see NMI 39)
- as mentioned above, prayerful reflection on the Readings of the coming Sunday
- short Scripture texts to be made available, perhaps in printed prayer cards, but also daily by email, facebook, twitter etc. These texts would be centred on Jesus – either sentences about him (e.g. "With the power of the Spirit in him, Jesus returned to Galilee. He taught in their synagogue and everyone praised him"), or the words of Jesus himself (e.g. "Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest".)
Pope John Paul II wrote in NMI of various individual celebrations that marked the Jubilee Year of 2000 and we propose some similar liturgical events.
Our Working Party has already prepared a Draft of the first of these, and presented it to the Bishops Conference. Although the Liturgy outlined below is not slated to take place until Lent (March) 2013, we started with this Liturgy for two reasons: it is the first one mentioned in NMI, and we believed it was the most challenging.
While the Liturgy in Rome in the Jubilee Year was called a Purification of Memory, we propose to call our Liturgy Bringing our Wounds to Jesus – A Celebration of Repentance. We hope to celebrate it nationally on the Fifth Sunday of Lent (17 March) 2013. We see it as a Liturgy to be celebrated centrally in the cathedral, or in several designated regional churches in larger dioceses.
It is to be preceded by a Lenten program (i.e. for Lent, 2013), in which Catholics in their own parish groups will be asked to reflect on the following questions:
- How did the coming of the Catholic Church to our area affect the Indigenous peoples of the Land on which we live?
- Has our Church been an agent of reconciliation between peoples in the past, and is it so today?
- Has there been a story in our area of sexual abuse by members of the clergy, and other Church personnel?
- If so, in addition to the harm it has done to victims and survivors (which they alone can know), what harm has it done to our whole Church?
- In the more sectarian climate of the past, what harm or damage did we do to fellow Catholics and to those who were not Catholics? Do we continue any such practices or attitudes today?
- How have we responded, individually and as a body of Christians, to the Gospel challenges of feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison?
- How have we protected and defended the weak and vulnerable among us, the children, the mentally ill, the poor?
- Do our liturgies, our institutions, our buildings, our way of life proclaim the Good News about Jesus?
We note the presence here of the issue of “sexual abuse by members of the clergy, and other Church personnel”.
We wish to state that we do not envisage this planned Liturgyas being focused solely, or principally, on the issue of sexual abuse. However, we wish to insist equally that the issue be named and admitted, as being among the worst examples of where members of our Catholic Church have sinned, and where as a Church we need to continue to seek forgiveness.
We trust that Bishops and their local Churches, in preparing this Liturgy for their own place, will be aware of their own local history, and will shape the content, form and style of the Liturgy to take account of these circumstances.
We have also done some work on the second of the Liturgies mentioned above, which we propose to call Face of Jesus, Faces we Know – A Celebration of Holiness. We propose that it be celebrated throughout the country to coincide with All Saints Day, 1 November 2013, bringing to a close both the Year of Grace and the Year of Faith.
In preparation for this Liturgy, we will ask people to reflect on questions such as the following:
- When members of various Christian churches and communities meet, what stories do they have of people who have given testimony to the faith in their area? Who are the local ‘saints’ who have worked for and witnessed to the Kingdom of God?
- Were there pioneering Christian missionaries who have left a record of their faith?
- Did St Mary of the Cross MacKillop or her Sisters live and work in our area? Do we have local stories of that witness of faith?
- We encourage local communities to think of outstanding Church ministers, but not just of them. Who were the remarkable ‘lay’ Christians whose faith and testimony live on in their area? They may have made remarkable faith-filled contributions to public life, to works of outreach, charity and mercy, to education or the arts.
In the Liturgy which Pope John Paul II led in the Colosseum during the Jubilee Year (NMI 7), each presentation consisted of a brief biographical outline of the person, and then a testimony to that person’s faith, written either by the person himself or herself, or by someone who knew the person’s story well enough to be able to testify to it. We would encourage local groups to use the same approach. We are especially conscious of the Second Vatican Council’s “universal call to holiness”, and see this Liturgy as a celebration of the way God has blessed our local churches.
We will encourage communities to shape the actual Liturgy using the basic structure as outlined above, though adapting it to the local situation.
We will provide resources to assist this work at the local level.
We see these two Liturgies as complementing the other. We need to examine our consciences, confess and seek forgiveness. And at the same time we should give thanks to God and celebrate the gifts of holiness which have been bestowed upon our local Churches.
We have not yet begun work on the other Liturgies mentioned above (celebration of young people, celebration of families, celebration of children, celebration of Religious Life, ecumenical celebration, etc.), but will do so in the coming months.
The Year of Grace logo was designed and has been distributed nationally via Diocesan Coordinators. Dioceses, parishes, schools, religious congregations, ecclesial movements, church agencies and other organisations are encouraged to use the logo on any relevant publications and websites etc to help raise awareness and participation in A Year of Grace.
The Year of Grace website and been designed primarily as a hub for information and resources about the Year of Grace. The website will be expanded over time and updated regularly to include a wide variety of ideas, reflections and resources that can be used to help individuals and communities engage with and make the most of this exciting time.
We hope to provide resources for use in the home, encouraging and supporting family prayer, ‘tabletop liturgy’, etc.
We hope, too, to provide resources for use in our Catholic schools, both in the staffroom and the classroom, inviting staff members and students to ask the pivotal question: “What’s this got to do with Jesus?” We will encourage bishops, priests and religious to engage with their school communities in this challenge.
As with the events in Rome in the Jubilee Year, we encourage local Catholic communities to engage with the other Christian churches and communities to “contemplate the face of Christ” together, in a generous spirit of ecumenical openness. As mentioned above, Archbishop Wilson, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, has written to the leaders of other Christian communities, informing them of the Year of Grace, and inviting them to join our Catholic communities in this venture in any way they wish.
There are plans to prepare a 30-minute DVD – ‘Contemplate the Face of Christ’, tracing the life of Christ through various representations of the face of Jesus – in indigenous and western art, in sculptures, painting, etc. as well as the work of children. With a quiet, meditative soundtrack, it will be suitable for use at a parish or school prayer service as well as for private devotion. We believe too that it could be projected on the exterior wall of a church or cathedral, perhaps at Christmas or during Holy Week.
We propose a national e-conference, perhaps taking place over several days or evenings. We propose building it around several themes – “Come, Lord Jesus”, “Jesus, Light of the World”, “Put out into the deep”, “You will be my witnesses”, etc.
On behalf of the Australian Catholic Bishops, and with their unanimous support in Conference, we present this summary of A Year of Grace – Starting Afresh from Christ.
We invite you to join us in what we trust will be an experience for the whole Catholic Church in Australia of contemplating the face of Christ.
+ Mark Coleridge, Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn
+ David Walker, Bishop of Broken Bay
+ Michael Putney, Bishop of Townsville
+ Timothy Costelloe sdb, Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne