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THIS LITURGY which concludes the Year of Grace and Faith is to be celebrated on 1 November in local faith communities across Australia to:

  • affirm the ‘holiness of all’ who through our baptism are called to be saints for ‘it is Christ in you, the hope for glory’ (Ephesians 1:27)
  • tell the stories of some local ‘saints’ both past and present, whose lives of holiness have contributed to the witness of faith in this place
  • recognise and celebrate the ‘graces’ given to the local Church through the witness of members of our local parishes, dioceses, congregations.


ONE OF THE MOST important documents of the Second Vatican Council was its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium – herein referred to as LG). Chapter V talks of the ‘Universal Call to Holiness’. As Australia’s Catholic Bishops prepared to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of Vatican II, they decided to initiate a ‘Year of Grace’.

The Bishops took, as their template, the Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the Start of the New Millennium – NMI).

In this letter, the Pope called on Catholics everywhere to ‘start afresh from Christ’, and to ‘contemplate the face of Christ’. He also reflected on various events and liturgical celebrations that had taken place in Rome during 2000, the Year of Great Jubilee.

One of these liturgies was titled ‘Ecumenical Commemoration of Witnesses to the Faith in the 20th Century’, and was held in the Colosseum in Rome on Sunday evening, 7 May 2000.

Bishop Piero Marini , the Pope’s Master of Ceremonies, explained that ‘the Ecumenical Commemoration of Witnesses to the Faith in the Twentieth Century is meant to be an act of praise to God who is exalted in his saints, a dutiful remembrance of our brothers and sisters who maintained fidelity to their faith in Christ the Lord of history, and an example for all Christians who are called in our day to bear faithful witness to the Gospel before the world’.

The Australian Bishops have decided to do something similar, in a liturgy to be called Face of Jesus, Faces we Know – A Celebration of Holiness. It is to 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 ask people to reflect on questions such as the following:

  • When members of various Christian churches and communities meet, what stories do they tell of people who have given testimony to the faith in their area? Who are the local ‘saints’ who have worked for, and are still witnessing 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?
  • How do these stories call or challenge me to try to live a life of holiness today?

We encourage local communities to think of outstanding Church ministers and religious, 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 in public life, in works of outreach, charity and mercy, in 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 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 encourage communities to shape the actual Liturgy using the basic structure as outlined above, though adapting it to the local situation.

Where to start?

WE ENCOURAGE the Coordinators and the Diocesan Teams to do some preparatory reading. This will help all get the ‘feel’ for what happened in Rome during the Year of Great Jubilee. Five things, in summary:

1] Lumen Gentium is the obvious starting point. Here we read: ‘All are called to this union with Christ, who is the light of the world, from whom we go forth, through whom we live, and toward whom our whole life strains’ (LG 3). The central passage from Lumen Gentium is the whole of Chapter V, ‘The Universal Call to Holiness in the Church’. For the whole of Lumen Gentium, see: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html

2] Bishop Marini, the Pope’s Master of Ceremonies quoted above, wrote about the Colosseum Liturgy beforehand, outlining the thinking behind it and the way it would unfold. In eight pages, this is an excellent background to the Liturgy. See: http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/documents/ns_lit_doc_20000507_testimoni-fede_en.html

3] At midday on the day of the Celebration in the Colosseum, Pope John Paul II spoke of it during his short Regina Coeli address to the people in St Peter’s Square. In just a page, the address gives a sense of the Pope’s reasons for the Liturgy. See: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/angelus/2000/documents/hf_jp-ii_reg_20000507_en.html

4] Then there is the Pope’s homily during the Liturgy. The homily is about three pages long. See: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/homilies/2000/documents/hf_jp-ii_hom_20000507_test-fede_en.html

5] And finally, there is the Pope’s reflection on the occasion when he wrote about it the following year, in NMI – two paragraphs quoted below:

Witnesses to the faith

7. This lively sense of repentance, however, has not prevented us from giving glory to the Lord for what he has done in every century, and in particular during the century which we have just left behind, by granting his Church a great host of saints and martyrs. For some of them the Jubilee year has been the year of their beatification or canonization. Holiness, whether ascribed to Popes well-known to history or to humble lay and religious figures, from one continent to another of the globe, has emerged more clearly as the dimension which expresses best the mystery of the Church. Holiness, a message that convinces without the need for words, is the living reflection of the face of Christ.

On the occasion of the Holy Year much has also been done to gather together the precious memories of the witnesses to the faith in the twentieth century. Together with the representatives of the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, we commemorated them on 7 May 2000 in the evocative setting of the Colosseum, the symbol of the ancient persecutions. This is a heritage which must not be lost; we should always be thankful for it and we should renew our resolve to imitate it.

For the full text of NMI, see: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_20010106_novo-millennio-ineunte_en.html

All five of these extracts can be accessed together, in one document, at the Year of Grace website: [http://www.yearofgrace.catholic.org.au/index.php/useful-links]

Some Initial Observations

WHILE THE AUSTRALIAN BISHOPS took their inspiration from the liturgy in the Colosseum, there are several aspects of our Australian Liturgy that will be different.

Most obviously, the Bishops from the ‘Working Party’ for the Year of Grace decided, after a lot of discussion, that they would not envisage this as an ecumenical service. So the principal focus would be on the graces that God has given the local Churches through the members of our Catholic parishes, dioceses, congregations etc. This will not of course preclude recognition of other remarkable Christians if people thought that was appropriate locally (For example, Rev John Flynn, who inaugurated the Flying Doctor Service, is likely to be mentioned in inland Australia).

The Pope’s focus was people who had lived, witnessed and died in the twentieth century. Ours will include the whole story of Catholics, since their arrival in Australia at the end of the eighteenth century.

And the Liturgy in the Colosseum focused on those who had died as martyrs. We have few if any stories of martyrdom to recount, although there are Catholics in Australia who have witnessed, and fled from, persecution in their native lands, and whose relatives in their countries of birth, in some cases, still suffer persecution. Many of these immigrant members of our Church will have stories to tell, of God’s gifts of holiness.

So, Coordinators and your Teams …

CAN YOU READ AND REFLECT ON the written material referred to above.

Can you begin, among yourselves, to reflect on the questions listed above (plus an additional one at the end):

  • 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 who still witness 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?
  • How do we keep alive, and share, these stories?
  • How do these stories call and challenge us to holiness?

Some practical things to think about at the local level

  • Does our diocese or parish or religious community have a published history? If so, it will be fruitful to spend time with this.
  • Might this Liturgy even prompt our community to undertake such a history?
  • Have any general histories of our town been published? Or memoirs of long-term residents? Do any of these tell positive stories of members of our parishes and congregations?
  • Might we plan an historical exhibition to coincide with the Liturgy – old photos, utensils, vestments, …?
  • This could be done in association with the local museum and/or historical society.
  • It can be very valuable to link all this work with the parish school, which will have its own history and stories to tell.
  • Encourage the children to talk to their grandparents, or elderly members of the parish community, about ‘the old days’. Were there special events and, in particular, special people that these older people remember?
  • One diocese is putting together its own ‘Litany of the Saints’, combining the names of the patron of the diocese; of each parish, church and school in the diocese; of other agencies (hospitals, retirement villages etc.); and the founders of the various religious orders who have ministered in the diocese over the years. Is this something that could be worth doing in your area?

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