Solemn year-end Vespers in St Peter’s
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday celebrated First Vespers for the Octave of Christmas and the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. The liturgy at the close of the year included the singing of the Te Deum and Solemn Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
In his homily during the liturgy, the Holy Father spoke about the meaning of time, noting that time is not something alien from God, Who has chosen to reveal Himself and to save us in history, in time. “The meaning of time, of temporality,” he said, “is the manifestation of the mystery God and of His concrete love for us.”
Pope Francis recalled that we are now in “the definitive time of salvation and of grace,” and that this leads us to think about the end of our own journey. We are all born, and we will all someday die. With this truth, the Church teaches us to end the year, and in fact each day, with an examination of conscience. This devout practice leads us to thank God for the blessings and graces we have received, and to ask forgiveness for our weaknesses and sins.
The fundamental reason for our thanksgiving, the Pope explained, is that God has made us His children. It is true, he said, that we are all created by God – but sin has separated us from the Father, and has wounded our filial relationship with Him. And so “God sent His Son to redeem us at the price of His Blood.” We were children, the Pope continued, but we became slaves. It is precisely the coming of Jesus in history that redeems us and rescues us from slavery, and makes us free.
As Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis took a special look at the experience of those in his own diocese. Living in Rome, he said, is a great gift, because it means living in the Eternal City, being a part of the Church founded on the testimony and martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul. This is a great gift, but it is at the same time a great responsibility.
The Holy Father noted the recently revealed cases of corruption in Rome, which he said require a serious and conscious conversion of hearts. True Christian freedom is necessary to have the courage to proclaim that “we must defend the poor, and not defend ourselves from the poor; that we must serve the weak, and not use the weak.” A society “that ignores the poor, persecutes them, makes them criminals, forces them into the mafia – such a society impoverishes itself to the point of misery, loses its freedom, and prefers the ‘garlic and onions’ of slavery, of slavery to its own selfishness, of slavery to its pusillanimity, and that society ceases to be Christian.”
Pope Francis concluded his homily by reminding everyone that this is the “final hour” and that we are living in “the fullness of time.” At the end of the year, he said, “in thanksgiving and in asking for forgiveness, we would do well to ask for the grace to be able to walk in liberty, to be able to repair the great damage done, and to be able to defend ourselves from nostalgia for slavery, to defend ourselves lest we pine after slavery.
The Vespers liturgy concluded with Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and the solemn chanting of the Te Deum, the Church’s great hymn of Thanksgiving, in gratitude for the blessings of the past year.
Following the liturgy, the Holy Father left Saint Peter’s Basilica in order to pray at the Vatican Nativity Scene in Saint Peter’s Square. Then, with the Swiss Guard marking the event with religious and secular Christmas music, Pope Francis greeted the faithful gathered in the Square, amid shouts of “Happy New Year!” and “Long live the Pope.”