Pope Francis rang in the new year and gave thanks for 2023 at a special New Year’s Eve Vatican liturgy, underscoring that faith allows Christians “to live this hour differently than a worldly mentality.”
“Faith in Jesus Christ, God incarnate, born of the Virgin Mary, gives a new way of feeling time that is life,” the pope said during his homily at the Dec. 31 liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica, summing up this unique perspective with the words “gratitude and hope.”
The pope offered his reflection while presiding at the annual celebration of “first vespers,” or evening prayer, for the vigil of the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the first liturgical day of the new calendar year. The liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica also included the singing of “Te Deum Laudaumus,” a hymn of thanksgiving sung on New Year’s Eve in gratitude for the past year.
The pope contrasted Christian gratitude and hope with worldly versions of these virtues that are only “apparent” and lack a deeper connection with God and all of humanity. “They are focused on the ego, on its interests, and so they are short of breath, they cannot go beyond satisfaction and optimism,” the pope said.
In contrast, Francis said that the Christian perspective is characterized by “praise, amazement, and gratitude,” grounded in the mystery of the Incarnation expressed in an antiphon in the evening’s liturgy: “O marvelous exchange! Man’s Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share our humanity.”
The pope said that the Church learns true Christian gratitude and hope best from the Virgin Mary, as she contemplated the newborn Savior. “The hope of Mary and the Church is not optimism, it is something else: It is faith in God, faithful to his promises,” Pope Francis said. “This faith takes the form of hope in the dimension of time, we could say, ‘on the way.’ The Christian, like Mary, is a pilgrim of hope.”
The evening liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica was attended by 6,500, according to Vatican authorities. It included chanted psalms, sung hymns, and readings from sacred Scripture. During his homily, Pope Francis also urged those gathered to look ahead to 2024 — in particular, to preparations for the 2025 Jubilee Year that will take place in Rome over the coming year. The theme of the jubilee year is “Pilgrims of Hope.”
“Are we working, each in our own area, so that this city is a sign of hope for those who live here and for those who visit it?” the pope asked those in attendance. He underscored the importance of offering a “good welcome” to visitors who will come to St. Peter’s Basilica, and also accommodations for the elderly and disabled in the historic center of Rome.
“A more livable city for its citizens is also more welcoming to all,” Pope Francis said.
The pope ended his homily by urging Christians to go to the school of Mary. “Could we have a better teacher [of prayer] than our Holy Mother?” Pope Francis said. “Let’s learn from her to live every day, every moment, every occupation with an interior gaze turned to Jesus.”
By Jonathan Liedl