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Pope John Paul II: Day Of Pardon Service




Vatican Basilica, 12 March 2000

I. The meaning of the celebration

1. On 12 March 2000, the First Sunday of Lent, the Holy Father will celebrate the Eucharist with the Cardinals and will ask forgiveness from the Lord for the sins, past and present, of the sons and daughters of the Church.

The celebration of the Day of Pardon was expressly desired by the Holy Father as a powerful sign in this Jubilee Year, which is by its very nature a moment of conversion.

"As the Successor of Peter, I ask that in this year of mercy the Church, strong in the holiness which she receives from her Lord, should kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters. All have sinned and none can claim righteousness before God (cf. 1 Kgs 8:46)... Christians are invited to acknowledge, before God and before those offended by their actions, the faults which they have committed. Let them do so without seeking anything in return, but strengthened only by the 'love of God which has been poured finto our hearts' (Rom 5:5)" (Incarnationis Mysterium, 11; cf. Terno Millennio Adveniente, 33).

2. Consequently, the Church, in a Eucharistic celebration at the beginning of her Lenten journey, and thus in an act of thanksgiving to the Lord, confesses, proclaims and glorifies God's work within her during the past two thousand years of Christianity. The Lord has been living and present in his Church, and through the Saints he has demonstrated that he continues to be at work in human history, in the midst of his community. Certainly, Christians, as pilgrims and wayfarers towards the Kingdom, remain sinners, frail, weak and subject to the temptations of Satan, the Prince of this world, despite their incorporation into the Body of Christ. In every generation the holiness of the Church has shone forth, witnessed by countless numbers of her sons and daughters; yet this holiness has been contradicted by the continuing presence of sin which burdens the journey of God's People. The Church can sing both the Magnificat for what God has accomplished within her and the Miserere for the sins of Christians, for which she stands in need of purification, penance and renewal (cf. Lumen Gentium, 8).

3. "The Church cannot cross the threshold of the new millennium without encouraging her children to purify themselves through repentance of past errors and instances of infidelity, inconsistency and slowness to act" (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 33). Consequently, a liturgy seeking pardon from God for the sins committed by Christians down the centuries is not only legitimate; it is also the most fitting means of expressing repentance and gaining purification.

Pope John Paul II, in a primatial act, confesses the sins of Christians over the centuries down to our own time, conscious that the Church is a unique subject in history, "a single mystical person". The Church is a communion of saints, but a solidarity in sin also exists among all the members of the People of God: the bearers of the Petrine ministry, Bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful.

4. This liturgy, by recalling the sins committed, concretizes the request for forgiveness and opens the way to a commitment made not only before God but also before men; it inaugurates a journey of conversion and change vis-à-vis the past.

Confessing our sins and the sins of those before us is a fitting act on the part of the Church, which has always felt bound to acknowledge the failures of her children and to confront the truth about sins committed.

Like the People of God in the Old Testament, who confessed the sin of the golden calf and perpetuated its memory, and the early Church in the New Testament, which recorded and recalled Peter's denial without denying or diminishing it, so the Church today, through the Successor of Peter, names, declares and confesses the errors of Christians in every age.

5. The reference to errors and sins in a liturgy must be frank and capable of specifying guilt; yet given the number of sins committed in the course of twenty centuries, it must necessarily be rather summary. It is also appropriate that it should take into account the admissions of sin already made both by Pope Paul VI and by Pope John Paul II himself on numerous occasions in the course of his Pontificate.

These include:

a) Confession of sins in general (cf. PAUL VI, 4 January 1964 at Calvary in Jerusalem).

b) Confession of sins committed in the service of truth (cf. JOHN PAUL II, Pro Memoria for the Consistory of 13 June 1994, 7; "Tertio MillennioAdveniente", 35).

c) Confession of sins which have harmed the unity of the body of Christ (cf. JOHN PAUL II, "Tertio Millennio Adveniente", 34; "Ut Unum Sint", 34 and 82; Paderborn, 22 June 1996).

d) Confession of sins against the people of Israel (cf. JOHN PAUL II, Mainz, 17 November 1980; Vatican Basilica, 7 December 1991; Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, "We Remember'', 16 March 1998, No. 4).

e) Confession of sins committed in actions against love, peace, the rights of peoples, and respect for cultures and religions (cf. JOHN PAUL II, Assisi, 27 October 1986; Santo Domingo, 13 October 1992; General Audience, 21 October 1992).

f ) Confession of sins against the dignity of women and the unity of the human race (cf. JOHN PAUL II, Angelus Message, 10 June 1995; Letter to Women, 29 June 1995).

g) Confession of sins in relation to the fundamental rights of the person (cf. JOHN PAUL II, Yaoundé, 13 August 1985; General Audience, 3 June 1992).

One thing must be forcibly stated: the confession of sins made by the Pope is addressed to God, who alone can forgive sins, but it is also made before men, from whom the responsibilities of Christians cannot be hidden.

6. This confession does not entail a judgment on those who have gone before us: judgment belongs to God alone and will be declared on the last day. Christians today do not believe that they are "better than their fathers" (cf. l Kg 19:4), but they do wish to state what have been, in the light of the Gospel and the Spirit of Christ, objective historical errors in ways of acting. Consequently the confession clearly points to certain historical failings, but the parties responsible are neither judged nor named. The confession takes place within the context of the solidarity of sinners: the baptized of the present are conscious of their link to the baptized of the past. Judgment is not passed on Christians of earlier times, nor are extenuating circumstances overlooked, but regret is expressed and the evil done is confessed as we take upon ourselves the failings of those who have preceded us.

7. By placing the highpoint of the confession of sins within the context of the liturgy, Pope John Paul II wishes to demonstrate that this act has its own inner meaning and aims at the purification of memory and at reconciliation between Christians and between the Church and humanity.

Confessing the historical sins of Christians is not however aimed solely at the purification of memory: it is also meant to be an occasion for a change of mentality and certain attitudes in the Church, as well as the source of a new teaching for the future, in the consciousness that the sins of the past remain as temptations in the present.

The confession of sins is a means of favouring dialogue, reconciliation and peace.

8. This liturgy is a service to truth: the Church is not afraid to confront the sins of Christians when she becomes conscious of their errors.

It is a servite to faith: the acknowledgment and confession of sins opens the way to a renewed fidelity to the Lord.

It is a service to charity: a witness of love in the humility of one who begs pardon. The Church is also a teacher when she asks the Lord for pardon and the forgiveness of sins.

II. Typical elements of the celebration

1. The presence of the Crucifix

Beside the Altar of the Confession of the Vatican Basilica stands the fifteenth-century Crucifix from the Church of San Marcello al Corso which has traditionally been venerated in Saint Peter's during the Holy Years. The presence of the Crucifix is meant to emphasize that the confession of sins and the begging of pardon are addressed to God, who alone can forgive sins.

2. The initial "statio"

At the beginning of the celebration there is a "statio" of the Holy Father with the Cardinal concelebrants before the statue of the Pietà at the entrance of the Basilica: the Church, like Mary, wishes to embrace the crucified Saviour, to take responsibility for the past of her children and to implore the Father's forgiveness.

3. The Litany of the Saints

The "statio" is followed by a penitential procession towards the altar, The Cross is accompanied by seven candles and the Gospel Book, and a litany is sung. The Saints of the Communio Sanctorum intercede for their sinful brothers and sisters still on their pilgrim way towards the heavenly Jerusalem.

4. The confession of sins and the request for pardon

Following the homily and before the profession of faith comes the Prayer of the Faithful, in which the Holy Father makes the act of confession of sins and the request for pardon.

The prayer opens with an introduction by the Pope followed by an invitatory and a prayer preceded by a brief moment of silence and the chanting of a triple Kyrie eleison.

The invitatory is recited by representatives of the Roman Curia, while the Holy Father recites the prayer.

During the chanting of the Kyrie eleison the lamps in front of the Crucifix are lit.

After the concluding prayer the Holy Father embraces and kisses the Crucifix as a sign of veneration and the imploring of pardon.

5. Commitment for a conversion of life

At the end of the celebration, following the solemn blessing, the Holy Father asks that the purification of memory and the request for forgiveness be translated finto a commitment of renewed fidelity to the Gospel on the part of the Church and of each of her members.



Sunday, 12 March 2000

1. "We implore you, in Christ's name: be reconciled to God! For our sake God made him who did not know sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5: 20-21).

These are words of St Paul which the Church rereads every year on Ash Wednesday, at the beginning of Lent. In the Lenten season, the Church desires to be particularly united to Christ, who, moved inwardly by the Holy Spirit, began his messianic mission by going into the wilderness and fasting there for 40 days and 40 nights (cf. Mk 1: 12-13).

At the end of that fast he was tempted by Satan, as we are told briefly by the Evangelist Mark in today's liturgy (cf. 1: 13). Matthew and Luke, on the other hand, deal more amply with Christ's struggle in the desert and with his definitive victory over the tempter: "Begone, Satan! For it is written, "You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve'" (Mt 4: 10).
The One speaking in this way is he "who did not know sin" (2 Cor 5: 21), Jesus, "the Holy One of God" (Mk 1: 24).

2. "He made him who did not know sin to be sin" (2 Cor 5: 21). A few moments ago, in the second reading, we heard this surprising assertion made by the Apostle. What do these words mean? They seem, and in effect are, a paradox. How could God, who is holiness itself, "make" his Only-begotten Son, sent into the world, "to be sin"? Yet this is exactly what we read in the passage from St Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians. We are in the presence of a mystery: a mystery which at first sight is baffling, but is clearly written in divine Revelation.

Already in the Old Testament, the Book of Isaiah speaks of it with inspired foresight in the fourth song of the Servant of Yahweh: "We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all" (Is 53: 6).

Although Christ, the Holy One, was absolutely sinless, he agreed to take our sins upon himself. He agreed in order to redeem us; he agreed to bear our sins to fufil the mission he had received from the Father, who - as the Evangelist John writes - "so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him ... may have eternal life" (Jn 3: 16).

3. Before Christ who, out of love, took our guilt upon himself, we are all invited to make a profound examination of conscience. One of the characteristic elements of the Great Jubilee is what I described as the "purification of memory" (Bull Incarnationis mysterium, n. 11). As the Successor of Peter, I asked that "in this year of mercy the Church, strong in the holiness which she receives from her Lord, should kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters" (ibid.). Today, the First Sunday of Lent, seemed to me the right occasion for the Church, gathered spiritually round the Successor of Peter, to implore divine forgiveness for the sins of all believers. Let us forgive and ask forgiveness!

This appeal has prompted a thorough and fruitful reflection, which led to the publication several days ago of a document of the International Theological Commission, entitled: "Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past". I thank everyone who helped to prepare this text. It is very useful for correctly understanding and carrying out the authentic request for pardon, based on the objective responsibility which Christians share as members of the Mystical Body, and which spurs today's faithful to recognize, along with their own sins, the sins of yesterday's Christians, in the light of careful historical and theological discernment.

Indeed, "because of the bond which unites us to one another in the Mystical Body, all of us, though not personally responsible and without encroaching on the judgement of God who alone knows every heart, bear the burden of the errors and faults of those who have gone before us" (Incarnationis mysterium, n. 11). The recognition of past wrongs serves to reawaken our consciences to the compromises of the present, opening the way to conversion for everyone.

4. Let us forgive and ask forgiveness! While we praise God who, in his merciful love, has produced in the Church a wonderful harvest of holiness, missionary zeal, total dedication to Christ and neighbour, we cannot fail to recognize the infidelities to the Gospel committed by some of our brethren, especially during the second millennium. Let us ask pardon for the divisions which have occurred among Christians, for the violence some have used in the service of the truth and for the distrustful and hostile attitudes sometimes taken towards the followers of other religions.

Let us confess, even more, our responsibilities as Christians for the evils of today. We must ask ourselves what our responsibilities are regarding atheism, religious indifference, secularism, ethical relativism, the violations of the right to life, disregard for the poor in many countries.

We humbly ask forgiveness for the part which each of us has had in these evils by our own actions, thus helping to disfigure the face of the Church.

At the same time, as we confess our sins, let us forgive the sins committed by others against us. Countless times in the course of history Christians have suffered hardship, oppression and persecution because of their faith. Just as the victims of such abuses forgave them, so let us forgive as well. The Church today feels and has always felt obliged to purify her memory of those sad events from every feeling of rancour or revenge. In this way the Jubilee becomes for everyone a favourable opportunity for a profound conversion to the Gospel. The acceptance of God's forgiveness leads to the commitment to forgive our brothers and sisters and to be reconciled with them.

5. But what does the word "reconciliation" mean to us? To grasp its precise sense and value, we must first recognize the possibility of division, of separation. Yes, man is the only creature on earth who can have a relationship of communion with his Creator, but he is also the only one who can separate himself from him. Unfortunately, he has frequently turned away from God.

Fortunately many people, like the prodigal son spoken of in the Gospel of Luke (cf. Lk 15: 13), after leaving their father's house and squandering their inheritance, reach the very bottom and realize how much they have lost (cf. Lk 15: 13-17). Then they set out to return home: "I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned...'" (Lk 15: 18).

God, clearly represented by the father in the parable, welcomes every prodigal child who returns to him. He welcomes him through Christ, in whom the sinner can once again become "righteous" with the righteousness of God. He welcomes him, because for our sake he made his eternal Son to be sin. Yes, only through Christ can we become the righteousness of God (cf. 2 Cor 5: 21).

6. "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son". Here, in synthesis, is what the mystery of the world's redemption means! We must fully understand the value of the great gift the Father has given us in Jesus. We must keep the eyes of our soul fixed on Christ - the Christ of Gethesmane, Christ scourged, crowned with thorns, carrying the cross and, finally, crucified. Christ took upon himself the burden of the sins of all people, the burden of our own sins, so that through his saving sacrifice we might be reconciled to God.

Today, Saul of Tarsus who became St Paul, stands before us as a witness: he had an extraordinary experience of the power of the Cross on the way to Damascus. The risen Christ revealed himself to him in all his dazzling power: ""Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'... "Who are you, Lord?' ... "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting'" (Acts 9: 4-5). Today Paul, who had such a powerful experience of the Cross of Christ, addresses a fervent prayer to us: "We beg you not to receive the grace of God in vain". This grace is offered to us, St Paul insists, by God himself, who tells us today: "In an acceptable time I have heard you; on a day of salvation I have helped you" (2 Cor 6: 1-2).

Mary, Mother of forgiveness, help us to accept the grace of forgiveness which the Jubilee generously offers us. Make the Lent of this extraordinary Holy Year an acceptable time, a time of reconciliation, a time of salvation for all believers and for everyone who is searching for God!




The Holy Father:

Brothers and Sisters,
let us turn with trust to God our Father,
who is merciful and compassionate,
slow to anger, great in love and fidelity,
and ask him to accept the repentance of his people
who humbly confess their sins,
and to grant them mercy.

All pray for a moment in silence.


A representative of the Roman Curia

Let us pray that our confession and repentance
will be inspired by the Holy Spirit,
that our sorrow will be conscious and deep,
and that, humbly viewing the sins of the past
in an authentic "purification of memory",
we will be committed to the path of true conversion.

Silent prayer.

The Holy Father:

Lord God,
your pilgrim Church,
which you ever sanctify in the blood of your Son,
counts among her children in every age
members whose holiness shines brightly forth
and members whose disobedience to you
contradicts the faith we profess and the Holy Gospel.
You, who remain ever faithful,
even when we are unfaithful,
forgive our sins
and grant that we may bear true witness to you
before all men and women.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

R. Amen.


Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie eleison.

The assembly repeats:

Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie eleison.

A lamp is lit before the Crucifix.


A representative of the Roman Curia:

Let us pray that each one of us,
looking to the Lord Jesus, meek and humble of heart,
will recognize that even men of the Church,
in the name of faith and morals,
have sometimes used methods not in keeping with the Gospel
in the solemn duty of defending the truth.

Silent prayer.

The Holy Father:

Lord, God of all men and women,
in certain periods of history
Christians have at times given in to intolerance
and have not been faithful to the great commandment of love,
sullying in this way the face of the Church, your Spouse.
Have mercy on your sinful children
and accept our resolve
to seek and promote truth in the gentleness of charity,
in the firm knowledge that truth
can prevail only in virtue of truth itself.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

R. Amen.

R. Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie eleison.

A lamp is lit before the Crucifix.


A representative of the Roman Curia:

Let us pray that our recognition of the sins
which have rent the unity of the Body of Christ
and wounded fraternal charity
will facilitate the way to reconciliation
and communion among all Christians.

Silent prayer.

The Holy Father:

Merciful Father,
on the night before his Passion
your Son prayed for the unity of those who believe in him:
in disobedience to his will, however,
believers have opposed one another, becoming divided,
and have mutually condemned one another and fought against one another.
We urgently implore your forgiveness
and we beseech the gift of a repentant heart,
so that all Christians, reconciled with you and with one another
will be able, in one body and in one spirit,
to experience anew the joy of full communion.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

R. Amen.

R. Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie eleison.

A lamp is lit before the Crucifix.


A representative of the Roman Curia:

Let us pray that, in recalling the sufferings
endured by the people of Israel throughout history,
Christians will acknowledge the sins
committed by not a few of their number
against the people of the Covenant and the blessings,
and in this way will purify their hearts.

Silent prayer.

The Holy Father:

God of our fathers,
you chose Abraham and his descendants
to bring your Name to the Nations:
we are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those
who in the course of history
have caused these children of yours to suffer,
and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves
to genuine brotherhood
with the people of the Covenant.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

R. Amen

R. Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie eleison.

A lamp is lit before the Crucifix.


A representative of the Roman Curia:

Let us pray that contemplating Jesus,
our Lord and our Peace,
Christians will be able to repent of the words and attitudes
caused by pride, by hatred,
by the desire to dominate others,
by enmity towards members of other religions
and towards the weakest groups in society,
such as immigrants and itinerantes

Silent prayer.

The Holy Father:

Lord of the world, Father of all,
through your Son
you asked us to love our enemies,
to do good to those who hate us
and to pray for those who persecute us.
Yet Christians have often denied the Gospel;
yielding to a mentalíty of power,
they have violated the rights of ethnic groups and peoples,
and shown contempt for their cultures and religious traditions:
be patient and merciful towards us, and grant us your forgiveness!
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

R. Amen.

R. Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison.

A lamp is lit before the Crucifix.


A Representative of the Roman Curia:

Let us pray for all those who have suffered offences
against their human dignity and whose rights have been trampled;
let us pray for women, who are all too often humiliated and emarginated,
and let us acknowledge the forms of acquiescence in these sins
of which Christians too have been guilty.

Silent prayer.

The Holy Father:

Lord God, our Father,
you created the human being, man and woman,
in your image and likeness
and you willed the diversity of peoples
within the unity of the human family.
At times, however, the equality of your sons
and daughters has not been acknowledged,
and Christians have been guilty of attitudes
of rejection and exclusion,
consenting to acts of discrimination
on the basis of racial and ethnic differences.
Forgive us and grant us the grace to heal the wounds
still present in your community on account of sin,
so that we will all feel ourselves to be your sons and daughters.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

R. Amen.

R. Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison.

A lamp is lit before the Crucifix.


A Representative of the Roman Curia:

Let us pray for all the men and women of the world,
especially for minors who are victims of abuse,
for the poor, the alienated, the disadvantaged;
let us pray for those who are most defenceless,
the unborn killed in their mother's womb
or even exploited for experimental purposes
by those who abuse
the promise of biotechnology
and distort the aims of science.

Silent prayer.

The Holy Father:

God, our Father,
you always bear the cry of the poor.
How many times have Christians themselves not recognized you
in the hungry, the thirsty and the naked,
in the persecuted, the imprisoned,
and in those incapable of defending themselves,
especially in the first stages of life.
For all those who bave committed acts of injustice
by trusting in wealth and power
and showing contempt for the "little ones"
who are so dear to you, we ask your fogiveness:
have mercy on us and accept our repentance.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

R. Amen.

R. Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison.

A lamp is lit before the Crucifix.

Concluding Prayer

The Holy Father:

Most merciful Father,
your Son, Jesus Christ, the judge of the living and the dead,
in the humility of his first coming
redeemed humanity from sin
and in his glorious return he will demand an account of every sin.
Grant that our forebears, our brothers and sisters,
and we, your servants, who by the grace of the Holy Spirit
turn back to you in whole-hearted repentance,
may experience your mercy and receive
the forgiveness of our sins.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

R. Amen.

As a sign of penance and veneration the Holy Father embraces and kisses the Crucifix.


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