(CNA) Pope Francis explained Thursday why the Catholic Church gives thanks to God at the close of a calendar year, even years that have been marked by tragedy, such as 2020’s coronavirus pandemic.
In a homily read by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re Dec. 31, Pope Francis said “tonight we give space to thanks for the year that is drawing to a close. ‘We praise you, God, we proclaim you Lord…’”
Cardinal Re delivered the pope’s homily at the Vatican’s First Vespers liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica. Vespers, also known as Evening Prayer, is part of the Liturgy of the Hours.
Due to sciatic pain, Pope Francis did not attend the prayer service, which included Eucharistic adoration and benediction, and the singing of the “Te Deum,” a Latin hymn of thanksgiving from the early Church.
“It might seem forced, almost jarring, to thank God at the end of a year like this, marked by the pandemic,” Francis said in his homily.
“We think of families who have lost one or more members, of those who have been sick, of those who have suffered from loneliness, of those who have lost their jobs…” he added. “Sometimes someone asks: what is the point of a tragedy like this?”
The pope said we should not be in a rush to answer this question, because not even God responds to our “most distressing ‘whys’ by resorting to ‘better reasons.’”
“God’s response,” he stated, “follows the path of the Incarnation, as the Antiphon to the Magnificat will soon sing: ‘For the great love with which he loved us, God sent his Son in the flesh of sin.’”
First Vespers was prayed at the Vatican in anticipation of the Jan. 1 Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.
In new year, share the blessing of your time, pope writes
At the beginning of a year people hope will mark the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pope Francis urged them to create a “culture of care,” including by sharing the gift of their time with others.
Despite suffering from a bout of sciatica, nerve pain, that left him unable to preside over Mass Jan. 1 in St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope sent a homily focused on God’s blessings and on sharing those blessings with others.
Consecrating the new year to Mary, the pope prayed that she would “care for us, bless our time, and teach us to find time for God and for others.”
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, read the pope’s homily as he celebrated the Mass for the feast of Mary, Mother of God, and for the Catholic Church’s celebration of World Peace Day.
Only about 100 people, all wearing masks, were in the socially distanced congregation for the Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica. Two dozen cardinals, also wearing masks, concelebrated.
In the homily he wrote, Pope Francis returned to themes from his World Peace Day message — “A Culture of Care as a Path to Peace” — and a recent general audience talk about prayers of blessing.
“This year, while we hope for new beginnings and new cures, let us not neglect care,” the pope wrote. “Together with a vaccine for our bodies, we need a vaccine for our hearts. That vaccine is care. This will be a good year if we take care of others, as Our Lady does with us.”
“The Lord knows how much we need to be blessed,” the pope wrote. “The first thing he did after creating the world was to say that everything was good and to say of us that that we were very good.”
But with the birth of Jesus, he said, “we receive not only words of blessing, but the blessing itself: Jesus is himself the blessing of the Father.”
“Every time we open our hearts to Jesus, God’s blessing enters our lives,” he said.
Photo courtesy: Vatican News Tej Francis