COMMEMORATION OF ABRAHAM,
"OUR FATHER IN FAITH"
A spiritual pilgrimage
1. In his Letter Concerning Pilgrimage to the Places
Linked to the History of Salvation (29 June 1999), His Holiness Pope John
Paul II expressed his personal desire to make "a special Jubilee pilgrimage,
to visit some of the places which are closely linked to the Incarnation of the
Word of God, the event which the Holy Year of 2000 directly recalls" (No.
These places are above all those associated with the birth, life, preaching,
death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In order to appreciate more fully the
meaning of a history which stretches back to the distant past but which has
marked our own geography, the Pope expressed his desire to "follow the
traces of the history of salvation in the land in which it took place". The
necessary starting-point: certain key places of the Old Testament, beginning
with those linked to the revelation and the promise made to Abraham (Gen 12:13;
The Holy Father expressed his ardent desire in these words: "In this way I
wish to express the Church’s awareness of her irrevocable links with the
ancient people of the Covenant. For us too Abraham is our ‘father in faith’
par excellence (cf. Rom 4; Gal 3:6-9; Heb 11:8-9). In the Gospel of John we read
the words which one day Christ said of him: ‘Abraham rejoiced that he was to
see my day; he saw it and was glad’ (8:56)" (No. 5).
2. For various reasons it has not yet been possible for the
Holy Father to set out upon the first stage of this greatly desired pilgrimage:
a visit to Ur of the Chaldees, present-day Tal al Muqayyar in southern Iraq, the
place where the great journey of the People of God began when, in fidelity to
the Lord’s command, Abram went forth from his city and his homeland towards
the promised land (cf. Gen 12:13).
Nevertheless, on the eve of his visit to another place associated with salvation
history — Egypt, and in particular Mount Sinai, the site of God’s revelation
to Moses — and one month in advance of his planned visit to the Holy Land,
Pope John Paul II has wished to honour the memory of Abraham, "our father
in faith", and the beginning of the sacred history which hearkens back to
Therefore the Pope has decided to celebrate this moment of the Jubilee
pilgrimage in the footsteps of Abraham with a special celebration marked by a
fitting proclamation of the word of God and in a spirit of intense meditation
and prayer. This highly significant event takes place today in the Paul VI
Audience Hall, in the presence of the People of God.
Today’s liturgical commemoration thus enables the Holy Father, and with him
the whole Church in union with her Pastor, to embark in spirit upon this first
stage of the Jubilee pilgrimage to the places linked to the history of salvation.
This first stage is clearly of immense ecumenical and interreligious importance,
since, as the Pope points out in his Letter: "It is not only those who
boast physical descent from Abraham who look to him, but also those, and they
are countless, who regard themselves as his ‘spiritual’ offspring, because
they share his faith and unreserved abandonment to the saving initiative of the
Almighty" (No. 5).
Such is the meaning and purpose of this unique event which we are about to
celebrate in communion of prayer with the Holy Father.
Elements of the celebration
3. Certain aspects of the celebration have been carefully
prepared in order to suggest the atmosphere of a spiritual pilgrimage. As a way
of evoking some of the places where Abraham lived his faith in the Eternal One,
several special elements have been highlighted, including a life-sized
reproduction of the icon of the Trinity by A. Rublëv. Known as the icon
of "Philoxenía" (hospitality to strangers) or the Trinity of the Old
Testament, it represents the three angels who appeared to Abraham (cf. Gen 18).
There is also the presence of several oak trees which recall the oaks of
Mamre and a rock which recalls the rock-altar of the sacrifice of
The commemoration of "Abraham, our father in faith" basically consists
of the Word of God in the Old and New Testaments. This is echoed by the
prayer of the assembly and by certain signs and gestures such as the
procession with the Gospel Book and the incensation of the icon of the Trinity.
A few moments of meditation follow the proclamation of the first reading
and the Holy Father’s homily. These are accompanied by pictures of Ur of the
Chaldees and of other places where Abraham lived and by artistic representations
of the life of Abraham, from the catacombs to the present. In addition to the
words of Scripture, the pictures are also illustrated by texts drawn from the
Jewish and Islamic spiritual traditions.
The structure of the celebration
4. The celebration is in the form of a Liturgy of the Word.
The introductory rites consist of the procession with the
Gospel Book, the primary symbol of the Church’s Holy Year pilgrimage; the
invocation of the Blessed Trinity by the Holy Father and his introduction to the
The proclamation of the Word presents the mystery of Abraham as it
appears in the pages of the Old and the New Testaments. A selection of pertinent
biblical texts will be read.
The first reading, proclaimed by three lectors, consists of selections
from the Book of Genesis: the genealogy of Abraham (Gen 11:27-30), Abraham’s
call (Gen 12:1-4, 5b-8) and the covenant with Abraham (Gen 15:1-2, 4-10, 17-18).
A moment of meditation follows, accompanied by pictures of places where
The second reading recalls Abraham’s offering of Isaac, his only son,
to God (Gen 22:1-18).
A song then punctuates the readings: inspired by the Letter to the
Hebrews (Heb 11:8-10, 11-12, 17-18), it celebrates with praise the faith of
The third reading, taken from the Letter to the Romans (4:1, 3, 13,
16-22), speaks of Abraham’s faith in the context of the faith of the people of
the New Covenant.
The Gospel song with its Alleluia is inspired by the words of the Virgin
Mary in Magnificat: "God who is mighty has remembered his mercy ...
the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants for ever"
The Liturgy of the Word culminates in the proclamation of the Gospel of John
(8:51-58): "Abraham rejoiced in hope to see my day".
The Holy Father’s homily then follows.
The homily is extended by a moment of mediation accompanied by works of
art representing Abraham’s life and pilgrimage of faith: frescoes from the
Roman catacombs, mosaics from San Vitale in Ravenna, the icon of the Trinity by
A. Rublëv (XV c.) and ceramics by the contemporary Jewish artist M. Chagall.
A prayer of praise and intercession directed to the Blessed Trinity
follows, accompanied by the offering of incense on the stone-altar.
The celebration concludes with the Holy Father’s blessing.
A travelling companion
5. The commemoration of Abraham "our father in faith"
is an invitation made to the whole Church to experience what the Holy Father
pointed out in his Letter Concerning Pilgrimage to the Places Linked to the
History of Salvation: "To go in a spirit of prayer from one place to
another, from one city to another, in the area marked especially by God’s
intervention, helps us not only to live our life as a journey, but also gives us
a vivid sense of a God who has gone before us and leads us on, who himself set
out on man’s path, a God who does not look down on us from on high, but who
became our travelling companion" (No. 10).
Vatican City, 8 February 2000
† Piero Marini
Titular Bishop of Martirano
Master of the Liturgical Celebrations
of the Supreme Pontiff