HOLY MASS ON
OCCASION OF THE JUBILEE OF THE FIFTH CENTENARY
HOMILY OF CARD. ANGELO SODANO
In the Entrance Antiphon we exclaimed with the words of Psalm 96:
"O sing to the Lord a new song;
The choir then made Scarlatti's Exsultate Deo ring out beneath the wonderful vault of this Sistine Chapel. It was an invitation to glorify God on this feast day, praising and thanking him for his continuous presence among us.
The author of the Psalm was already proclaiming that before the Lord there is splendour and majesty, and that there is strength and beauty in his sanctuary.
This exclamation bursts spontaneously from our lips on this feast day, when we are gathered in prayer to sing the Lord's glory. Indeed, today's liturgy is taking place in the Sistine Chapel, where everything is an invitation to praise the greatness of Almighty God and celebrate his continuous presence among us.
In this regard, how can we not remember the teaching of a great theologian from your Country, the late Hans Urs von Balthasar? He reminded us constantly to contemplate God's glory, especially in his famous work, Herrlichkeit.
In Italy, this term is translated as "the glory of God", but Herrlichkeit is a complex word that evokes the full magnificence and splendour of Christian worship. It indicates, in other words, something wondrously beautiful and marvellous that God reveals to us. And it is something we can contemplate today in the Sistine Chapel, in this hour of grace!
ay, dear Swiss Guards, for every day we must purify and renew ourselves in the Service of the Lord and in faithfulness to his Holy Church. Moreover, your motto, "acriter et fideliter", "tapfer und treu" [brave and true] is a daily reminder of this programme of life.
I always remember, in this regard, the solemn oath, almost a cry, with which, every 6 May in the Vatican, you swear to "serve the Supreme Pontiff and his legitimate Successors faithfully, loyally and honourably with all your might, when necessary even sacrificing [your] life to defend them".
Pope Julius II, who had insistently summoned them for this service, welcomed them with his Blessing. Thus, they were the first in the long series of generous, strong young men who chose to come here to defend the Chair of Peter.
This religious vision which inspired the first halberdiers in their service was clearly emphasized by Ulrich Zwingli himself, who in that year had not yet distanced himself from the Catholic Church. On that occasion he wrote to his friend Vadian:
Pope Pius XII of venerable memory recalled these significant words too, when he celebrated the 450th anniversary of the Swiss Guard in 1956 (cf. Discorsi e Radiomessaggi di Sua Santità Pio XII, Vol. XVIII, Vatican City, 1967, p. 166).
Still today, these words remind the Swiss Guards of the superior inspiration that must motivate their service, making them, with God's eyes, see every Pontiff of Rome as the principle of the visible unity of God's Holy Church.
At the outset there was Peter, then came Linus, Cletus, Clement and so forth, until in our day, Pope Benedict XVI: each Pope with his own charism and his own personality.
Today, in commemorating the Fifth Centenary of the Swiss Guard, let us thank God for the gifts he granted to Pope Julius II, who, among so many other merits, decided to summon the first Swiss soldiers to Rome to be "defensores Ecclesiae libertatis" [defenders of the Church's freedom], as the same Pontiff described them.
The great spirit of this important Renaissance Pope is clearly symbolized by the figure of Moses, whom Michelangelo sculpted as his sponsor's funeral monument.
Here then, in this privileged place, everything speaks of Julius II, of Pope Giuliano della Rovere, who desired to decorate this Chapel, as he wrote, so that "it would surpass every other worldly object in size and beauty" (Bullarium Vaticanum, II, 349).
Furthermore, it is not out of place to recall that this year, 2006, is also the Fifth Centenary of the beginning of the building of the present-day St Peter's Basilica. Precisely in 1506, Julius II chose to entrust it to Bramante's genius so that the new and grandiose church would sing of God's glory for ever, on the site of the Prince of the Apostle's martyrdom.
Nor can one forget that Julius II was also great in the pastoral context. He worked very hard for the interior reform of the Church and convoked the Fifth Ecumenical Lateran Council in 1512.
Today, in gratitude for all that Julius II did in his time and for all that the Roman Pontiffs have achieved down the centuries for the defence and promotion of God's Holy Church, let us sing our heartfelt Te Deum.
Dear Members of the Swiss Guard, as a reminder of this celebration, I ask you to have ever greater love for Christ's Church. With all the more reason we can say with the Psalmist who raised his eyes in ecstasy to the city of Zion: "Gloriosa dicta sunt de te, civitas Dei", "Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God" (Ps 87: 3).
And this is the Church we too wish to love today, and this is the Church that we also wish to serve today. Amen.