Pope Benedict XVI has announced a "Year of Faith", and has published an Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei that outlines the themes that will characterise the year.
The celebration of a "Year of X" has its archetype in the idea of a Jubilee Year and, in our own times, it is the celebration of the Jubilee of the Year 2000, with its preceding three year programme of preparation, that is the most significant such celebration. We have also seen the "Year for Priests", the "Year of the Eucharist" and the "Year of the Rosary".
What each of these different "Years" have had in common is that they represent an exercise of the universal pastoral office of the Successor of Saint Peter. It is an exercise of pastoral office that reaches to the individual members of the faithful - we are all invited to take part in the celebration of the Year - without for all that having any sense of cutting across the office of the Bishop with regard to the faithful of his diocese. These "Years" represent an opportunity for ecclesial communion, of the Bishops with the Pope and of the faithful with their Bishop.
I must admit that I have felt once or twice during the last few months that I was missing the experience of a "Year of X", and was wondering what Pope Benedict XVI would do next in this regard, or even whether the idea of such "Years" had run their course. For all the criticism that has sometimes been aimed at the Holy See's media relations, the "embargo" on the announcement of the "Year of Faith" seems to have been carefully kept.
In my own diocese of Brentwood, where a new Bishop will be appointed at some time in the early part of 2012, the "Year of Faith" seems to offer a very particular pastoral opportunity. A vigorous celebration at the diocesan level of a "Year of Faith" would be a wonderful way for a new Bishop to start his ministry.