It was a guid New Year on 1 January 2000, but it was neither a guid New Century nor a guid New Millennium.
Of course, to determine when the New Millennium was to properly start, we need not have bothered with historical precedent as revealed between the pages of venerably aged copies of relatively ancient editions of still extant newspapers and periodicals. Nor need we have referred to Papal Bulls of yore. Commonsense alone should have dictated that just as one century could not begin until the previous one had ended, so, too, could the Third Millennium not begin until the Second had run its true course.
When might we have expected that to be? Well, if you could do the counting it was dead simple really: “…one thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine, two thousand, two thousand and one, two thousand and two…” Yes, that bit between “two thousand” and “two thousand and one”, that was we were waiting for. Or, rather, should have been.
If you did not like being blinded by the science of computation (one is embarrassed in these circumstances to give it its proper name, arithmetic); if, to put none too fine a point on it, your lap-top or desk-top computer had rendered you numerically illiterate (?) by dint of want of cerebration, then perhaps a more pedantic, historic approach might not so much have been preferred, as have been the only one that might just possibly have convinced.
Since our calendar is a Papal invention (or at least commission, as, indeed, was its predecessor), what did the Holy See have to say about the dawning of the New Millennium?
Well, it must be remembered that the Holy Father and the Church are concerned primarily with matters spiritual. Millennium bugs, or any other bugs, and the depredations which may befall society as a result of their pernicious activities, are not of prime importance to the Holy Father, the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Holy Office (of old), the Sacred College of Cardinals, the Roman curia, or national hierarchies. Thus, on Advent Sunday, 29 November 1998, when the Papal Bull, Incarnationis mysterium, was promulgated in St Peter’s Basilica, the Holy Father’s thoughts were not directed to matters related to the Y2K problem or, really, to when the civil authorities should celebrate the New Millennium, but to how the faithful might the more readily and joyfully enter into the Kingdom.
In this Bull the Holy Father designated the year 2000 as The Great Jubilee Year 2000 and decreed that it begin on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1999, in accordance with custom long ago established by Pope Boniface VIII for the first Holy Year, in 1300. That Christmas Eve would represent, according to our calendar, which is the only one by which we can regulate our lives in the present day, the one thousand nine hundred and ninety-ninth anniversary of the eve of the birth of Christ, our Lord and Saviour, at Bethlehem. The following Christmas, 25 December 2000, would represent the two thousandth anniversary of His birth. Any document issued between those dates over the late, Venerable, Holy Father’s signature would (did) close with a formula of words such as: “Given in Rome, at St Peter’s, on (date), (Feast), in the year of our Lord 2000, the twenty-second of my Pontificate.”
Christmas Day 2000 marked the opening of the Third Christian Millennium. And God Bless Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II! For, she (during her Christmas Day broadcast) was the only public figure in this country who acknowledged that fact. The anticipation of that fact was why Incarnationis mysterium, the Bull of Indiction of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, was addressed to “all the Faithful journeying towards the Third Millennium”.
However, to emphasise that fact the Holy Year, the Year of Indulgence, the Great Jubilee Year 2000, was to not officially end then, but on the Feast of the Epiphany, 6 January 2001. This was in recognition of that Feats Day’s great symbolic importance as the two thousandth anniversary of the Christ Child being revealed to the Gentiles in the personages of the Magi (whether they be the Three of the Western Church, or, the Twelve of our Eastern brethren).
In consequence, therefore, according to the Church, the New Millennium could only begin, as far as the civil calendar was concerned, on 1 January 2001.
But let us not bother too much about Rome, after all, few of our neighbours do. What has heretofore been the practice in Great Britain when it comes to the ends of centuries? A look at some newspapers from the first days of 1901 tells us all we need to know.
The Times of New Year’s Day, Tuesday, 1 January 1901, ran an everyday item called “To-day’s arrangements” with a far from everyday sub-heading: “The Twentieth Century begins”. The first two notices indicated that the Anglican Church intended to welcome-in the Twentieth Century in some style:
“Service at St Paul’s Cathedral to welcome the New Century:
The Dean of Windsor preaches.
Twentieth Century Services in Canterbury Cathedral:
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Ripon, and Dean Farrar will preach.”
The Presbyterian Church north of the border had, of course, already welcomed-in the New Century in the traditional manner by holding Watch Night services across the land on Hogmanay. The Scotsman on New Year’s Day, reported on the traditional service held at the Tron Church. The Rev Archibald Fleming had told his congregation that the 19th Century had been one characterised by “exact thought” and that “the outcome of exact thought had been a rapid series of wonderful discoveries, for accuracy of knowledge was always the condition of progress; invention was never born of chaos… After the shock and conflict of a hundred years, one figure stood forth unshaken in historic definiteness and unrivalled dominance ― the figure of Christ.” The close of each century “was, therefore, always a time of quiet but exultant triumph to Christians.”
There followed an account of the service at St Giles’s Cathedral conducted by the Rev Dr Cameron Lees. He told his congregation they “were met in unwonted circumstances… (standing) on the boundary not only between two years, but also between two centuries… it (was) easier to grasp the moral and spiritual significance of 365 days than of 100 years.”
The celebrations of the dawn of the New Century by the Catholic Church in England and Wales and in Scotland went unreported in the mainstream press. Traditionally, of course, for the Catholic Church the year ends in the moments preceding the start of Midnight Mass at Christmas (although some, thirled to the liturgical cycle, would argue that it ends at midnight on the eve of the First Sunday of Advent).
However, we learn from The Glasgow Observer and Catholic Herald of Saturday, 5 January 1901, that throughout the archdiocese of Glasgow the New Century had been welcomed in by packed congregations at Midnight Masses celebrated, according to the wishes of Archbishop Charles Peter Eyre, in every church.
In Glasgow’s St Andrew’s Cathedral on Clyde Street the celebrant was Fr JW McCarthy. At St Saviours “the New Century was brought in with the Missa Cantata sung by Fr Louis de Backer, Coran Sanctissimo. Benediction was given after the last Mass on New Year’s Day and the Te Deum and Veni Creator were sung in accordance with the wish expressed in the circular issued by His Grace the Archbishop”. At St Alphonsus’ the Missa Cantata was sung by Fr Scannell, while at St Mary’s “the Pope’s Encyclical on Jesus Christ the Redeemer was read on Sunday to the congregation. High Mass was sung at Midnight on Monday to usher in the New Century, and it was well attended.”
Activities involving the Catholic Church occurring in Rome were reported on New Years Day by both The Glasgow Herald and The Scotsman. Indeed, the very first news story carried by The Glasgow Herald on the first day of the 20th Century concerned the closing of the Holy Door of St Peter’s Basilica by Pope Leo XIII on Christmas Day, during the previous week. Under the headline “The Sacred Door Closed”, dateline Rome, 25 December 1900, from “an occasional correspondent”, it was reported:
“It is something to see what no-one has seen for 75 years. Although technically the Holy Year should occur every quarter of a century, the political circumstances of 1850 and 1875 made a Pontifical function impossible. The last celebration was in 1825, when Leo XII, with great pomp, opened and closed the Holy Door of St Peter's as a symbol of the beginning and end of the Year of Indulgence. Among the spectators of the 1825 function was a certain Gioacchino Pecci, an unknown boy in his 16th year, to whom it has fallen, as Leo XIII, to officiate at the closing of the 19th Century.”
The Scotsman under the headline “British Pilgrims at Rome”, dateline Rome, 31 December 1900, from Reuters, reported that the British Jubilee pilgrims, including the Duke of Norfolk, had met at the Hotel Rome and decided to commence their Jubilee tour of the basilicas on 2 January. The British pilgrims were to attend the Midnight Mass in St Peter’s to be celebrated by Cardinal Rampolla (Mariano, the Marchese del Tindarro, Cardinal Secretary of State) to welcome in the New Century.
The Glasgow Observer and Catholic Herald of 12 January 1901 noted that Dr Lapponi, the Papal Physician, had deemed the Holy Father too unwell to officiate at this public Midnight Mass, but had given him permission to celebrate one in his private chapel.
What of the civil authorities and the general public, did they recognise 1 January 1901, as the start of a New Century?
The Scotsman of 2 January reported: “The great Scottish holiday which ushered in 1901 and the beginning of the 20th Century… was celebrated in a hearty and rational fashion in Edinburgh.” It also tells us of an “inaugural breakfast” hosted by the directors of the Glasgow branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association presided over by the honorary president, Lord Provost Chisholm. The Lord Provost extended his “warmest greetings” to those present on that “new morning, of a new day, of a new year, of a new century which has so calmly dawned upon us.”
The Glasgow Herald observed that in Glasgow “the advent of the New Century was observed in the customary way.” Alas for posterity, no details of this “customary way” were given, but it may safely be assumed that spirituous liquor was consumed.
What of abroad?
The Times of 1 January 1901 reported:
“At 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon (that is 31 December 1900) ― that being equivalent of midnight in Australia ― the Australian flag was hoisted at the Mansion House by order of the Lord Mayor as an indication that the new century had begun in Australia and the new Commonwealth had been inaugurated. At the same time the bells of Bow Church were peeled.”
It then went on to relate how the Agent-General for New South Wales had colourfully decorated his office in Victoria Street, Westminster, with the flags of the six federating colonies and their various shields.
The Scotsman of the following day also noted the inauguration of the new Commonwealth: “Enter with a New Century, a new Commonwealth on the stage of history. Australia which a hundred years ago had hardly had its outline traced upon the map…”
It should be noted that the referendum in Australia (1999) was carefully timed such that if it had resulted in a vote for a Republic, which it did not, there was plenty of time to organise matters so that the Republic would formally have come into being on 1 January 2001, exactly 100 years after the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia, on 1 January, 1901. The symbolism was exquisite. Just as the creation of the Commonwealth of Australia had welcomed in a New Century, the 20th Century, so, too, would the formation of the Republic of Australia have heralded a New Century, the 21st. But it would also not simply have marked the beginning of a new era for Australia, but a New Millennium for the world!
On the same page on which The Scotsman referred to the new Commonwealth of Australia, it went on to note that closer to home: “Spain has celebrated the beginning of a New Century by adopting Greenwich time…” And in Paris on New Year’s Eve, President Laubert had received the Diplomatic Corps led by its Dean, the Papal Nuncio, Mgr Lorenzelli. Archbishop (later Cardinal) Lorenzelli in his remarks had said that at the close of the 19th Century he wished to express his desire for a “strengthening of the bonds of fraternity between peoples…”
What had happened at the dawn of previous centuries, when had they been celebrated?
On New Year’s Day, 1901, The Glasgow Herald’s London Correspondent quoted a line from a poem, “The Passing of the Century”, written by the Poet Laureate, Mr Alfred Austen, whom he described as being “blessed with a host of critics”: “I was here as I died, amid wrath and smoke,
When the war wains rolled and the cannons spoke.” The correspondent went on to observe:
“These lines reminded me of an article I was reading the other day in a time-worn copy of a London newspaper published on the 1st of January, 1801. ‘At the beginning of a new year, and the opening of a new century, it would have been grateful,’ said the leader writer, ‘to have announced the return of peace. A period of time which has in itself something august and solemn, and from which the British Empire in particular derives, as it were, new auspices and new inauguration, seemed to want only this blessing to have rendered it venerable and famed in the eyes of mankind.’”
While he made no mention of the name of the London newspaper, it seems most likely that it was in fact The Times.
How much more venerable and famed might we not have been destined to be in the eyes of our descendents if we had but managed to actually welcome in the New Millennium at its proper time, on its due date? Which was not quite yet when we did, but a year later. Unless, of course, like many you did both.