Declared by the Pope every 25 years, Jubilee years are traditionally inaugurated by the opening of the Holy Door at St Peter's Basilica in Rome. This year the Pope invited Catholics across the world to share in the symbolism by sealing a door to their cathedral or parish church and then opening it tonight.
Cardinal Hume, who died in June, had hoped to perform the role of door opener, which now falls to the Right Rev Vincent Nichols, the administrator of the Westminster diocese until a successor is found. Many of the regular worshippers are frustrated that the Pope has not appointed a new Archbishop of Westminster in time for the landmark occasion.
"Why are we waiting?" read the front page headline in the December issue of the diocesan newspaper, Westminster Record, stating publicly what many of the congregation feel privately. The editor, Fr Kit Cunningham, criticised Rome's "slowness" in filling the most senior post in the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales. "It is important for the diocese to have a new head in time for the opening of the Jubilee Year," he wrote. "It would add to the dignity and importance of the Holy Year, and also the commemoration of the Third Millennium. It is no reflection on the present administration that has to carry on, but it would have been the wish of the late Cardinal Hume, who had dearly hoped to have been with us, that someone would have been appointed in his place."
Fr Cunningham went on to advocate the appointment of one of the diocese's own bishops. Later, he confirmed that he had in mind Bishop Nichols, who is understood to have been Cardinal Hume's chosen successor.
The decision as to the successor rests with the Pope, who has received a confidential shortlist of three drawn up by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Pablo Puente, the Pope's ambassador to the Court of St James's.
The rumour is circulating that the Pope is having difficulty finding the right man for the job and is unlikely to make an announcement until next spring.
Cardinal Hume was the spiritual head of the 4 million Catholics of England and Wales. Whoever succeeds him as Archbishop of Westminster is likely to become a cardinal and president of the Bishops' Conference, giving him a high profile on the national stage.
The much-loved late cardinal, under whose leadership Catholicism gained acceptability in mainstream British life, is widely regarded as a hard act to follow.
Three of the possible candidates - the Right Rev Dom Timothy Wright, the Most Rev Timothy Radcliffe, and Fr Michael Fitzgerald - come from religious orders rather than diocesan positions, just as the late cardinal did, while two of them - Master of the Dominican order Radcliffe, and Abbot Wright - share his aristocratic credentials.
The first Mass of Christmas, celebrated by Bishop Nichols, will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 4 at 11.15pm tonight.
CONTENDERS FOR ARCHBISHOP'S ROLE
Dom Timothy Wright, 57, Abbot of Ampleforth
Born into a distinguished Derbyshire Catholic family, he was a monk at Ampleforth, entering the community in 1962 after studying geography at Oxford and divinity at London University. He was ordained in 1972.
Patrick Kelly, 61, Archbishop of Liverpool
Vatican may be unwilling to move him after only four years in his present post. Some say he is too quiet for such a high-profile job. The only member of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales with an international reputation as a theologian.
Odds 5/4 favourite
Michael Fitzgerald, 62, Secretary for the Pontifical Council for Inter- Religious Dialogue, based in Rome
Born in Walsall. As a member of the White Fathers, he has worked in Africa. The senior Englishman in the papal civil service, the Curia. Intellectual, but not bookish.
Vincent Nichols, 54, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster
Administrator of the Westminster diocese until a new cardinal is appointed. Cardinal Hume favoured him as the one to take the reins. A natural leader, but inexperience as a diocesan bishop may count against him.
Timothy Radcliffe OP, 54, Master General of the Dominicans, based in Rome
A member of a leading Catholic family. Head of Dominicans, the first Englishman appointed since the order was founded in 1216. Highly intelligent and a bit of a radical. Writes on theology and social justice.
David Konstant, 69, Bishop of Leeds
Considered rather old for the job, but he would be a safe pair of hands. Born to non-Catholic parents, he was brought up a Catholic by his grandmother after his mother, Dulcie, an actress, died of jaundice when he was six months old.
Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, 67, Bishop of Arundel and Brighton
Born in Reading, he trained in Rome at the English College and became its Rector in 1971. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, recently awarded him a doctorate in divinity for his work in ecumenism.
Odds 16/1Reuse content