Pope Francis has long made mercy one of the primary focuses of his papacy.
Because he has sought to reach those in the fold as well as those on the periphery, the pope declared that the Jubilee of Mercy will begin on December 8, 2015 (the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary) and conclude on November 20, 2016 (the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe).
It’s a special, holy year which will focus on the breadth of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I have often thought of how the Church may render her mission to be a witness to mercy; and we have to make this journey. It is a journey which begins with spiritual conversion.
Therefore, I have decided to announce an Extraordinary Jubilee which has at its center the mercy of God. It will be a Holy Year of Mercy.
This Holy Year will commence on the next Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and will conclude on Sunday, 20 November 2016, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
I am confident that the whole Church, which is in such need of mercy for we are sinners, will be able to find in this Jubilee the joy of rediscovering and rendering fruitful God’s mercy, with which we are all called to give comfort to every man and every woman of our time. Do not forget that God forgives all, and God forgives always.
Let us never tire of asking forgiveness. Let us henceforth entrust this Year to the Mother of Mercy, that she turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey: our penitential journey, our year-long journey with an open heart, to receive the indulgence of God, to receive the mercy of God.
In a world beset by war, famine, poverty, and political discord, Pope Francis believes that we must “contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace,” and that our salvation depends on it.
“Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”
Pope Francis chose the beginning of this holy year and its conclusion carefully. “I have chosen the date of 8 December because of its rich meaning in the recent history of the Church. In fact, I will open the Holy Door on the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. The Church feels a great need to keep this event alive. With the Council, the Church entered a new phase of her history. The Council Fathers strongly perceived, as a true breath of the Holy Spirit, a need to talk about God to men and women of their time in a more accessible way. The walls which for too long had made the Church a kind of fortress were torn down and the time had come to proclaim the Gospel in a new way.
“The Jubilee year will close with the liturgical Solemnity of Christ the King on 20 November 2016. On that day, as we seal the Holy Door, we shall be filled, above all, with a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving to the Most Holy Trinity for having granted us an extraordinary time of grace. We will entrust the life of the Church, all humanity, and the entire cosmos to the Lordship of Christ, asking him to pour out his mercy upon us like the morning dew, so that everyone may work together to build a brighter future."
The 21st-century Church is hungry for mercy, Pope Francis maintains. Now is the time for prayerful action.
“Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love. The Church “has an endless desire to show mercy”. Perhaps we have long since forgotten how to show and live the way of mercy.
“The temptation, on the one hand, to focus exclusively on justice made us forget that this is only the first, albeit necessary and indispensable step. But the Church needs to go beyond and strive for a higher and more important goal. On the other hand, sad to say, we must admit that the practice of mercy is waning in the wider culture. In some cases the word seems to have dropped out of use. However, without a witness to mercy, life becomes fruitless and sterile, as if sequestered in a barren desert. The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more.”
The grace of mercy is open to everyone, but Pope Francis makes special mention of those often forgotten by society.
“This Holy Year will bring to the fore the richness of Jesus’ mission: to bring a word and gesture of consolation to the poor, to proclaim liberty to those bound by new forms of slavery in modern society, to restore sight to those who can see no more because they are caught up in themselves, to restore dignity to all those from whom it has been robbed. The preaching of Jesus is made visible once more in the response of faith which Christians are called to offer by their witness. May the words of the Apostle accompany us: he who does acts of mercy, let him do them with cheerfulness (cf. Rom 12:8).”
The pope believes that the two realities are uniquely linked.
“It would not be out of place at this point to recall the relationship between justice and mercy. These are not two contradictory realities, but two dimensions of a single reality that unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love. Justice is a fundamental concept for civil society, which is meant to be governed by the rule of law. Justice is also understood as that which is rightly due to each individual. In the Bible, there are many references to divine justice and to God as “judge”. In these passages, justice is understood as the full observance of the Law and the behavior of every good Israelite in conformity with God’s commandments. Such a vision, however, has not infrequently led to legalism by distorting the original meaning of justice and obscuring its profound value. To overcome this legalistic perspective, we need to recall that in Sacred Scripture, justice is conceived essentially as the faithful abandonment of oneself to God’s will.”
One of the primary signs of the advent of a Jubilee year is the opening of the Holy Doors located in Rome. This year, the Holy Doors will become Doors of Mercy "through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope."
In addition to the primary Holy Doors located at the Vatican, Pope Francis has declared that other churches throughout the globe will be able to open a Door of Mercy for the duration of the Holy Year.
"Every Particular Church, therefore, will be directly involved in living out this Holy Year as an extraordinary moment of grace and spiritual renewal. The the Jubilee will be celebrated both in Rome and in the Particular Churches as a visible sign of the Church's universal communion"
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Jubilee years are held typically every 25 or 50 years and usually focus on themes of remission of sin, mercy, reconciliation, and sacramental penance. Jubilee years are meant to provide a deeper opportunity for individuals to grow in their faith. In 1300 A.D., Pope Boniface VII, in response to suffering from war and plague, proclaimed a year of forgiveness of all sins. Since then, Jubilee years have been proclaimed 26 times throughout the Church's history. The last Jubilee year was in the year 2000. Most Jubilee years are accompanied by plenary indulgences and begin with opening of the Holy Door in St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican—a symbol of an extraordinary journey toward salvation.
A Holy Door is an entrance located in the Major basilicas in Rome. These doors are typically sealed by mortar and cement but are opened during Jubilee years. Many faithful pilgrims will enter through these doors to gain the plenary indulgences of that Jubilee year. During this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, many other Holy Doors will be opened in churches and cathedrals across the world, although those doors have not been sealed.
Jubilee years also entail the granting of indulgences. According to the Code of Canon Law, an indulgence is a ""remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been fogiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints." In Pope Francis's statemens on the Year of Mercy, he said, ""Hence, to live the indulgence of the Holy Year means to approach the Father’s mercy with the certainty that his forgiveness extends to the entire life of the believer. To gain an indulgence is to experience the holiness of the Church, who bestows upon all the fruits of Christ’s redemption, so that God’s love and forgiveness may extend everywhere. Let us live this Jubilee intensely, begging the Father to forgive our sins and to bathe us in his merciful indulgence.”
According to the Code of Canon Law, "the works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead." In his announcement of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis said, "It is my burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty. And let us enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy."
An Extraordinary Jubilee is declared for an event, question, or theme of particular importance. These Extraordinary Jubilees do not impact the regular occurence of Ordinary Jubilees. The first Extraordinary Jubilee was declared on May 25th, 1585, by Pope Sixtus V. Since then, there have been 63 such Jubilees with Pope Francis's Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy being the 64th.
Pope Francis believes abortion is one of the greatest tragedies of our modern era, one that has become too commonplace in society and has led to an overall lack of sensitity to new life. In his recent letter announcing the Year of Mercy, he stated: "The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father. For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it."
The practice of pilgrimage has a special place in the Holy Year because it represents the journey each of us makes in this life. Life itself is a pilgrimage, and the human being is a pilgrim travelling along the road, making his way to the desired destination.
Only a few years into his papacy, Pope Francis has spoken and written many times on the theme of mercy, going so far as to call it “the Lord’s most powerful message.”
Published in partnership with the Vatican, A Year of Mercy: Inspiring Words from Pope Francis celebrates the Jubilee year of 2016 with a collection of his most moving words on the subject of mercy.
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