Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
Our annual celebration of Christmas, the birth of our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, is only a few days away! I wish you a blessed last few days of Advent and joyous Christmas! If you have not done so already, I encourage all to make a good sacramental confession before Christmas.
We are now in the beginning stages of the great Jubilee Year of Mercy! This is an historic opportunity for our world to come to know the goodness of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is love and mercy itself! But, what, you may wonder, is this year about? This weekend I share with you more details about this great Jubilee of Mercy!
What is a jubilee year?
The practice of a jubilee year has ancient roots in the Jewish tradition and evidence for it can be found in the Old Testament (for example, see Leviticus 25). The jubilee year was called every fifty years and was a time for forgiveness. It stood as a reminder of God's providence and mercy. The dedication of a year for this emphasis provided the community with a time to come back into right relationship with one another and with God. As the practice of the jubilee year was adopted into the Catholic Church, these themes of mercy, forgiveness, and solidarity continued.
How is this Jubilee different from other Jubilee years?
The Jubilee of Mercy that Pope Francis has called, from December 8, 2015 – November 20, 2016, is an Extraordinary Jubilee. This designation as an "Extraordinary Jubilee" sets it apart from the ordinary cycle of jubilees, or holy years, which are called every 25 years in the Catholic Church. By calling for a holy year outside of the normal cycle, a particular event or theme is emphasized. For example, Pope Francis called this particular Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy to direct our attention and actions "on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father's actions in our lives a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective" (MV, 3).
Why a Jubilee of Mercy now?
Pope Francis himself addressed this question in his homily for First Vespers for Divine Mercy Sunday. "Here, then, is the reason for the Jubilee: because this is the time for mercy. It is the favourable time to heal wounds, a time not to be weary of meeting all those who are waiting to see and to touch with their hands the signs of the closeness of God, a time to offer everyone, everyone, the way of forgiveness and reconciliation. May the Mother of God open our eyes, so that we may comprehend the task to which we have been called; and may she obtain for us the grace to experience this Jubilee of Mercy as faithful and fruitful witnesses of Christ."
What is the Jubilee of Mercy?
In the Bull of Indiction, Misericordiae vultus, Pope Francis 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). December 8, 2015 also marks the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, a Council that sought to bring the love of God to the modern world. Similarly, the Holy Father strongly desires this Jubilee celebration of mercy to be lived out in the daily lives of the faithful, and all who turn to God for compassionate love and mercy.
How do we live out the Jubilee of Mercy in our daily lives?
In Misericordiae vultus, Pope Francis emphasizes the need for the Church and all her members to live out the loving mercy that God has for us. Our response to God's loving mercy towards us is to act in that same way to all those we meet. The Holy Father reminds us that "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" (MV, 10). As members of the Body and Christ, our lives should reflect this witness of mercy to those we meet on a daily basis.
What are the major planned events of the Jubilee year?
There are many events planned throughout the Jubilee of Mercy. The calendar of events organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization lists the scheduled events that will take place at the Vatican. The Jubilee year begins with the opening of the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica, with the Holy Door of the Basilica of St. John Lateran opening the following Sunday. On this day, the Doors of Mercy will also be opened around the world at local cathedrals and significant shrines. Throughout the year, there will also be Jubilee celebrations for various groups who engage in the work of mercy and who have been shown God's mercy. Additionally, Pope Francis will participate in particular "Jubilee" signs, which witness to the works of mercy. Although there are many events planned for official celebrations at the Vatican, the Holy Father encourages dioceses throughout the world to participate in these celebrations recognizing God's mercy in their own local communities.
What are the Holy Doors?
One of the central components of the Jubilee of Mercy is that the Holy Doors throughout the world will be opened during this Jubilee year. When they are opened at the beginning of the year, "the Holy Door will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instils hope" (MV, 3. . . ). Since each diocese will have the opportunity to open a Door of Mercy in their diocese, all members of the faithful will have opportunity to make a pilgrimage to their local Holy Door during the Jubilee. This pilgrimage is to be a journey of walking closer with God and discovering "moment[s] of grace and spiritual renewal" (MV, 3. . . ). These doors are symbols of God's mercy, open to welcome everyone into the compassion of God's love that Christ proclaimed.
What are some key resources for the Jubilee of Mercy?
Those wishing to take up Pope Francis' call to mercy throughout this Jubilee of Mercy are encouraged to explore the resources not only on the official Vatican website and the USCCB's website, but also their local diocesan website. Numerous catechetical resources, events, and other activities have been prepared for the Jubilee of Mercy. Since the Holy Father would like this Jubilee of Mercy to be celebrated throughout the whole world at the local and universal levels, dioceses and parishes are encouraged to offer a variety of resources for their local parishioners in addition to the events and resources that have been prepared by the Vatican. Many of these resources can be viewed and downloaded for free and are ideal for use in small faith sharing groups or for individual reflection.
Through the intercession of the Immaculate Conception, St. Joseph, and St. Columbkill, may our good God grant mercy to us and the whole world!
In Christ through Mary,