Today is the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis. Here is what you need to know about it.
What a jubilee year is.
The custom of celebrating jubilee years is an ancient one that dates backs to the Old Testament. Leviticus 25:10 prescribed that the Hebrews “shalt sanctify the fiftieth year and shalt proclaim remission to all the inhabitants of thy land: for it is the year of jubilee.” The jubilee year was a time of restoration and forgiveness during which every household was to recover its absent members, land was to be returned to its former owners, Hebrew slaves were to be set free, and debts were to be remitted.
The Catholic Church continued this tradition of restoration and forgiveness in a more spiritualized manner. Although prior jubilees existed in various forms, Pope Boniface VIII was the first pontiff to formally declare a jubilee year in 1300, granting “great remissions and indulgences for sins” obtained “by visiting the city of Rome and the venerable basilica of the Prince of the Apostles.” He stated that the jubilee would take place every 100 years.
Since Pope Boniface, jubilee years have become more frequent and more generous. Subsequent popes lessened the time between jubilees to 25 years, taking into account the average human lifespan. They also made it easier to obtain indulgences by allowing the faithful to make pilgrimages to churches and shrines in their own countries as opposed to trekking all the way to Rome. The last ordinary jubilee year took place under Pope John Paul II in 2000.
All jubilee years are special, but this one is extra special.
Popes also have the power to announce extraordinary jubilees, a privilege they have used on 65 occasions. Numerous popes have declared extraordinary jubilees to mark special anniversaries, as Pope John Paul II did in 1983 to celebrate the 1,950th anniversary of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Other popes announced extraordinary jubilees because they discerned the Church was in need of a special outpouring of graces, as Pope Leo XIII did in 1885.
This extraordinary jubilee has been announced because Pope Francis has discerned the Church is in need of of a deep and sustained reflection on divine mercy. He has seen that the Church needs to renew her awareness of God’s infinite mercy and of her mission to communicate it to the world.
Mercy is a special theme for Pope Francis.
When Pope Francis was a young man, he had a powerful experience of God’s mercy in a moment of prayer that led to his pursuing the priesthood. His personal spiritual life has been marked by a profound awareness of his status as a sinner who is dependent upon divine mercy. When asked in an interview “Who is Jorge Bergoglio?” his response was “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”
His episcopal motto is taken from a sermon by St. Bede on Christ’s calling of the tax collector Matthew: Miserando atque eligendo, which can be roughly translated as “Looking at him with mercy and choosing him.”
His entire pontificate has been characterized by a special desire to “go to the periphery” (using his words) and reaching out to the marginalized. From the beginning, he has gone out of his way to make it very clear that no one is beyond God’s mercy. I can personally attest from my time in Rome that he always became very emotional when inviting his audience to approach God without fear and with great trust in his mercy.
The Holy Doors.
The jubilee officially begins with the opening of the Holy Doors of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Tuesday, December 8th. The Holy Doors are only opened during jubilee years and remained sealed the rest of the time. The Holy Doors will remain open until the Solemnity of Christ the King November 20, 2016.
The Sunday after the opening of the Basilica’s Holy Doors, December 13th, all Holy Doors throughout the world will be opened. Every diocese’s cathedral will have Holy Doors, as will local shrines designated by the bishop.
All pilgrims who walk through the Holy Doors are granted a special indulgence (the remission of temporal punishment for sins) by fulfilling the following conditions:
- Having an interior disposition of complete detachment from sin.
- Going to confession within twenty days of walking through the Holy Doors.
- Receiving the Holy Eucharist within twenty days of walking through the Holy Doors.
- Praying for the intentions of the Pope within twenty days of walking through the Holy Doors
Planning a pilgrimage.
A great way to take advantage of this Year of Mercy is to make a pilgrimage to a church with designated Holy Doors (which are also being referred to this year as Doors of Mercy). A pilgrimage is more than just a trip to a shrine – it is a profound spiritual journey. As a pilgrim, one willingly makes the sacrifice of time, resources, and comfort in order to approach God in humility and ask for His grace. A pilgrimage during this jubilee year should have the added emphasis of approaching God to receive His ever-available mercy and forgiveness.
I highly recommend a pilgrimage to Rome for those who can make it. For information on major events during the Year of Mercy and on how to register as a pilgrim, click here.
If you cannot make it to Rome, you can make a pilgrimage to somewhere that is more easily accessible. As mentioned above, every diocesan cathedral will have Doors of Mercy. To find out locations of Doors of Mercy click here. You can also contact your diocese’s chancery or visit your diocesan web site find out which churches besides your cathedral will have Holy Doors.
All Holy Doors, besides those of St. Peter’s Basilica, will be opened on Sunday, December 13th, and they will be closed on Sunday, November 13, 2016.
I wish you all a holy and blessed Jubilee Year. God bless!