The extraordinary Holy Year declared by Pope Francis (December 8, 2015 – November 20, 2016) will have at its centre the mercy of God. The ‘Misericordiae Vultus’, Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy outlines the main themes and intentions for the Jubilee.
The name ‘jubilee’ is derived from the Hebrew jobel, the joyful shout or clangor of trumpets (made of rams horn), by which the year of jubilee was announced. The Bull of Indiction clearly demonstrates the Holy Father’s particular attention to the theme of Mercy. In the document he says ‘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 a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness’.
By declaring the Jubilee, Pope Francis not only intends to renew the pastoral approach, but to confirm the theological awareness that acknowledges mercy as a sign of the omnipotence of God. Pope Francis’ references St. Augustine in showing that ‘It is easier for God to hold back anger than mercy’.Mercy, therefore, redefines the concepts of Church, Christian and the relationship with the world. ‘Mercy’, the Pope clarifies, ‘is the architrave that supports the life of the Church’. Hence it needs to be presented ‘with fresh enthusiasm and renewed pastoral action to today’s mankind’. This is what inspired an initiative to celebrate an ‘extraordinary time of grace’ and a ‘return to the basics’ because ‘the time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more’. ‘The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love’. ‘In this Holy Year, we look forward to the experience of opening our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society: fringes which modern society itself creates’, underlines the Pope in the Bull of Indiction.
Through the 24 Hours for the Lord initiative, the Pope invites churches worldwide to remain open for the full 24 hours for prayer and confession in particular on the fourth Friday and Saturday of Lent. However, ‘Missionaries of Mercy’ is the most original initiative, by which the Pope intends to emphasise his pastoral care in a more concrete way. The
‘Missionaries of Mercy’ are priests sent by Pope Francis to be ‘welcoming, loving, and compassionate confessors, who are most especially attentive to the difficult situations of each person’. They are granted the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See. On Ash Wednesday, the Missionaries of Mercy will be sent forth during a celebration in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Missionaries must be invited by individual diocesan bishops within their particular country to give missions or facilitate specific initiatives organized for the Jubilee, with a particular attention given to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In another section of the ‘Misericordiae Vultus’, the Pope powerfully appeals against organized violence and against those who are ‘advocates and accomplices’ of corruption. ‘I direct this invitation to conversion even more fervently to those whose behaviour distances them from the grace of God. I particularly have in mind men and women belonging to criminal organizations of any kind. For their own good, I beg them to change their lives… Do not fall into the terrible trap of thinking that life depends on money and that, in comparison with money, anything else is devoid of value or dignity. This is nothing but an illusion! We cannot take money with us into the life beyond. Money does not bring us happiness…Violence inflicted for the sake of amassing riches soaked in blood makes one neither powerful nor immortal… The same invitation is extended to those who either perpetrate or participate in corruption. This festering wound is a grave sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance, because it threatens the very foundations of personal and social life. Corruption prevents us from looking to the future with hope, because its tyrannical greed shatters the plans of the weak and tramples upon the poorest of the poor. It is an evil that embeds itself into the actions of everyday life and spreads, causing great public scandal’.
And finally, in the papal document, the classic themes related to the Jubilee are expressed, such as the ‘door’, pilgrimage, the granting of indulgences and the memory of martyrs.
As happened in 2000, the Jubilee will be celebrated not only in Rome, but also in all the other dioceses of the world. The Holy Door will be opened by the Pope at St. Peter’s on 8 December, and on the following Sunday in all the Churches of the world. Another novelty is that the Pope will grant the possibility of opening the Holy Door also in Sanctuaries, where many pilgrims will go in order to pray. With reference to the theme of indulgences, which implies the distinction between sin, guilt, penance and punishment, Pope Francis acknowledges the post-conciliar new interpretations. ‘God forgives our sins, which he truly blots out; and yet sin leaves a negative effect on the way we think and act. But the mercy of God is stronger even than this. It becomes indulgence on the part of the Father who, through the Bride of Christ, His Church, reaches the pardoned sinner and frees him from every residue left by the consequences of sin, enabling him to act with charity, to grow in love rather than to fall back into sin’.
In the document Pope Francis also mentions the relationship with Judaism and Islam: ‘There is an aspect of mercy that goes beyond the confines of the Church. It relates us to Judaism and Islam, both of which consider mercy to be one of God’s most important attributes… I trust that this Jubilee year celebrating the mercy of God will foster an encounter with these religions and with other noble religious traditions; may it open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; may it eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination’.
The tradition of Holy Years started 700 years ago. Since then, the Catholic Church has celebrated 26 Jubilees and of those, only three have been ‘extraordinary’ (including this one called by Francis), and about one hundred minor Jubilees. (G.L.)