On Friday, April 10, while celebrating a penitential service in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis announced an extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy, saying he wants to make it evident that the Church’s mission is to be a witness of compassion.
“Let us not forget that God forgives and God forgives always,” Francis said. “Let us never tire of asking for forgiveness.”
The Pope continued, “I am convinced that the whole Church — which has much need to receive mercy, because we are sinners — will find in this jubilee the joy to rediscover and render fruitful the mercy of God, with which we are all called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time.”
Traditionally, every 25 years the Pope proclaims a holy year, which features special celebrations and pilgrimages, strong calls for conversion and repentance, and the offer of special opportunities to experience God’s grace through the sacraments, especially confession. Extraordinary holy years, like the Holy Year of Mercy, are less frequent, but offer the same opportunities for spiritual growth.
The jubilee will begin on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. It will end on Nov. 20, 2016, on the feast of Christ the King.
The biblical theme the Pope has chosen for the jubilee year is “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,” something that Francis said applies “especially to confessors.”
The Holy Year of Mercy, which will be celebrated not only in Rome but in all the dioceses of the world, will be organized by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization and is designed to widen access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
On Monday, April 13, the Vatican released the Papal Bull Misericordiae Vultus (The Face of Mercy) which formally convoked the Extraordinary Jubilee. (A papal bull is a formal letter issued by the Vatican Chancery in the name of the Pope. It is named after the lead seal, or bulla, that is appended to the end in order to authenticate it.)
The Bull begins, “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.” It is composed of 25 numbered sections, in which Pope Francis describes and reflects upon the features of mercy, focusing primarily on the theme of the light of Christ’s face. Mercy is not an abstract word, he writes, but rather a face to recognize, contemplate and serve. He describes the Church as a credible sign of mercy: “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life.”
“This [Holy Year] is the opportune moment to change our lives!” the Pope writes. “This is the time to allow our hearts to be touched! When confronted with evil deeds, even in the face of serious crimes, it is the time to listen to the cry of innocent people who are deprived of their property, their dignity, their feelings, and even their very lives.”
An important emphasis in the Year of Mercy will be the availability and the reception of the Sacrament of Penance in churches throughout the world. The Pope also encourages Catholics to make a pilgrimage during the year, whether to Rome or any other holy place: “May pilgrimage be an impetus to conversion,” he writes, “… [where] we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us.”
The Holy Year will be a time for the faithful to reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, the Pope writes: “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… Let us rediscover these corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. And let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead.”
The Pope writes that the Season of Lent during this Holy Year “should also be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy.” During Lent the Pope will send Missionaries of Mercy, with the power to forgive even sins reserved to the Holy See, to dioceses worldwide.
As in previous jubilee years, the Church will grant special indulgences.
The Papal Bull concludes: “In this Jubilee Year, may the Church echo the word of God that resounds strong and clear as a message and a sign of pardon, strength, aid, and love. May she never tire of extending mercy, and be ever patient in offering compassion and comfort. May the Church become the voice of every man and woman, and repeat confidently without end: ‘Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old’” (Ps 25:6).
(A papal bull is a formal letter issued by the Vatican Chancery in the name of the Pope. It is named after the lead seal, or bulla, that is appended to the end in order to authenticate it.)