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True Meaning and Significance of the Jubilee of Mercy

December 6, 2015
For Pope Francis, the Extraordinary Jubilee Mercy breaks the previous cycles of every 25 years and occurs fifteen years after the Great Jubilee of the year 2000. (Pope John Paul II called an extraordinary Jubilee of Redemption in 1983).  Pope Francis has invited the entire Catholic church to refashion itself as a place not of judgment or condemnation but of pardon and merciful love. In an important document convoking the year, which formally beginsDecember 8, Francis states that the church’s "very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love." "Perhaps we have long since forgotten how to show and live the way of mercy," writes Francis in the document with the Latin title Misericordiae Vultus (The Face of Mercy).
The Church, during Holy Years and Jubilees, seeks to emphasize one of her more profound characteristics, to make it visible for all to understand. This characteristic is mercy and the inexhaustible capacity to welcome and forgive all men and women in need of pardon whether alive or dead. The Church is called to follow the example of Jesus who explains in many passages of the Gospel that he comes in search of sinners, of the lost sheep, to heal the sick, to free prisoners. In this way he reveals the authentic face of God, His and our Father “rich in mercy”.  On these special occasions the Church makes it easier for the faithful to do penance and experience reconciliation. She teaches us to do penance and to make amends for sin with works of mercy and love for God and neighbour in order to gain the indulgence which God desires to grant all his children who seek him with humility.
"The temptation ... to focus exclusively on justice made us forget that this is only the first, albeit necessary and indispensable step… The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more," he states.
Francis addresses the relationship between mercy and justice, which he says, "are not two contradictory realities, but two dimensions of a single reality that unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love."
Francis says that in many biblical passages, "justice is understood as the full observance of the Law and the behavior of every good Israelite in conformity with God’s commandments."
But he continues: "Such a vision ... has not infrequently led to legalism by distorting the original meaning of justice and obscuring its profound value."
Quoting Jesus' response to the Pharisees in Matthew's Gospel – “Go and learn the meaning of ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice.’" – Francis says, "Jesus is bent on revealing the great gift of mercy that searches out sinners and offers them pardon and salvation."
Signs and Symbols of Jubilee Years
Jubilee years call for the use of means, signs and symbols which help the faithful to live the great truths of Christian life and lead them to a more profound relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  Three main signs have been traditionally used for Jubilees:
- pilgrimage
- the Holy Door
- the indulgence
A pilgrimage is an ancient symbol of Christian life with profound anthropological roots:Homo viator. We proceed from a mystery, God, and we on our way towards a mystery, God. Along our journey we are accompanied and illuminated by Christ: I am the way…I am the light.  The pilgrim is not a vagabond (because he is aware of his destination) neither is he a solitary person (because he is a member of a pilgrim people). He has no permanent home in this world: he carries only what is necessary for his journey. These are the profound motivations which move people – young ones especially – to undertake a journey as pilgrims.
Holy Door Rome
The Holy Door in the Basilicas or Holy Places represents the pilgrim’s destination. The church is a sign of the House of God, of the promised Kingdom where God is ready as Father to welcome all his children, who through Christ and the power of the Spirit, and in the company of Mary, are walking towards Him. He is the great Door which opens to humankind access to the Father. He is the Door through which we must enter if we are to go to the House of God. We enter the church to celebrate the Eucharist, to come together as a people gathered in faith, the find again the meaning of the Sunday Eucharist which calls all Christians to unite themselves intimately with Jesus in the sacrament.
Francis hopes that with the opening of the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica, and the doors of Churches throughout the world, the door "will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope."
On November 18, 2015 during his weekly General Audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis spoke specfically about one important sign of the Jubilee Year: the door.
The Holy Father referred to the recent Synod of Bishops, “which gave all families and all the Church as strong impetus to meet at the threshold of this open door. The Church was encouraged to open her doors, to go forth with the Lord towards His sons and daughters who walk together, at times uncertain, at times lost, in these difficult times. Christian families, in particular, have been encouraged to open the door to the Lord Who waits to enter, bringing His blessing. But the Lord never forces the door; He asks permission to enter through ours, although His doors are always open”.
“There are still places in the world where doors are not locked, but there are also many where reinforced doors have become normal. We must not accept the idea of having to apply this system to our whole life, to life within the family, in the city, in society, and far less so in the life of the Church. … An inhospitable Church, like a family closed in on itself, mortifies the Gospel and makes the world arid. No more reinforced doors in the Church!” he exclaimed.
“The symbolic management of doors – thresholds, passages, frontiers – has become crucial. The door must protect, certainly, but not repudiate. The door must not be forced: on the contrary, it is necessary to ask permission to enter, as hospitality shines in the freedom of welcome, and darkens in the arrogance of invasion. The door is opened frequently, to see if there is anyone waiting outside, who perhaps does not have the courage or even the strength to knock. How many people no longer trust … to knock on the door of our Christian heart, at the doors of our Churches. … We have lost their trust; please, we must not let this happen. The door says many things about the house, and also the Church”.
“We ourselves are the guardians and servants of the Door of God, Who is Jesus”, affirmed Francis. “Jesus is the door that lets us enter and leave. Because God's flock is a refuge, not a prison. … We must pass by the door and listen to Jesus' voice; if we hear His tone of voice, we are safe and sound. … If the guardian hears the voice of the Shepherd, then he opens, and he lets in all the sheep that the Shepherd brings, all of them, including those lost in the woods, that the Good Shepherd has gone to find. The sheep are not chosen by the guardian, but rather by the Good Shepherd. The guardian too obeys the voice of the Shepherd. The Church is the door to the house of the Lord but she is not the proprietor of the house of the Lord”.
Pope John Paul II wrote in the Bull Incarnationis Mysterium (9) that the Indulgence “is one of constitutive elements of the Jubilee. The indulgence discloses the fullness of the Father’s mercy who offers everyone his love, expressed primarily in the forgiveness of sin”. Normally, the Pope says, “God the Father grants his pardon through the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation”, but “reconciliation with God does not mean that there are no enduring consequence of sin from which we must be purified. It is precisely in this context that the indulgence becomes important, since it is an expression of the total gift of mercy from God. With the indulgence, the repentant sinner receives a remission of the temporal punishment due for the sins already forgiven as regards the fault” (IM 9).
Eight questions about the Jubilee of Mercy
Here are answers to some of the most common questions about the Jubilee of Mercy.
  1. What is a Holy Year?
Jewish tradition inspired the Catholic Church to start celebrating the Jubilee, or Holy Year. (The words are interchangeable.) The Catholic tradition was started in the year 1300 by Pope Boniface VIII. A Holy Year is a general forgiveness, open to all. It is a special proposal to approach God and others.
  1. What's the difference between an ordinary Jubilee and an extraordinary Jubilee?
There are ordinary Jubilees and extraordinary Jubilees. Since 1475, the ordinary Jubilee has been celebrated once every 25 years. Extraordinary ones are called only for special occasions. Until now, there have been 24 ordinary jubilees and four extraordinary. The Jubilee of Mercy, convened by Pope Francis, will be the fifth. The last extraordinary was convoked by Pope John Paul II in 1983. He also convoked the last ordinary one, the Jubilee of the Year 2000.
  1. Why did Pope Francis call the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy?
The Pope announced the Jubilee of Mercy in March, and made the decision official when he read the Bull of Indiction on April 11, 2015. At the time, he explained his rationale.
"Why a Jubilee of Mercy now? Simply because the Church at this moment of great historical changes, is called to offer with greater intensity the signs and presence of God's closeness. This is not a time for distractions."
  1. How long will this Jubilee Year of Mercy last?
Holy Years do not necessarily last 365 days. The Jubilee of Mercy will be less than a year long. It begins on December 8th and lasts until November 20, 2016.
  1. How many people will come to Rome?
The Jubilee of the Year 2000 attracted about 25 million pilgrims to Rome. It's estimated that about the same number will come during the Jubilee of Mercy. There will be huge crowds throughout the year at St. Peter's Basilica and other churches in the area. Shop owners near the Vatican say they are bracing for a busy year.
  1. What events will take place?
It will be an incredibly busy year. Once the Holy Door in St. Peter's Basilica is opened onDecember 8th, other Holy Doors throughout the city will also be opened. The events will be centered around the concept of mercy. That means special care will be taken to make Confession a key part of the Jubilee. There will be a prayer vigil to "dry the tears” in May and a Jubilee for prisoners in November. Visit www.im.va for more information about all of the upcoming events.
  1. What is the Holy Door?
The first rite of the Jubilee of Mercy is the opening of the Holy Door.  During his trip to Africa, Pope Francis opened the Holy Door in the Cathedral of Bangui, in the Central African Republic. It was a powerful gesture to show that the Jubilee of Mercy is open in all parts of the world. But the Pope will also open the better known Holy Door in St. Peter's Basilica. Normally, it is opened just once every 25 years. In fact, a brick wall is built to cover it until it is torn down for the next Jubilee. Because this is an extraordinary Jubilee, the Holy Door is being opened early (just 15 years after it was closed).
The Holy Door symbolizes the extraordinary way that Catholics can open themselves up to their faith. For pilgrims, the highlight of their journey is walking through the Holy Door. OnSunday, December 13th, for the first time in the history of the Jubilee Years, there will be Holy Doors opened in all the cathedrals of the world, and that local Ordinaries have been empowered for the occasion to offer the Papal Blessing to all who take part.
  1. Is it safe to visit Rome?
Following the terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere, security has been increased throughout Europe. Because of its place as the center of Universal Church, Rome has been considered a possible target for a future terrorist attack. The upcoming Jubilee has further heightened concerns about a possible attack. Military patrols and Italian police are a constant presence at all major tourist sites, especially the Vatican and St. Peter's Square.
Prayer for the Jubilee of Mercy
Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father,
and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him.
Show us your face and we will be saved.
Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew
from being enslaved by money;
the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things;
made Peter weep after his betrayal,
and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.
Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us,
the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman:
“If you knew the gift of God!”
You are the visible face of the invisible Father,
of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy:
let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.
You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness
in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error:
let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.
Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing,
so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord,
and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor,
proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed,
and restore sight to the blind.
We ask this of you, Lord Jesus, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy;
you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.
Misericordiae Vultus

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