For the last few months I’ve occasionally seen in Catholic publications and on social media that we are in the Jubilee Year of Mercy. But, not much has been preached from the pulpit, nor has anything serendipitously crossed my path and grabbed my attention, to offer sufficient insight and explanation about what the Jubilee Year of Mercy actually is and why Pope Francis declared it to be this year.
The name itself, The Jubilee Year of Mercy, implies it to be an important event about which we Catholics ought to know at least the basics. Obviously, I needed to learn more about it which meant I needed to do some research. In this post, I hope to summarize the basics of what I have learned and break it down to be not only informative but easy to understand. Then, in upcoming posts, I will get deeper into the details. My hope is that I will bring some clarity to those of you who are in the situation I was in.
What is a Jubilee Year?
A Jubilee year is when the Catholic Church devotes a year to a special intention that focuses on healing and forgiveness. It is intended to help Catholics strengthen their faith, grow spiritually, and unite with other Catholics and non-Catholics in encouraging service.
Jubilees normally occur every 25 years. They include pilgrimages and special celebrations, and the faithful are called to receive God’s grace through the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion.
Occasionally, there is an Extraordinary Jubilee Year, such as our current Year of Mercy. These may be declared more frequently than 25 years but offer the same opportunities for additional grace. The last Extraordinary Jubilee year was in 1983 when St. Pope John Paul II honored the 1,950th anniversary of Jesus’ death. It is only the fourth Extraordinary Jubilee since the tradition began 700 years ago.
Why is this the Year of Mercy?
Pope Francis called for this Year of Mercy because he saw the urgent need for mercy and healing in the world. It is his hope that Catholics around the world will take this time to ask for and reflect on receiving God’s mercy, focus on forgiveness to others, and be “Witnesses of Mercy” by practicing corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
In Pope Francis’ homily on Divine Mercy Sunday last year, he answered the why question:
“Here, then, is the reason for the Jubilee: because this is the time for mercy. It is the favorable 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.”(1)
When is the Jubilee Year of Mercy?
The Jubilee Year of Mercy began on December 8, 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and it will end on November 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Christ the King.
Where will the Jubilee Year of Mercy be celebrated?
Unlike most jubilees, this is the first to be celebrated world-wide instead of only in Rome. Pope Francis desired that it be celebrated in every diocese in the world thereby making it more easily accessible to all Catholics.
What does the Church do to celebrate the Year of Mercy?
In Rome, there will be more than a dozen celebrations scheduled for the Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016, giving pilgrims the chance to celebrate their own holy year with Pope Francis. The year-long extraordinary jubilee will include a number of individual jubilee days, such as for consecrated men and women, catechists, the sick and disabled, [children], and prisoners.(2)
Pilgrimages by the faithful are encouraged during jubilee years. To facilitate these pilgrimages, the Church has opened “Holy doors” at churches in each diocese around the world to serve as destinations for one’s journey. “The open holy doors are an invitation to all the faithful to come and enter into the compassion, love, mercy, and consolation of God. They become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope.”(1)
In addition, Pope Francis will focus monthly on the 14 “Works of Mercy”, acts which are intended to serve as forms of both penance and charity. These works of mercy consist of the seven “corporal” works of mercy and the seven “spiritual” works of mercy (more about these in another post).
Is there anything special about making a pilgrimage?
Those making pilgrimages during the jubilee year, whether it’s a pilgrimage to Rome or passing through the Holy Doors in your own diocese, will receive a plenary indulgence which, provided the recipient goes to confession, receives Communion and prays for the pope, will remove all temporal punishment due to sins committed up to that time.
So, those are the basics – the purpose, actions, and effects of observing and participating in the Jubilee Year of Mercy. In future posts I will: discuss what mercy is and how one can show mercy; explore and clarify plenary indulgences and the remission of temporal sin; examine the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; and any other nuggets of knowledge I pick up from my research that I think you would like to know.
The best way to sum up what I’ve learned so far is to quote Pope Francis. He said, “This jubilee is to be a journey that starts with a spiritual conversion….a journey of walking closer with God and discovering moments of grace and spiritual renewal”(1).
What it isn’t is a process or event to replace our everyday piety, study and action. Rather, it is a supplement which, when understood and practiced, will bring us, and those with whom we interact, additional mercy and grace from God.
I don’t know about you, but I can use a little more of that in my life.
(1) United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
(2) Apostles of the Holy Spirit, Bulletin, Winter 2015-16
(3) The Catholic Telegraph, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, February and March 2016
(The Jubilee Year of Mercy: Part 1 – The Basics, was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
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