VATICAN CITY — On the day of the second anniversary of his pontificate, Pope Francis made the major announcement of a jubilee year dedicated to the theme of mercy, beginning on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8.

Speaking to pilgrims at a penitential liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica Friday evening, the Holy Father said the celebration of this “Jubilee of Mercy,” also called an “extraordinary holy year,” will commence with the opening of the holy door of the basilica and conclude on the feast of Christ the King, Nov. 20, 2016.

He made the announcement as he opened “24 Hours for the Lord,” a Lenten initiative that invites churches worldwide to remain open for 24 hours today for confession and Eucharistic adoration.

”I am convinced that the whole Church will find in this jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time,” Pope Francis said. “From this moment, we entrust this holy year to the Mother of Mercy, that she might turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey.”

In Catholic tradition, a year of jubilee is a time of joy, remission or universal pardon. The Vatican pointed out that the opening of this “Jubilee of Mercy” will take place on the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council in 1965.

“This is of great significance, for it impels the Church to continue the work begun at Vatican II,” the Vatican said in a statement.

Pope Francis has entrusted the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization with the organization of the year.

The last “ordinary jubilee” year was in 2000, when Pope St. John Paul II held the “Great Jubilee,” which was likewise a celebration of the mercy of God and forgiveness of sins. The most recent extraordinary holy years were those in 1933, proclaimed by Pius XI to celebrate 1,900 years of redemption, and 1983, proclaimed by John Paul II on the occasion of 1,950 years of redemption.

The Vatican statement said that, during the year, the Sunday readings for Ordinary Time will be taken from the Gospel of Luke, known as “the Evangelist of Mercy.” Dante Alighieri described him as scriba mansuetudinis Christi (narrator of the meekness of Christ). “There are many well-known parables of mercy presented in the Gospel of Luke: the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, the Merciful Father,” the statement said.

The statement added, “The official and solemn announcement of the holy year will take place with the public proclamation of the Bollain front of the holy door on Divine Mercy Sunday, the feast instituted by St. John Paul II and celebrated on the Sunday after Easter.”

 

The Jubilee Tradition

The jubilee tradition has its roots in Judaism, when a jubilee year was celebrated every 50 years. It was meant to restore equality among all of the children of Israel, offering new possibilities to families that had lost property and even their personal freedom.

The Vatican statement said a jubilee year was also a reminder to the rich that a time would come when their Israelite slaves would once again become their equals and would be able to reclaim their rights. “Justice, according to the Law of Israel, consisted above all in the protection of the weak” (St. John Paul II, Tertio Millennio Adveniente 13).

The Catholic tradition of the holy year began with Pope Boniface VIII, in 1300, who had envisioned a jubilee every century. From 1475 onwards — in order to allow each generation to experience at least one holy year — an ordinary jubilee was to be celebrated every 25 years.

An extraordinary jubilee may be announced on the occasion of an event of particular importance. There have been 26 such “ordinary” celebrations, while the custom of calling extraordinary jubilees dates back to the 16th century.

The Catholic jubilee has added spiritual significance to the Hebrew jubilee, comprising a general pardon, an indulgence open to all and the possibility to renew one’s relationship with God and neighbor. The holy year is, therefore, “always an opportunity to deepen one’s faith and to live with a renewed commitment to Christian witness,” the Vatican statement said.

Mercy has been a central theme of Pope Francis’ pontificate, as expressed in his episcopal motto: Miserando Atque Eligendo. This citation is taken from the homily of St. Bede the Venerable, during which he commented on the Gospel passage of the calling of St. Matthew: Vidit ergo lesus publicanum et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi Sequere me (“Jesus, therefore, sees the tax collector, and since he sees by having mercy and by choosing, he says to him, ‘Follow me’”). This homily is a tribute to Divine Mercy. One possible translation of this motto is “With Eyes of Mercy.”

 

Mercy ‘Changes Everything’

In his first Angelus after his election, Francis said feeling mercy “changes everything.”

“This is the best thing we can feel: It changes the world,” he said. “A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father, who is so patient.”

In the English edition of Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, the word “mercy” appears 32 times.

In his Angelus on Jan. 11, 2015, the Pope stated: “There is so much need of mercy today, and it is important that the lay faithful live it and bring it into different social environments. Go forth! We are living in the age of mercy; this is the age of mercy.”

In his 2015 Lenten Message, the Holy Father said, “How greatly I desire that all those places where the Church is present, especially our parishes and our communities, may become islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference!”

And, at the beginning of 2015, Francis also said: “This is the time of mercy. It is important that the lay faithful live it and bring it into different social environments. Go forth!”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.