April 10, 2015


A Jubilee Year of Mercy

On this Sunday, April 12, the feast of Divine Mercy, Pope Francis will officially and solemnly proclaim an extraordinary holy year, a Jubilee Year of Mercy, in front of the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica. The year itself will begin on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, on Dec. 8, when the Holy Door will be opened, and will conclude on Nov. 20, 2016, the solemnity of Christ the King.

The pope made the announcement of the extraordinary holy year on March 13, the second anniversary of his election as pontiff, but the solemn proclamation, appropriately, will be this Sunday, on a relatively new feast. The Sunday after Easter was officially designated as the Sunday of Divine Mercy on April 30, 2000, when St. John Paul II canonized Polish Sister St. Faustina Kowalska.

Jesus appeared to St. Faustina on Feb. 22, 1931, as “King of Divine Mercy,” wearing a white garment with red and pale rays emanating from his heart. He told her that he wanted his Divine Mercy image to be painted, and to be solemnly blessed on the Sunday after Easter.

St. Faustina was able to get a painting of the Divine Mercy image made by artist Eugene Kazimirowski, and she was present when it was first displayed in 1935, but she died on Oct. 5, 1938, at age 33.

Efforts to get the feast recognized by the Church were stalled—St. Faustina’s writings (mainly her diaries) were even condemned by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—until Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow (the future Pope John Paul II) took up her cause. Now the feast has been officially observed by the universal Church for 15 years.

What could be more appropriate, then, for Pope Francis, who probably will go down in history as “the pope of mercy,” to use this feast to proclaim his holy year as a Jubilee Year of Mercy?

Pope Francis has been preaching the God of mercy ever since he was elected. It was the theme of his first public Mass as pope on March 17, 2013, and his first talk to the hundreds of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square on that same day. He has praised Cardinal Walter Kasper’s book on the subject of mercy, and he has returned to the topic frequently in his homilies and speeches.

Loyola Press has published a book titled The Church of Mercy: A Vision for the Church that consists of 39 of Pope Francis’ talks or homilies on the subject of mercy. The book begins with the pope’s homily for the Mass when he took possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome, his first words being, “What a beautiful truth of faith this is for our lives: the mercy of God! God’s love for us is so great, so deep; it is an unfailing love, one that always takes us by the hand and supports us, lifts us up, and leads us on.”

The Church has been observing holy years since 1300. It was originally planned to have them every century, but that was changed to every 25 years so every generation can experience at least one. This holy year will be the 30th, including 26 regular holy years and four extraordinary. The last extraordinary holy year was proclaimed by St. John Paul II in 1983 to commemorate 1,950 years of redemption. The last ordinary holy year was in 2000.

Each of the four major basilicas in Rome has a holy door that is opened only during holy years. Those at St. John Lateran, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and St. Mary Major will be opened after the one at St. Peter’s. The opening of the doors symbolizes the idea that, during the Jubilee year, the faithful are offered an extraordinary pathway towards salvation.

It undoubtedly is no coincidence that the 14th ordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops will take place shortly before the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The theme will be “the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world,” so there will be plenty of chances for the hierarchy to discuss mercy as it pertains to families.

—John F. Fink

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