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Jubilee! Pope Francis Announces Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy

Diane Montagna - published on 03/12/15

Surprise comes on 2nd anniversary of his pontificate

VATICAN CITY — On the second anniversary of his election, Pope Francis today announced the celebration of an extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy, beginning on December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the 50th anniversary of the closing of Vatican II.

The surprise announcement came at a penitential liturgy celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica Friday evening, as Pope Francis opened the Lenten prayer initiative “24 Hours for the Lord.” 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 “will conclude on November 20, 2016, the Sunday of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe and living Face of the the Father’s mercy.”

Addressing the faithful, the Pope said: “Dear brothers and sisters, I have often thought about how the Church might render more evident her mission to be a witness to mercy. 

“It is a journey that begins with spiritual conversion,” he said. “That is why I have decided to announce an extraordinary Jubilee centered on God’s mercy. It will be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live in the light of the Lord’s word: ‘Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful’ (cf. Lk 6:36).” The Pope then added: “this is especially true for confessors.”

In Christian tradition, a year of Jubilee is a time of joy, remission or universal pardon. The Vatican points 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. 

Pope Francis has entrusted the organization of the Holy Year to the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.

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 in 1983, proclaimed by John Paul II on the occasion of 1,950 years of Redemption.

In a statement released on Friday, the Vatican explained that, during the Jubilee Year, the Sunday readings for Ordinary Time will be taken from the Gospel of Luke, who is referred to as “the evangelist of mercy”. St. Luke’s Gospel contains many well-known parables of mercy: the lost sheep, the lost coin, the merciful father. 

The Vatican added: “The official and solemn announcement of the Holy Year will take place with the public proclamation of the Bolla in front of the Holy Door on Divine Mercy Sunday, the feast instituted by Saint John Paul II and celebrated the Sunday after Easter.”

As the Old Testament reveals, in the ancient Hebrew tradition, 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 which had lost their property and even their personal freedom. 

The Vatican explained that 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 millenio adveniente 13). 

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