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 — the 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 ordinary Holy Year celebrations while the custom of calling extraordinary Jubilees dates back to the 16th century.
The Catholic Church has invested the Hebrew Jubilee with a deeper spiritual significance. It consists in 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 said.
With the Jubilee of Mercy, it added, Pope Francis “focuses attention upon the merciful God who invites all men and women to return to Him. The encounter with God inspires in one the virtue of mercy.”
Pope Francis concluded his announcement of the “Jubilee of Mercy” at Friday’s penitential liturgy by entrusting the Holy Year to the maternal intercession of the Blessed Virgin, saying: “I am convinced that the whole Church will be able to find in this Jubilee the joy of rediscovering and making fruitful the mercy of God, through which we have all been called to give consolation to every man and women of our time. From this moment on, let us entrust it to the Mother of Mercy, that she may turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey.”
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia's English edition.