Historic appearance of pope and predecessor at opening of Holy Year of Mercy
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It will be historic.
For the first time in the history of the church, a pope will initiate a Holy Year by knocking at the Holy Doors in the presence of his predecessor.
Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, explained in a statement that the Pope Emeritus accepted Francis’ invitation to participate in the opening ceremony, which will take place on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
Father Lombardi noted that over the last few weeks, Pope Francis has quoted his predecessor several times on the relationship between truth and mercy. In particular, at the beginning of the synod on the family, when Francis cited Benedict in affirming that “the Church is called to carry out her mission in truth, which is not changed by passing fads or popular opinions.”
The day of the opening of the Vatican’s Holy Door will also mark the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second Vatican Council and 1,000 days since the election of Francis to the Chair of Peter.
While the appearance of a pope and his predecessor at the opening of the holy doors is unprecedented, this won’t be the first Vatican ceremony in which the Pope Emeritus has been present. Benedict also attended the consistory for the creation of new cardinals last Feb. 14, a meeting with the elderly Francis called in September of 2014, as well as the April 27, 2014, canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII.
Pope Francis often quotes the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, in his addresses and exhortations, and has famously said that his close association with Benedict “is like having a grandfather — a wise grandfather — living at home” and “the grandfather of all grandfathers.” It is not surprising, then, that he has invited the 88 year-old, who prefers to be called “Father Benedict,” to be present at the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
The Pope Emeritus, who now walks with a cane, will join Pope Francis at the portico, at the very start of the Year of Mercy, witnessing the opening of the Holy Doors, and will then retire to his residence. He will not participate in the procession and further services, beyond the opening ritual.
The spirit of this week’s opening ceremony is expressed in the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee, in which Pope Francis writes: “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers.”
In presenting the opening ceremony of the jubilee to the press last Friday, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who is in charge of organizing it, said it will be a very simple event, transmitted by television around the world.
“The pope will request that the door be opened and he will cross through it,” the archbishop explained. “After him will come cardinals, bishops and representatives of priests, men and women religious and laity, who will cross the Holy Door and process toward the tomb of the apostle Peter.”
The final rites of the Mass will be celebrated before the relics of the apostle, and afterward, the pope will pray the Angelus from the window of the Apostolic Palace.
[To learn more about the Holy Doors, what they mean and why they matter, see here.—Ed.]
Translated from the Spanish by Kathleen Hattrup, with additions.
Elizabeth Scalia is Editor-in-Chief of the English edition of Aleteia