Pope Francis declares extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy

Pope Francis values the extraordinary. In an unexpected announcement, the Holy Father declared March 13 that the Church will celebrate an extraordinary jubilee Holy Year of Mercy, beginning Dec. 8, 2015, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and ending Nov. 20, 2016, the feast of Christ the King.

“I have often thought about how the Church might make clear its mission of being a witness to mercy,” the pontiff said during a homily at a Vatican reconciliation service. “It is a journey that begins with a spiritual conversion. For this reason, I have decided to call an extraordinary jubilee that is to have the mercy of God at its center. It shall be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live this year in the light of the Lord’s words: ‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful’ (Lk 6:36).”

According to the Pontifical Council for Promotion of the New Evangelization, which is organizing the event, the official announcement of the Holy Year will take place on Divine Mercy Sunday, which falls this year on April 12. The event formally will begin with the “opening of the Holy Door in St. Peter’s” on Dec. 8. The feast day is also the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second Vatican Council, a date of “great significance” as it “impels the Church to continue the work begun at Vatican II,” the New Evangelization council.

During the Holy Year, the Sunday readings will derive from the Gospel of Luke, who is known as the “evangelist of mercy.”

The Holy Year will be an “extraordinary jubilee year,” meaning it falls outside of the regular rhythm of jubilees celebrated every quarter century. The last jubilee year was in 2000. For a longer and more detailed explanation of the history of ordinary and extraordinary jubilee years, please see future issues of OSV Newsweekly. But, briefly, the celebration of jubilees stems from the ancient Hebrew tradition when jubilee years were celebrated every half-century.

Referenced in the Book of Leviticus (cf. 25), the “sacred” jubilee year was a time meant to restore equality among the children of Israel. The Catholic tradition of jubilees began in 1300 under the reign of Pope Boniface VIII, who decided jubilees would be celebrated once every 100 years. This was changed to once every 25 years in 1475 to allow for every generation to celebrate at least one Holy Year.

On “an occasion of an event of particular importance,” according to the New Evangelization council, “an extraordinary jubilee may be announced.” The last extraordinary jubilees took place in 1933 and 1983, to celebrate the 1900th and 1950th anniversaries of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The momentous extraordinary jubilee of mercy beginning in December will offer Catholics the opportunity to reflect more deeply on the Lord’s loving mercy and on how we, as a Church, should respond. For more, please see the editorial on Page 19.