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Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy - 6th December 2015
The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy begins in just a few days’ time, on Tuesday 8th December, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
There have been several special years recently, including the Year of Grace, the Year of Faith and the current Year of Consecrated Life which closes in February.
But the Year of Mercy is more than twelve months focussed on prayer and special events. It is an Extraordinary Jubilee Year. According to the book of Leviticus, in a Year of Jubilee held every 50 years, slaves and prisoners are freed, debts are forgiven, and the mercies of God are particularly manifest. Of the 26 Jubilee Years that the Church has celebrated, this is only the third to be labelled “extraordinary”.
The key symbol for Catholic jubilee years has always been an open door, a sign of openness and welcome – the openness of God, the source of grace and mercy, and the welcome offered by the Church, an instrument of God’s mercy.
The beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy on 8th December will be marked by the opening of the special Holy Door at St Peter’s Basilica. Pope Francis has encouraged bishops around the world to designate doors of mercy in their cathedrals. The opening of the Holy Door of Basilica of St John Lateran and of the cathedrals of the world will happen next Sunday, 13th December.
We can all take up this call to openness and welcome by reflecting on the doors of our churches. Are people able to access the church at times other than when Mass is on? I am sure many of us know of someone who has searched in vain for a church as a place of peace, solace and prayer in time of sorrow or despair. If security is an issue, what might be done to lessen the chance of theft or damage?
Liturgy Committees can use the start of the Holy Year of Mercy as an opportunity to review how open and welcoming parish liturgical celebrations are. This might involve asking questions such as: Do we have in place a ministry of hospitality to welcome everyone to baptisms, funerals and other services as well as Sunday Mass? Are people given on arrival a parish bulletin and hymnbook or service sheet if needed? What impact does our music, proclamation of readings, preaching and presiding have on the “outsider”?
How is Penance – the sacrament of mercy - offered and celebrated in the parish? And what about the catechumenate (RCIA), which plays a vital role in accompanying those who are searching for a spiritual home and welcoming people into the church family?
Pope Francis suggests several ways to live out mercy in the forthcoming holy year: mediating on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, participating in the Sacrament of Penance, reciting Mary’s prayer of mercy, the Salve Regina, growing in our knowledge of other world religions, and getting to know people of other religious traditions and to understand the ways they pray, worship and show mercy.
All of these practices and prayers allow us to mark this holy year as one focused on being disciples of mercy.