On the day of the second anniversary of his pontificate, Pope Francis made the major announcement of a jubilee year dedicated to the theme of mercy, beginning on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 9th 2015.
Speaking to pilgrims at a penitential liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica 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 conclude on the feast of Christ the King, November 20th 2016.
In Catholic tradition, a year of jubilee is a time of joy, remission or universal pardon. The Vatican pointed 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.
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 the 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 1983, proclaimed by John Paul II on the occasion of 1,950 years of redemption.
The jubilee tradition has its roots in Judaism, when a jubilee year was celebrated every 50 years. It was meant to restore equality among all the children of Israel, offering new possibilities to families that had lost property and even their personal freedom.
The Vatican statement said 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 Millennio Adveniente 13)
An extraordinary jubilee may be announced on the occasion of an event of particular importance. There have been 26 such “ordinary” celebrations, while the custom of calling extraordinary jubilees dates back to the 16th century.
The Catholic jubilee has added spiritual significance to the Hebrew jubilee, comprising a general pardon, an indulgence open to all and the possibility to renew one’s relationship with God and neighbour.
Mercy has been a central theme of Pope Francis’ pontificate, in his first Angelus after his election, Francis said feeling mercy “changes everything”.
“This is the best thing we can feel: It changes the world,” he said. “A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father, who is so patient.”