What's unprecedented about Pope Francis' Year for Mercy
by Elise Harris
Vatican City, May 8, 2015 / 06:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News) - In tune with his knack for making history, Pope Francis' Year for Mercy will include things no other jubilee has: worldwide “missionaries of mercy,” and “holy doors” in every diocese for pilgrims to walk through.
“For the first time in the history of the Jubilee tradition, there will be an opportunity for individual dioceses to open a Holy Door – the Door of Mercy,” Archbishop Rino Fisichella said May 5.
Each of the four major basilicas in Rome has a holy door, which are normally sealed shut from the inside so that they cannot be opened. The doors are only opened during jubilee years so that pilgrims can enter through them in order to gain the plenary indulgence that is connected with the jubilee.
The rite of the opening of the Holy Door is intended to symbolically illustrate the idea that the Church’s faithful are offered an “extraordinary path” toward salvation during the time of jubilee.
As part of the Holy Year for Mercy, holy doors will for the first time be designated in dioceses. Their location, the archbishop said, will be “either in the cathedral or in a church of special significance or a shrine of particular importance for pilgrimages.”
Head of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, which is in charge of organizing the Jubilee for Mercy, Archbishop Fisichella spoke with journalists at the presentation of the logo and calendar of the Holy Year.
The jubilee was announced by Pope Francis during a March 13 penitential service, the second anniversary of his papal election. It will open Dec. 8 – the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception – and will close Nov. 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Christ the King.
At the official proclamation of the jubilee during Vespers on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, the papal bull of indiction, Misericordiae Vultus, or The Face of Mercy, was presented.
The term “papal bull” refers to an official papal document of special importance. The papal bull of indiction refers to a document presented when something major is announced, such as a jubilee, and is a fundamental document detailing the intentions and outcomes hoped for by the Pope.
In the papal bull for the Jubilee on Mercy, it was noted that the diocesan opening of the Door for Mercy is a sign that the jubilee is not limited to Rome, but extends to local Churches around the world “as a visible sign of the Church’s universal communion.”
Archbishop Fisichella said that the idea of the doors on a local level is intended to be “a sign of the pilgrimage that is done, and the sign of receiving the indulgence.”
“The indulgence is the characteristic of the jubilee,” he said, so the doors will allow “all those who cannot come to Rome and who are living the jubilee in their dioceses to be able to have, also on the level of the expressive sign in their pilgrimage, the receiving of the indulgence … in passing through the Holy Door.”
The Holy Doors in Rome major basilicas will be open throughout the Year for Mercy, beginning with St. Peter’s on Dec. 8, when the jubilee will officially begin.
St. John Lateran’s door will open Dec. 13, St. Mary Major’s Jan. 1, 2016, while that of St. Paul Outside the Walls will open Jan. 26, 2016.
A special path leading toward the Holy Door in St. Peter’s will be marked out for pilgrims traveling to Rome during the jubilee year, so that they may pass through it and obtain the indulgence.
Another novelty Pope Francis has included in his jubilee are the “Missionaries of Mercy,” who will receive a special mandate from the Pope during the Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in 2016 before going out to dioceses around the world as ambassadors of mercy.
The idea of the missionaries, Archbishop Fisichella noted, is to “build upon the central content of the faith and to call the Church once again to its missionary priority of being a sign and witness in every aspect of its pastoral life.”
The priests selected as missionaries will be chosen jointly by diocesan bishops and members of the pontifical council for evangelization, he said. The priests must be also patient and have a keen understanding of human frailty, but also a readiness to express God’s mercy in the sacrament of Confession.
He said bishops emeritus are being considered due to their years of experience and ability to anticipate the needs of others.
Although the reference to the Missionaries of Mercy in the papal bull of indiction gave special emphasis to their role during Lent, the archbishop said they would be available for the entire jubilee.
Pope Francis himself is set to make five “jubilee signs” as a witness of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy on designated days throughout the Holy Year. Although the dates of the Pope’s works are given in the official calendar, it has not been announced what the works will be.
One possible idea, the archbishop said, is to have a Mass with prisoners inside St. Peter’s Basilica so that they can participate in the jubilee “not just from their cells,” but together with the Church. The idea, however, has not been confirmed.
As a sign of the Pope’s charitable love, Archbishop Fisichella said that “effective measures” will also be taken “to meet real needs in the world that will express mercy through tangible assistance.”
The official website for the jubilee has already launched in seven languages: Italian, English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, and Polish.
Heavy emphasis will also be given to social media in promoting the events of the jubilee and informing followers of the different activities surrounding it.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus, and Flickr can all be found on the official website. Archbishop Fisichella also noted that his council is currently exploring the idea of an app that will better integrate information surrounding the jubilee.