Link to the Bull of Indiction accouncing the Holy Year:
Summary by Msgr. Peter Beaulieu, St. Vincent Hospial, Worcester
What is a Holy Year?
The tradition of Holy Years or a Jubilee (Heb.
) has its roots in Judaism, as a special year of divine favor, forgiveness for sins or debts and a time of return (see Lev 25:8-13). At that time, such a Jubilee was held every fifty years and the year was announced by the ram’s horn (Heb.
). During that year of favor, indentured Israelites returned to their households and land that had been sold reverted to its original owners. The Christian practice of a Holy Year began in 1300 when Pope Boniface VIII convoked the first Jubilaeum. In the papal bull
Antiquorum fida relatio
, in keeping with ancient tradition, he declared the year would be a time of forgiveness and “indulgences for sins”. Such a divine gift would be obtained by confession and visiting the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul in Rome, for a specified period of time. From its inception, the practice of the Jubilee indulgence has been misunderstood. The original declaration would only be equivalent to what is known today as a plenary indulgence and, so, not a release from the guilt that sin entails, but only the residual penalty or unhealthy attachment to sin that remains after receiving absolution. One aspect, though, which was included was the extension of the faculty to absolve sins that are known as
to any approved priest-confessor in Rome. This became a privilege, accorded to the pilgrim, in regard to freely selecting any confessor. Finally, according to Boniface VIII, the frequency of such Jubilee years was seen to be once, every century. In subsequent pontificates, the interval between Holy Years was first shortened to fifty and, then, to the current every twenty-five years. Besides the ordinary Holy Years, on 13 March 2015, during the recently-instituted practice of
24 Hours for the Lord
, when the parishes in Rome are opened for extended periods of time to encourage the faithful to confess their sins and receive absolution, the Holy Father announced the first Extraordinary Holy Year since 1983. Then, on Divine Mercy Sunday, before the Holy Door at Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Bull of Indiction entitled
(Eng. The Face of Mercy) was read. The Bull serves as the fundamental document that outlines the overall spirit and the intentions of the upcoming Holy Year and delineates the spiritual fruits that the anticipated renewal will hopefully reap for individuals and the Church.
Misericordiae Vultus – Multus ne multus (In Brief)
The initial sentences of the Bull of Indiction states the Holy Year’s purpose, “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith. Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him” (MV, n. 1). The Year of Mercy will begin on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (8 December 2015). The date marks the fiftieth anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council wherein, the assembled ecclesiastics “as a true breath of the Holy Spirit, [perceived] a need to talk about God to men and women of their time in a more accessible way.” And, the year’s conclusion, the last Sunday of the liturgical year or the Solemnity of Christ the King (20 November 2016) is intended to “entrust the life of the Church, all humanity, and the entire cosmos to the Lordship of Christ, asking him to pour out his mercy upon us like the morning dew, so that everyone may work together to build a brighter future.” The principal content of the Bull includes an elaboration of the theological understanding of God’s mercy and mercy’s role in daily life and in the life of the Church—noting that both the Church and the faithful are witnesses to mercy and beneficiaries of it. Pope Francis declares that “the mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality through which [God] reveals his love as that of a father or mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that this is a
love. It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy” (n. 6). The document outlines practical ways to live out the upcoming Holy Year—the traditional call to make a pilgrimage, because life “is a pilgrimage and the human being is a viator, a pilgrim traveling along the road, making his way to the desired destination,” as well as changes in personal behavior by avoiding rash judgments and, instead, becoming more forgiving or generous ( n. 14). The repeated call that Pope Francis has made to be attentive to those who are on the fringes of society and to become reacquainted with the spiritual and corporal works of mercy (MV, n. 15) is articulated; above all, the sacrament of Penance as the supreme example of Christ’s merciful love is endorsed. In addressing the priests, he insisted “that confessors be authentic signs of the Father’s mercy.” The hallmark of a good confessor is the priest who is “a concrete sign of the constancy of divine love that pardons and saves” (n. 17). In addition, during Lent 2016, he will send out “Missionaries of Mercy” with the authority to forgive even “sins reserved to the Holy See…the breadth of their mandate as confessors will be even clearer…[and] living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of his pardon” (n.18). The important relationship and distinctions between justice and mercy are also elaborated. The Jubilee indulgence, too, is promulgated. The paschal mystery reveals God’s “power to destroy all human sin” and, despite forgiveness of sins, “the conflicting consequences of sin remain.” Finally, there are ecumenical and interfaith dimensions to the Holy Year because Judaism and Islam “both…consider mercy to be one of God’s most important attributes” and he hopes that this Jubilee will “foster an encounter with these religions and with other noble religious traditions...” In the final article, the Holy Father says, “I present…this Extraordinary Jubilee [as] dedicated to living out in our daily lives the mercy which the Father constantly extends to all of us…let us allow God to surprise us (n.25)”.