Marking the second year of his pontificate, Pope Francis today announced a Jubilee Year of mercy in order to celebrate God’s forgiveness.
During a penitential service in St Peter’s Basilica the Pope said an “extraordinary Holy Year” will take place from the 8 December 2015, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and concluding on 20 November 2016, the Feast of Christ the King.
Jubilee years are marked with the offer of an indulgence to pilgrims and start with the opening of the “Holy Door” of St Peter’s, the northernmost door, which is normally closed.
They are rare events in the life of the Church with the last one taking place during Pope John Paul II’s pontificate in 2000. Ordinary jubilee years take place every 25 years while an extraordinary one can be announced to mark a particular event.
The jubilee year of mercy will take place on the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council in 1965 with the year-long event seen as continuing the work of the council.
Announcing the news today, the Pope said: “This is the time of mercy. It is important that the lay faithful live it and bring it into different social environments. Go forth!” He also stressed during the service that no one is excluded from the mercy of God.
God’s mercy has been a theme of Francis’ pontificate and is part of his episcopal motto, taken from a saying of St Bede: “miserando atque eligendo” which translates as “by having mercy and by choosing.”
During the jubilee Sunday Mass readings in ordinary time will be taken from the Gospel of Luke, known as the “evangelist of mercy” along with a series of initiatives arranged by the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation which has been entrusted with organising the jubilee.
St Peter’s is not the only basilica with a holy door: St John Lateran, St Paul Outside-the-Walls and St Mary Major also have them. The opening of the door is a symbol that during the jubilee year Catholics are offered a special pathway towards salvation.
The tradition of holy years goes back to Hebrew times but have been taken on and developed by the Church.
The first jubilee year took place under Pope Boniface VIII in 1300 with the intention that one would be celebrated every century. From 1475 this was changed to every 25 years so everyone could experience one during their lifetime.
There have been 26 jubilee years in the Church’s history with the last “extraordinary” jubilee was called by Pope John Paul II in 1983.