Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the promotion of the New Evangelization, wrote on the official Vatican website for the Year of Mercy that this Holy Year provides Christians with the opportunity to meet the “real needs” of people with true service, to experience a “true pilgrimage” on foot and to send “missionaries of mercy” throughout the world to forgive even the most serious of sins.
But what does all of this mean?
To understand the intent behind Pope Francis commissioning such an event, it’s important to understand the history of Jubilee Years.
In ancient Hebrew tradition, the Jubilee year was celebrated every 50 years as a period of immense joy and universal pardon. Debts were forgiven, slaves were freed and land was returned to its original owners.
Building on this tradition, the Catholic practice of the Jubilee year was started by Pope Boniface VIII in 1300 as a means for Catholics to deepen their faith and renew their commitment to live a life of Christian witness. Over time, the time between Jubilee years reduced from 50 years to 25.
There are two kinds of Jubilees. The Ordinary Jubilee is the planned Jubilee year that occurs every 25 years in Church. An Extraordinary Jubilee, however, is a Jubilee year that can be called for by the Pope at anytime for a number of reasons. The last Extraordinary Jubilee was called by St. John Paul II in 1983, known as the Holy Year of Redemption.
The theme of this Extraordinary Jubilee called by Pope Francis is mercy, and he has mandated this theme be a part of the liturgy over the next year. As such, the Sunday readings during ordinary time will be taken from the Gospel of Luke. Luke is often referred to as the “evangelist of mercy” because his Gospel contains the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son.
Pope Francis also encouraged Catholics all over the world exercise mercy through the works or mercy, which consist of two kinds: corporal and spiritual. Corporal works of mercy are kind acts which help others with their material and physical needs, and spiritual works of mercy are acts of compassion which help others with their spiritual and emotional needs.