by Fr. Michael Doyle
On a cold and wet morning here in Rome, thousands of people converged on St. Peter’s Square to celebrate Mass for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Whilst it is good and right that we celebrate such a great gift of Mercy from God, most of us actually converged to witness a rare event in the life of the Church. Today the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy begins in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council.
Jubilee Years, also known as ‘Holy Years’, usually happen every 25 years. This is a tradition of the Church that started in the year 1300 by Pope Boniface VIII. Anyone who is good at maths knows that 2015/2016 are not divisible by 25, which makes this an Extraordinary Jubilee Year. The last Extraordinary Jubilee was in 1983 called by Pope St. John Paul II – the Jubilee Year of Redemption, marking 1950th anniversary of our Redemption. So this Jubilee truly is Extraordinary!
Having gathered in the square, the Mass began with the procession of bishops and cardinals. When the Holy Father eventually appeared he seemed physically tired … it is no mean feat getting a Holy Year together!
A time of grace and renewal to be grasped with both hands
The extraordinary period of grace that this Holy Year brings should not be underestimated. This Holy Year is an opportunity for all people of goodwill to reconnect with, and enter into a deeper encounter with the infinite love and mercy of God. As Pope Francis said during his homily:
“This Extraordinary Year is itself a gift of grace. To pass through the Holy Door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them. It is he who seeks us! It is he who comes to encounter us! This will be a year in which we grow ever more convinced of God’s mercy. How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy (cf. Saint Augustine, De Praedestinatione Sanctorum, 12, 24)! But that is the truth. We have to put mercy before judgment, and in any event God’s judgement will always be in the light of his mercy. In passing through the Holy Door, then, may we feel that we ourselves are part of this mystery of love, of tenderness. Let us set aside all fear and dread, for these do not befit men and women who are loved. Instead, let us experience the joy of encountering that grace which transforms all things”.
A ray of hope in the cold, wet winter
At the end of the Mass a great procession made up of deacons, priests, bishops and cardinals formed, and made its way to the Holy Door. At this point St. Peter’s square was filled with pilgrims joining the singing of Psalm 121 ‘I lift up my eyes to the hills from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth’ and Psalm 122 ‘I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”’
When Pope Francis reached the Holy Door he greet the Pope emeritus Benedict XVI to a round of applause from the people in the square. Then, just as if heaven was smiling down on us, as the Holy Father recited the words of the Holy Door prayer and called that the door may be open to us, the clouds broke and a ray of sun came down on St. Peter’s basilica leaving the rest of the square untouched. It lifted the spirits even if the square remained in the rain!
Having finished the invocation, the Holy Door was opened and the morning concluded with a prayer at the tomb of St. Peter and the singing of the ‘Salve Regina’. The Jubilee of Mercy had officially begun and the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of Mercy celebrated. Although it was wet and cold, the emotion and joy was tangible in St Peter’s Square as we begged the Father to let his grace pour out upon us!