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Pope Francis declared this year as an “Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy”. He did this by the promulgation of the Papal bull “Misericordiae Vultus” which he signed on April 11, 2015. This Jubilee year began on December 8, 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and will end on November 20, 2016, The Solemnity of Christ the King. To help you better understand & participate in this great event, here are some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

  • What is a “Jubilee year” all about?

Like any Jubilee we celebrate, a Jubilee year is a milestone. There are three stages of evolution of the jubilee year.

  1. The Sabbath rest: The “Jubilee year” is a Biblical concept found in the Old Testament that has to do with the Sabbath rest. The Hebrew concept is largely derived from the first account of Creation where God rested on the Seventh day after creating the universe (Gen 2:1-3). God “blessed & hallowed” the seventh day. The Sabbath was thus a day of rest, recuperation & restoration for the individual Jew. It was a day of stopping all work & spending time with oneself (rest), with God (prayer) & with family (God’s blessings).
  2. The Sabbatical year: This weekly practice was also translated in the larger context of the community of Israel as the “People of God”. Accordingly, every seventh year was a “Sabbath Year” or a “Sabbatical Year”. This Sabbatical year was a biblical prescription that every seventh year the land must be uncultivated. This is to ensure that the land also gets its rest but more importantly a reminder that the Land actually belonged to God & not to any person or group. The fruit that grew in the Jubilee Year was to be left on the tree or plant itself for the poor & the wild animals (Exod 23:10-11; Lev 25:1-7). In addition, every creditor would release the debt of what he has lent to his neighbour (Deut 15:2). That is why the Hebrew term for the Sabbatical year is the “Shemitah” or “Shmitah” which when translated means “To release”. This was designed as a means to correct social inequities. It also included an exemption from payment of taxes.
  3. The Jubilee year: This Sabbatical Year was further magnified into the “Jubilee Year” which is a Sabbath of Sabbatical Years or the 50th year; i.e. the year after seven Sabbatical years. The Jubilee Year is described in Leviticus chs 25 & 27& Numbers 36:4. It was declared on the ‘Day of Atonement’ by the sounding of the ‘Shophar’, which is a trumpet made from the horn of a ram. The ram’s horn is called “Yovel” in Hebrew which in Latin is translated as ‘Jubilaeus’. The Jubilee year was a year of freedom for captives & debtors so that the former could praise God in freedom & the latter wouldn’t end up as being hopelessly in debt. It also ensured in this way that most of the arable land wouldn’t end up in the hands of the wealthy thus effectively nullifying the gap between the rich & the poor.
  • Is the Jubilee year a Biblical concept?

Not really! The concept of forgiving debts finds its roots in the Mesopotamian (modern-day Iraq) kings. From time to time the kings would issue such decrees of forgiving of debts as and when they thought it was fit or felt very benevolent. However, what is special to the Biblical concept of the Jubilee Year is the advancement that the Biblical formulation presents. It takes away the sporadic aspect based on the whims of the kings & codifies it as Law. This ensures that it is enforced irrespective of the kings & rulers’ wishes. This guaranteed justice & the upholding of the rights of the people. Besides, the regulation of the rhythms of the Jubilee year meant that everyone knew when it was to be enforced thus giving a fair deal to both creditors & debtors. The Biblical concept Jubilee year differs from other cultures because it is not based on economics or sociology but rather on the theological concept of “One people” rather than the political one “One nation”.

  • So, what has Christianity to do with the Jubilee year?

There is no specific reason for the Jubilee year to be celebrated in the Christian tradition. However, the first ever Christian “Jubilee year” can be dated back to Pope Boniface VIII in 1300. Ever since Jubilee years have been celebrated at different intervals. These Jubilee Years are special moments of grace for the universal Church & are characterised by pilgrimages to a sacred place, usually Rome. As pilgrimages are usually made with repentance in mind for sins & wrongdoing, indulgences are also attached to these. There have also been Extraordinary Jubilee years called for by the Roman Pontiff for a number of reasons. The last Jubilee was called for by Pope St. John Paul II in the year 2000 and was called the “Great Jubilee” in preparation for entering into the New Millennium. The Pope urged for a 3 year preparation for this jubilee by reflecting on the three persons of the Holy Trinity – one each year from 1997-1999.

Pope Francis has announced this year as an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy encouraging the faithful to reflect on the Father’s mercy towards his children & asked us to practice Spiritual & Corporal works of mercy.

It is also interesting to note that Jesus in the gospel according to St. Luke 4:18-19, announces his mission by reading the Jubilee Year citation of Isaiah 61:1-2. It is as though Jesus’ entire mission, preaching, miracles etc were all ONE BIG JUBILEE YEAR!

  • What is the “Door of Mercy” all about?

A door is a very special symbol in that it either allows or denies access to a place or service. Jesus used this symbol to refer to himself as part of the motif of the Good Shepherd. In Jn 10:9 Jesus says, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved, and go in and out & find pasture.”

Just as at any inaugural function, there is usually a cutting of a ribbon that symbolizes a new beginning, so too, in the Church, a Door is opened… not any door but the door at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Entering through the Door is symbolic of us entering into Christ himself, thus implying willingness to change for the better & life a life in conformity with the Gospel.

The Holy Father usually attaches an indulgence to this action of entering through the designated door. He may also assign other doors for the said purpose as has been done in this year of mercy

  • INDULGENCES? What are those?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches us in paragraph 1471 “the doctrine and practice of indulgences in the Church are closely linked to the effects of the sacrament of Penance.

The same paragraph also quotes from the Code of Canon Law (i.e. the laws that govern the church) as under:

“An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.” (Canon 992)
“An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin.” Indulgences may be applied to the living or the dead. (Canon 993)

In addition, Canon Law lists certain requirements for being capable of gaining an indulgence as under:

Can.  996 §1. To be capable of gaining indulgences, a person must be baptized, not excommunicated, and in the state of grace at least at the end of the prescribed works.

  • 2. To gain indulgences, however, a capable subject must have at least the general intention of acquiring them and must fulfil the enjoined works in the established time and the proper method, according to the tenor of the grant.

The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbour in his spiritual and bodily necessities (Is 58:6-7; Heb 13:3). Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. the corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead (Mt 25:31-46). Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God (Tob 4:5-11; Sir 17:22; Mt 6:2-4).

(From the Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 2447)

Got more questions on the year of Mercy? Come on over & ask your priests.