The Year of Jubilee is a product of Jewish law as found in Scripture. Every 50th year, the land was to "rest," to lie unused for planting. Mortgage debts were forgiven and slaves were set free. These practices weren't randomly consigned to the Jubilee Year but had a theological agenda: to acknowledge that land, property, and life itself belonged ultimately to God, not to the human user.

The term Jubilee was adopted by Catholics in 1300 when the first Holy Year was inaugurated. It too is a year of liberation, though of a spiritual nature. A Holy Year is a time when the pope offers special spiritual privileges, or indulgences, for those who make a pilgrimage to Rome. Other religious activities may be assigned similar benefits during the Holy Year for those unable to travel. The Holy Year was originally intended as a centennial observance. But it came to be observed every 25 years, and additional celebrations between those intervals can be added when deemed helpful.

The Holy Year generally begins on Christmas Eve with the opening of an official Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome which is normally kept bricked up in other years. Three other Roman Basilicas—St. Paul's Outside the Walls, St. John Lateran, and St. Mary Major—also have doors opened to encourage pilgrimage. Bishops around the world are invited to designate similar doors within their jurisdictions through which pilgrims can be welcomed to celebrate the spiritual benefits of the event. Even religious educators are being asked to ritually open a door with their students in order to instruct them about the purpose of the Holy Year.

The Holy Year of Mercy called for by Pope Francis began this year on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2015. This Solemnity recalls the occasion when God opened an avenue of mercy for the human race through the incarnation of Jesus. "Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy," Pope Francis declares. By symbolically opening a door, we spread the good news that anyone who seeks the love of God in Jesus will find consolation, pardon, and hope. All of us should eagerly seek the occasion to walk through that door. We should also extend the invitation to anyone in need of the assurance that God's mercy is open to them.

Scripture: Lev 25:8-55; Isa 5:8-10; Ezek 46:17

Books: Crossing the Threshold of Mercy ed. Mark-David Janus (Mahwah, NJ:Paulist Press, 2015)

Beautiful Mercy: Experiencing God's Unconditional Love So We Can Share It With Others Pope Francis, Matthew Kelly, et. al. (Beacon Publishing, 2015)

Reprinted with permission from ©TrueQuest Communications.

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