Year of Mercy: Holy Year
The ecclesial tradition of a holy year or jubilee year began with Pope Boniface VIII in 1300.
The notion of a holy year, however, has its origin in scripture and in particular the Book of Leviticus, which reads “And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his family” (Lev. 25:10). In the year 1299, many pilgrims journeyed to Rome on pilgrimage and Pope Boniface was persuaded to declare a special indulgence for those who would make daily visits to either St. Peter’s or St. Paul’s Basilica over 15 or 30 days. Every 25th year since 1300 has been a holy year in imitation of this event; St. Peter’s basilica and the other major basilicas in Rome now have holy doors that are normally kept sealed, but which are opened every 25 years in a special ceremony. Pope Francis has declared this year an extraordinary jubilee year of mercy: the holy doors in Rome have been opened and indulgences granted for those who make pilgrimage to them and fulfill the usual conditions. In addition, many other churches throughout the world have been granted permission to open holy doors (for a list, see http://www.im.va/content/gdm/en/mondo/porte-della-misericordia.html).
If you have not yet made a pilgrimage of mercy, perhaps this Holy Week is the time and there is probably a holy door near you. This Holy Year of Mercy, however, is not just an opportunity to walk through a special door in a church, but by doing so to recall Jesus, the one who said “I am the gate” and to remember how easy it is to enter into his merciful love. Sin is a heavy burden to bear, one that can easily crush us under its depressing weight. But we can step from the chains of sin to light and joyous freedom by crossing the threshold of God mercy, by confessing our sins and knowing that Christ has lovingly borne the weight of all sin on the cross. Just do it!