What is the Jubilee? How is it different from that celebrated by the Hebrew Community in ancient times? Why has Pope Francis proclaimed an Extraordinary Holy Year on the subject of Mercy? And what is Mercy? What does the remission of sins mean? Who has given the Church this power? And does mercy apply also to non-believers and faithful of other religions? Why was the date December 8 chosen to begin the Jubilee of Mercy?
To answer these and other questions, ZENIT interviewed Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Major Penitentiary of the Tribunal of the Apostolic Penitentiary.
ZENIT: We are now at the doors of the great Extraordinary Jubilee proclaimed by Pope Francis. Could you explain what a Jubilee Year is?
Cardinal Piacenza: A Jubilee is an “apocalyptic” time, in the etymological sense of the term; a time, that is, of “revelation” of the true Reality, of the new meaning and value that Christians confer on human life, on the “present time.”
In Hebrew antiquity, the Jubilee consisted of a year, every 50 years, opened by the sound of a ram’s horn — in Hebrew yobel — during which this “novelty” of life was awaited, with symbolic and concrete gestures, a time of rest for the earth, the restitution of confiscated land and the liberation of slaves. However, it is only in Christianity that this rest, this reconciliation, this liberation finds full and definitive fulfilment!
In fact Christianity — that is the coming of Christ into the world and into history, the clothing of the Son of God in our poor humanity — conferred on time a new value, an infinite value! From the time that God became Man, died and resurrected, every instant has become an “occasion” of the relationship with Him, of the living and vivifying Encounter with Him, and of the offer to Him of one’s life. Therefore, the Jubilee Year is a year in which our time, understood in the chronological sense, is as though “absorbed” into another measure of unity, that of grace. In a Jubilee Year, the Church as loving Mother does her utmost to multiply the “occasions of grace,” especially in regard to the remission of sins, through Sacramental Confession! To symbolize this entry into a time of special grace, the rite of the beginning of the Jubilee is carried out: the opening of the Holy Door.
ZENIT: The Jubilee will begin next December 8, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Why was this date chosen?
Cardinal Piacenza: The Pope wanted this date to celebrate a particularly significant event in the Church’s more recent history: the conclusion of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. Many are the fruits of grace that the Lord has given through the last Conciliar assembly — one thinks, only by way of example, of the powerful call to holiness to all the Baptized and the great flowering of Ecclesial Movements — but many more are the riches enclosed in its texts, which call for being properly studied, understood and received in the life of the Church. At the foundational level, especially the Pontificates of Saint John Paul II, of the Holy Father Emeritus Benedict XVI and of Pope Francis are permeated by this endeavour to promote the correct reception of the conciliar texts.
Moreover, this “Marian” date of the beginning of the Jubilee calls all of us to fix our eyes and heart on the Immaculate Conception, Mother and Model of the Church, and pre-redeemed, that is Saved first in view of Christ’s future merits from her conception. We know that the entire Church and, in her, our lives themselves are in her hands, under her protection and by her “omnipotent supplications” we await all the gifts of grace more necessary today, to serve Christ, the only true Lord of the cosmos and of history.
ZENIT: Pope Francis has dedicated this Jubilee Year to the subject of Mercy, which, from the first instances, has occupied a central role in his Pontificate. What must one understand by this word? What, in fact, is Mercy, and, on the other hand, what is it not?
Cardinal Piacenza: Well, as Saint Thomas does, we begin by saying what Mercy “is not.” Mercy isn’t blind tolerance, it isn’t justification of sin and, above all, it isn’t a right.
Mercy isn’t tolerance, in as much as it does not limit itself to “endure” the sinner, leaving him to continue to sin; rather, it denounces sin openly, and, precisely in this way, it loves the sinner: it recognizes that the sinner doesn’t consist of his sin, but is more; it leads his actions to the light of truth, the whole truth: and thus offers him salvation. Hence, Mercy doesn’t justify sin, in virtue of the socio-cultural, political-economic or personal circumstances that exist, but it so esteems man as to ask him to give an account of all his actions, thus recognizing him to be “responsible” before God. Finally, Mercy isn’t a right; it cannot be presumed either in relations with God or in relations with the Church, Minister of Divine Mercy.
Now we come to what Mercy properly is. Mercy is first of all a reality, living and true, immutable and forever, which comes to meet human misery, by a mystery of absolute and divine liberty, and “saves” this human misery, not by cancelling or ignoring it and even less so by forgetting it, but taking charge of it “personally.” In the splendid celebrations of Holy Week that take place in the South of Spain, as well as in many other places where popular piety is fervent, when the dead Christ is led in procession outside the church, from the people recollected in prayer, a moving voice of profound piety often rises that cries: “Mercy!”
See, Mercy is a Person; it is Christ! — Incarnated, Dead and Risen. He wishes to weave with each man a personal relation of truth and love, and all this, which from our perspective of poor sinners, astonishes and marvels us, is called “Mercy.”
[Translation from the original Italian by ZENIT] [The second part of the interview will be published tomorrow]