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. Part 1 of this interview was published Monday.
ZENIT: Eminence, where can people find mercy today? Is there a limit to Divine Mercy? Are there such grave sins that they cannot be forgiven?
Cardinal Piacenza: This mercy is found, with certainty, where Christ himself willed to meet man: in his own Flesh! This Flesh of Christ, Risen and Living, is mysteriously prolonged by the power of the Holy Spirit, by the Church, which is His Mystical Body. In the Church, through the men that Christ himself has chosen, called and constituted ministers, mercy awaits sinners, and goes to encounter them personally in the sacraments, especially those of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.
All the Sacraments – and the Church herself – are the work of Christ’s mercy, in as much as, through them, not only does He “remove” sin but attracts sinners into the fullness of life, unmerited and unthinkable, so much so as to render them, together with Him and “in” Him, children of God. This happens first of all through Baptism. Our Orthodox brothers would say that man is “divinized” by Christ. The Sacrament of Reconciliation, then, renews the Gift of our Baptism, removing what contradicts or is opposed to it: sin.
This Divine Mercy, which is Christ, is boundless in as much as it is His Love, which is the same Love of the Father. Yet, despite this, it has a limit, one and only one, which coincides with that limit that God himself wished to put to His Omnipotence: man’s freedom. If man doesn’t accept and doesn’t open to the Mercy that God offers him, but with his own choices and his own concrete acts refuses it, God doesn’t impose it. He however, with divine patience, without ever tiring – Pope Francis repeats to us – waits for man to convert, during the time of his earthly pilgrimage, and offers him all the graces necessary for that to happen.
ZENIT: And when the time of this earthly pilgrimage ends, what happens?
Cardinal Piacenza: When the fundamental and sacred time arrives – too forgotten today — of the “passing away,” the so-called particular judgment opens for man: the soul, temporarily despoiled of its body, finds itself in the presence of Christ, Just Judge and Saviour, who assesses it, not first of all on the basis of its subjective convictions and not even in regard to the circumstances in which it found itself living, but according to its works, according to the ultimate orientation that the works conferred on its heart.
Fundamentally, the passing away and thus the eternal destiny itself, is nothing other than a sudden “expansion,” we could say an “eternization” of our last “present instant,” which, stripped of the passing of time, will find itself before the Light and Truth of Christ, in that same “interior position” that we matured on earth. An integrating part of the works judged by Christ are, obviously, our having asked for and obtained mercy for our sins, our having ourselves been merciful in our dealings with our neighbour, and our having persevered in prayer. The particular Judgment will be followed, at the end of time, by the Universal Judgment and the Resurrection of the flesh, with the soul – we cold say – immediately admitted in its last condition: on one hand if it has eternal Salvation, which can see us immediately immersed in the Beatific Vision of God in Paradise, together with all the Saints, to which the next Solemnity is dedicated, or see ourselves in the purifying fire of Purgatory; or, on the other hand, – God forbid! – in eternal perdition, which we call Hell.
ZENIT: The reality of Purgatory seems to be particularly forgotten today in much of preaching. Do you think it’s still important to speak about it? What can you say to the man of today?
Cardinal Piacenza: That nothing of what concerns our person is lacking in importance in God’s eyes. The reality of Purgatory, always important because always true, affirms that God has such an infinite “esteem” for the human creature and, therefore, takes “tremendously” seriously our created freedom that – we could say – He “obeys it.”
In the Book of Ezekiel we read that He does not want the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live (cf. Ezekiel 33:11). Nevertheless, God only wishes to give life to man. He has decided to respect man’s freedom, to such a point as to permit him to decide to “reject” His Love definitively, or to receive it in the measure in which he consents to it, always with his freedom, which is documented in his works.
If this “last opening” of the heart is not yet total, although clearly oriented to the Truth of God, then the soul would be in need of a further “dilation,” that is, to let itself be prepared for the vision of God by the living flame of His Love, as the treatise explains of the great Saint and Theologian of Purgatory Catherine of Genoa, and as the Holy Father Emeritus has taught in his second Encyclical, Spe Salvi, 48.
As for those who are in Purgatory, however, their time of freedom having ended, they no longer have any possibility to “merit,” that is, to collaborate voluntarily with Christ’s Grace. These brothers can only “receive” such a Grace, which is obtained by the prayer of the Church, the so-called “prayer of suffrage,” which consists, particularly, in the offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, in works of charity, and in almsgiving. Protagonists of this prayer then are first of all Mary Most Holy, perfect Icon of the Church and Dispenser of every grace, and then us, who in virtue of Baptism live in communion with the faithful of all times.
ZENIT: So suffrage is also a form of mercy? And who can benefit from it?
Cardinal Piacenza: Suffrage is certainly an irreplaceable work of Mercy! It is rooted first of all and always in the Mercy of Christ, who alone can save and purify man’s heart, but who, in his Goodness, associates us in his work of Salvation, thus rendering us “co-operators.” In this co-operation first of all, in this being associated in Christ’s work, there is the first, an exalting benefit: we are conformed to the Lord, we become more participants in His thought and in His sentiments.
It also brings benefit to our faith, because it extends in the main to the invisible realities and thus is “strengthened.” Finally, it brings sure benefit to the souls in Purgatory, which receive the “relief” of our suffrage until their final liberation.
This work is so great and indispensable, that the Church, on the occasion of the Commemoration of all the Deceased Faithful — which we will celebrate November 2 — enriches it with the gift of a Plenary Indulgence, that is, the remission of all the temporal punishments due to sin, which “keep” the soul in Purgatory. It will be possible in this circumstance to gain the indulgence only for the deceased faithful, under the usual conditions: Sacramental Confession, in the eight preceding or successive days, Communion, prayer for the Intentions of the Supreme Pontiff, detachment from all sin, also venial, and a visit to a cemetery from the 1st to the 8th of November, or to one’s parish church, from the afternoon of the 1st to the evening of November 2.
At bottom, in fact this is the Mercy of Christ: it traverses Heaven and earth, it gathers everything in unity, it helps men in time and prepares them for Paradise, it does not mortify man’s freedom, but rather exalts it to a height unthinkable before, calling him to let himself be loved, to love in Him and for Him, and thus co-operate in His Work of Salvation. May Mary Most Holy, Mother of Mercy, teach us to seek Mercy, to love Mercy, thus to truly live Mercy!
[Translation by ZENIT]
Part 1 of the interview: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/interview-cardinal-mauro-piacenza-explains-jubilee-of-mercy