Year of Mercy begins

On Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis opened the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, signaling the beginning of the Holy Year of Mercy, which the Holy Father announced in the spring of 2015.

After opening this Holy Door, which usually is sealed shut, Pope Francis opened Holy Doors at the three major basilicas in Rome. He also has asked bishops throughout the world to designate and open Holy Doors at cathedrals in their own dioceses.

"He has also asked all of his cathedrals throughout the world to also designate a holy door so everyone can participate in the Year of Mercy by making a pilgrimage to the cathedral, coming through the door and … entering into a spirit of mercy hopefully as people enter the Door of Mercy," remarked Father Kevin McKenna, rector of Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral.

One of the cathedral’s regular doors has been designated as its holy door for the upcoming year, and Bishop Salvatore R. Matano opened this door on Dec. 13, the third Sunday of Advent. Immediately after opening the door, Bishop Matano celebrated Mass at the cathedral.

Diocesan Catholics are encouraged to make pilgrimages to the cathedral in order to cross through the holy door. Such pilgrimages traditionally are associated with reception of a plenary indulgence, or a remission of temporal punishment deserved for sins.

"His Holiness, Pope Francis has declared that passing through the Holy Door of Mercy will offer the possibility of obtaining a Plenary Indulgence through certain pious exercises, namely: celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation; the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist; praying for the Holy Father and the intentions he bears in his heart; and praying the Profession of Faith (the Creed) which unites us to the universal Church," Bishop Matano said. "These indulgences may be obtained for ourselves or for those who are deceased. When we have made this pilgrimage and committed ourselves to live by mercy, ‘the Jubilee Indulgence is thus full, the fruit of the very event which is to be celebrated and experienced with faith, hope and charity’ (Pope Francis)."

Pope Francis decided to announce a jubilee year focused on mercy because the church needs to "render more clear her mission to be a witness to mercy," he explained in his March 13, 2015, announcement of the upcoming holy year. A holy year is a time of spiritual renewal with a focus on reconciliation, conversion and forgiveness.

Holy years typically are celebrated every quarter century, with the last having taken place in the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. This Year of Mercy is an extraordinary jubilee, since it is taking place outside of the 25-year cycle.

The pope said he hopes the Year of Mercy will be a "living experience of the closeness of the Father" that will strengthen Catholics’ faith.

"I am confident that the whole Church, which is in such need of mercy for we are sinners, will be able to find in this Jubilee the joy of rediscovering and rendering fruitful God’s mercy, with which we are all called to give comfort to every man and every woman of our time," Pope Francis said. "Do not forget that God forgives all, and God forgives always. Let us never tire of asking forgiveness."

Among numerous opportunities for local Catholics to seek such forgiveness during the Year of Mercy will be 6:30 p.m. Masses at Sacred Heart Cathedral on the first Friday of each month for the duration of the Year of Mercy. These Masses will be followed by adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and opportunities for individual confession. Bishop Matano will celebrate several of the Masses and deliver homilies on various topics related to mercy.

The Mass is one of the best ways for Catholics to focus on and celebrate the depths of God’s mercy, Father McKenna noted.

"It’s an opportunity for people, especially with the exposition (of the Blessed Sacrament), to gather in prayer to seek God’s mercy and ask for God’s help in extending his mercy to others," he said, noting that the opportunity for individual confession also is especially appropriate, as reconciliation is the sacrament of God’s mercy. "We’re hoping many people will avail themselves of the opportunity to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation."

Parishes throughout the Diocese of Rochester also have planned liturgies and other events to observe the Year of Mercy. On Oct. 26, for example, St. Louis Parish in Pittsford offered a presentation by well-known Catholic-radio personalities Father Jacek Mazur and Rick Paolini, as well as a two-night mission event with actor Frank Runyeon, who presented "Luke: Stories on the Road" and "The Letter of James" on Nov. 20-21. And at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Spencerport, Belinda and Deacon John Brasley prepared parishioners for the Year of Mercy by presenting a Nov. 11 evening of reflection on forgiveness and mercy in the family.

Parishes also are planning to increase their emphases on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy during the Year of Mercy, which will conclude when the pope closes the Holy Door on Nov. 20, 2016.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Click here for a full listing of Year of Mercy events.

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