The Pope opened the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica. After Mass in the square, dressed in a white coat, he listened to the deacon who read the introductory words of the rite. Then he entered the lobby and, after reciting a prayer, went upstairs and opened the door, stopping in silence on the threshold.
As scheduled, Mass celebrated by Pope Francis began at 9,30 a.m. in St. Peter’s square. At the end of the Eucharistic celebration, after the rites of communion, the Pontiff reached the Holy Door. Bergoglio was preceded by other co-celebrants, Cardinals, Bishops, Prelates of the Roman Curia and parish priests of Rome.
“We must put mercy before judgment – Francis said in the homily -, and at any rate, God’s judgment will be always in the light of His mercy. Passing through the Holy Door, therefore, makes us feel a part of this mystery of love. We abandon any form of fear, because it is not suitable for those who are loved”.
This is the beginning of the Jubilee of Mercy in St. Peter’s square. Pope Francis presides over the opening ceremony of the Extraordinary Holy Year, a ceremony characterized by sobriety. A quarter of an hour before the celebration, the Pope had received the delegations. The Head of State, Sergio Mattarella was present with his daughter Laura. There were also the premier Matteo Renzi with his wife Agnese. Fifty years after the end of the Second Vatican Council, fifteen years after the last Holy Year presided over by Pope Wojtyla, seventy days after the surprise announcement of an extraordinary Jubilee, arrives the Jubilee dedicated to Mercy, which Bergoglio wanted to meaningfully open in Bangui, Central African Republic.
The Limited Traffic Zome in Conciliazione street had been opened at 6.30 a.m. For the event, the two popes met: also the Pope emeritus Benedict XVI was present in the atrium, to assist at the opening of the door.
After the opening of the Holy Door, in front of the Altar of Confession in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis said: “Holy Father, rich in mercy and great in love, we praise you with all our heart and we give you thanks for the abundance of your gifts. Look at us who open the Holy Door today, pleased to begin the period of the Jubilee. We beseech thee, grant all those who pass through the door of mercy, with repentant hearts, renewed commitment and filial trust, to have the living experience of your fatherly tenderness and receive the grace of forgiveness in order to bear witness, in word and deed, to the face of your mercy”.
Then, in a tweet, he said he hoped “that the Jubilee of Mercy would bring the goodness and tenderness of God to everyone!” Among the thousands of faithful who crossed the threshold of the Holy Door, there was also the director of In Terris, Don Aldo Buonaiuto (see photo on the right); a “gift”, that arrives on the day of his 17th year of priesthood.
THE HISTORY OF THE HOLY YEAR
The Jubilee of the Church of Rome, a distant relative of the Jewish Jubilee, appears on the historical scene of Europe at the end of the XIII century AD. As an important political and economic tool for the affirmation of papal monarchy, it was favored by the introduction of purgatory in the Catholic doctrine (XII century AD), and by the annual confession desired by Pope Innocent III in 1215. Its origins vanish in the mists of time. In the Bible, only the book of Leviticus, chapter 25, answers the question about what the Jubilee is. It contains all the important elements to understand the meaning of the Jubilee.
It narrates also how to celebrate the Jubilee time. It was called yobêl, which in Hebrew means “mutton”. Due to metonymy, it indicates also the horn used during the big Jewish liturgies. The rabbinical exegesis links yobêl to the word jobel, which means “give back”. The Jubilee consists in proclaiming to the letter the putting back, that is, the putting back in its place what is out of place. Proclaiming the liberation, the remissio, means putting the world in its place. Christianity recovers these elements and reads them in a Christological key. The Catholic Jubilee establishes a world of grace. In the Catholic Church, the Jubilee is the year of remission of sins, reconciliation, and conversion. The Jubilee Year is first of all Christ’s year. In the New Testament, Jesus appears as the one who finishes the ancient Jubilee, having come to “preach the year of the Lord’s grace”.
The Jubilee is commonly known as the “Holy Year” not only because it starts, unfolds and finishes with solemn liturgies, but also because it is meant to promote the sanctity of life. Pope Boniface VIII established the first Jubilee with “Antiquorum habet fida relatio” issued on 22 February 1300. This document granted plenary indulgence to all those who had visited thirty times, if they were Romans, and fifteen if foreigners, St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, during the year 1300. This possibility of remissio was to be repeated every 100 years in the future. Also Dante, in the Divine Comedy, tells that the influx of pilgrims to Rome made it necessary to regulate the pedestrians’ direction of movement on the bridge in front of Castel Sant’Angelo (Inferno XVIII, 28-33).
In 1350 Clement VI, to equate the Christian Jubilee to the Hebraic one, decided to shorten its cadence to 50 years. Subsequently, the interval was shortened to 33 years by Pope Urban VI, a period intended as the duration of the earthly life of Jesus. Then it was further reduced to 25 years during the pontificates of Niccolò V and Paul II, so that each generation could enjoy plenary indulgence. The Jubilee lasts little more than a year: it begins with Christmas of the year before and ends with the solemn Epiphany of the following year. The most characteristic rite is the opening of the holy door. It is a door that is opened only during the Holy Year and which remains walled up the rest of the time. The four Papal Basilicas of Rome have a holy door. St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, St. John Lateran, St. Paul Outside of Walls and Santa Maria Maggiore. The rite of the Holy Door symbolically expresses the concept that, during the Jubilee, the faithful are offered an “extraordinary path” towards salvation. Christ himself, the salvation of the world, defines it as the “narrow gate” in the Gospel and as “the door through which the sheep pass”.
The official beginning of the Jubilee takes place with the opening of the holy door of St. Peter’s Basilica. The doors of the other Basilicas are opened in the following days. In the past, the wall blocking the door was torn down only partially before the celebration, leaving a diaphragm of cement the Pope destroyed with a hammer and a chisel (some of which were made of ivory, gold and silver and bombarded with precious stones, which can be still admired inside the Museum of the treasure in the Basilica); then the workmen finished demolition. On the occasion of the 2000 Jubilee, on the other hand, John Paul II amended the ancient rite of demolition introducing a simpler and a more immediate one: the wall was removed in advance leaving only the door, closed, which the Pope has to open by pushing its wings. After the opening, the Pope stops in prayer on the threshold. When he raises, the door is adorned with flowers and lights. Only at this point it it ready to be crossed by the faithful. They form the papal procession, led by the Pontiff towards the altar of confession where he begins the celebration of Christmas Mass. The holy doors remain open till the end of the Holy Year, then they are walled again.
Some Popes have also proclaimed extraordinary “Holy Years”: for example John Paul II proclaimed an Extraordinary Holy Year in 1983, on the occasion of the 1950 anniversary of the Death and Resurrection of Christ. The last Holy Year has been the 2000 Great Jubilee, celebrated by Pope John Paul II. Nobody would have ever expected an intermediate Jubilee between that celebrated in 2000 and the one expected in 2025. On March 13, 2015 Pope Francis, in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, crowded with the faithful who flocked in Rome for the celebration of confession, announced an extraordinary Jubilee: “I have often reflected on how could the Church make its mission of being a witness of Mercy more evident – Bergoglio said in the homily -. It is a journey that begins with a spiritual conversion. This is why I have decided to convene an extraordinary Jubilee whose core is the mercy of God. This Holy Year will begin close to Immaculate Conception and will end on November 20, 2016, the Sunday of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the universe and the living face of the Father’s mercy. I entrust the organization of this Jubilee to the Pontifical Council for Promotion of New Evangelization, so it can animate it as a new stage of the Church’s journey on its mission to bring the gospel of Mercy to every person”.