"A genuine experience of God's mercy." This is what Pope Francis hopes will await each and every Catholic during the coming months as the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy for 2015–16 begins this month.
It was in March that the Pontiff surprised the world by announcing the Jubilee Year of Mercy, a time for focus on the mercy of God and a moment of grace and spiritual renewal for all Catholics.
The Holy Father, Pope Francis, made clear in Misericordiae Vultus what the Year of Mercy would look like throughout the world. The goal is to give people "a true moment of encounter with the mercy of God" and a "living experience of the closeness of the Father". The unique features of this year include pilgrimage, indulgences, the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist, the corporal works of mercy, and mercy for the sick, prisoners and the dead.
Archbishop Malcolm McMahon echoed this call to seek God's abundant mercy while also showing mercy to others. He said that the Jubilee Year would allow us to "think about our own relationship with God and to seek his forgiveness and compassion in the Sacrament of Reconciliation". We are also called to act mercifully with others in all that we say and do and to show mercy with our family, friends and colleagues.
The Jubilee Year of Mercy starts on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 8 December, and concludes on Sunday 20 November 2016, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Jubilee years are special years called by the Church and the last one, The Great Jubilee, was held in 2000 during the papacy of Pope John Paul II.
This special year, as the Pope told us in his Year of Mercy letter in September, "has at its centre the mercy of God". The message is that God is always ready to forgive and there are no limits to the love of God and God's mercy. This Holy Year is an opportunity for personal conversion, for us to practise mercy in our own lives and "be merciful, even as your Father is merciful" (cf. Luke 6:36). It is a year of mercy rather than severity, of doors and bridges rather than walls and fortresses. We leave the old behind as we enter the door and cross the threshold to a new life of grace and forgiveness where we encounter the love of Jesus. "Jesus is the door and Jesus is the gate" (John 10).
A Holy Door of Mercy in Rome will be opened, through which those who enter can experience the love of God who consoles, pardons and instills hope. In earlier times a wall was hammered out and rebuilt after the Holy Year, but now it is more usual to use an existing door.
Locally, the Metropolitan Cathedral will have its own Door of Mercy and will be a place of pilgrimage. There will be Stations of Mercy for pilgrims to visit, focusing on the forgiveness and mercy of God, and deanery groups are scheduled to make a pilgrimage to the Cathedral on Saturdays throughout the year. Pilgrims will enter through the Holy Door and be able to visit the stations, celebrate God's forgiveness in a service of reconciliation and through individual Confession, and then celebrate the Eucharist presided over by one of our bishops.
The Holy Door of the Cathedral was opened and dedicated during the Opening Mass on Sunday 6 December at 3pm, with Archbishop Malcolm celebrating.
Two other churches in the Archdiocese will be open as Jubilee Churches for individual pilgrimages. These are Holy Cross in St Helens (pictured) and St Mary's in Leyland, and they are available for those who cannot travel to the Cathedral but would still like to make a pilgrimage including the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Mass.
These Jubilee Churches will have their own Doors of Mercy. Archbishop Malcolm will open the Jubilee Year of Mercy at St Mary's on Tuesday 8 December, beginning at 6.30pm with Confessions followed by Mass at 7.30pm. There is also the opportunity for Confession after Mass.
At the Church of Holy Cross and St Helen in St Helens, meanwhile, there will be Confessions every day before and after Mass, retreat days throughout the year, and an event in June titled 'Addiction in the Light of His Mercy' with Father Brian McGinley. There is also a catechesis programme getting under way in January called 'Mercy? Me?!'
Those unable to travel because they are sick or housebound are not excluded from celebrating the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Parishes are asked to find ways of celebrating with them, with deaneries encouraged to arrange Mass and anointing for the sick and housebound. Indulgences will be granted to the sick and housebound, prisoners, the deceased, and those who carry out the corporal works of mercy. They are also granted to all who make a pilgrimage and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation during the Year of Mercy.
Another concession for the year "opens the door of mercy" in a unique way. This involves an exceptional mercy to women and men touched by the tragedy of abortion. Pope Francis writes that "all priests for the Jubilee Year [have] the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it."
Schools are participating in the Year of Mercy with a special emphasis on the corporal works of mercy. Children will explore practical ways to show mercy in the family, school and world through their actions. There will also be time set aside for prayer, art, fundraising and collective worship, and some schools will visit pilgrimage churches.
For this special Jubilee, beautifully handmade vestments, altar panels, lectern falls, pulpit falls, banners, and gospel covers are all available with a hand-embroidered Year of Mercy logo. These items can all be made to individual requirements and are available from the Cathedral. For all orders and for more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
• For up-to-date information about the Year of Mercy, please visit www.yearofmercyliverpool.org.uk which will be updated regularly with news, photos and information about the Archdiocese of Liverpool. Please send photos and event details for the Year of Mercy to share with others to email@example.com. The Vatican website for the Year of Mercy is www.iubilaeummisericordiae.va.