SUP-YearofMercy12-0315jpgAnita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

In December, all the cathedrals in the world will open their holy doors to usher in the start of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, a yearlong celebration of mercy and forgiveness designated by Pope Francis.

The jubilee commences Tuesday, Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, when Pope Francis opens the holy door in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City.

The Diocese of Superior will join the festivities Dec. 13, the third Sunday of Advent, with a door-opening ceremony and Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior.

The event begins at 1 p.m. with a light luncheon reception in Kress Hall and a presentation, followed by procession into the cathedral, a door-opening ceremony, Mass and opportunities to receive the sacrament of reconciliation before and after the door opens.

Seven holy doors in Rome, France, Spain and Montreal are sealed shut and only open to admit pilgrims in jubilee years, explained Paul Birch, director of the diocesan Office of Worship. Although most cathedrals do not have such a door, they can still offer the same opportunity for pilgrimage and plenary indulgence, the “extraordinary pathway” toward salvation.

Ancient origins

In ancient Hebrew tradition, as directed in Leviticus, jubilees took place every 50 years. Debts were forgiven and prisoners freed, fields were left uncultivated and equilibrium was restored to the land and its people.

Since 1300, popes have declared jubilees, a spiritual version of the Hebrew jubilee, every 25 or 50 years. Extraordinary jubilees are called in special circumstances; this jubilee commemorates the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council.

“Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith,” is how Pope Francis begins the bull of indiction, the document announcing the jubilee, “a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective.”

“Merciful like the Father,” the motto for the yearlong celebration, is taken from the Gospel of Luke, and invites all Christians to renew their relationships with God and one another.

“As the Lord is merciful to us, so we can be more merciful to other people,” Birch explained.

An uplifting experience

The Diocese of Superior’s Dec. 13 event begins in Kress Hall rather than the church proper because the journey – a pilgrimage to the cathedral, into the church and through the holy door – is symbolic of one’s journey toward salvation. It’s also a matter of ancient tradition.

“There’s a specialness about the way Christ is symbolized by this doorway, this route,” explained Birch. “We’re doing what’s been done for many, many years. It’s giving people the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to receive a plenary indulgence. It’s about the journey.”

Pilgrims can renew their relationships with one another during the reception and pick up jubilee materials to distribute in their home parishes; priests will also be available to hear confessions upstairs, and Lynn Tracy, a cathedral employee and officer in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, will give a presentation on mercy in the community.

The liturgy will also begin in the fellowship hall, with Fr. Jim Powers, pastor of St. Joseph, Rice Lake, and diocesan administrator, presiding; Birch hopes many priests will accept the invitation to concelebrate the Mass.

Birch aims to make the liturgy beautiful. The Diocesan Chorale will sing “Misericordes sicut Pater,” the official hymn of the Year of Mercy, antiphonally – in a call-and-response style – and the holy door will be swathed in greenery with Christological symbols. Candles and choral music, along with the more elaborate diocesan liturgy, will invoke the beauty of “walking through this verdant portal,” he said.

Once the door has been officially opened, pilgrims who pass through, receive the sacrament of reconciliation, pray for the intention of the Holy Father and achieve detachment from sin will receive a plenary indulgence.

Indulgence, as the pope explains in his bull, is a path to purification:

“In the sacrament of reconciliation, God forgives our sins which He truly blots out; and yet sin leaves a negative effect on the way we think and act. But the mercy of God is stronger even than this. It becomes indulgence on the part of the Father who, through the Bride of Christ, his Church, reaches the pardoned sinner and frees him from every residue left by the consequences of sin, enabling him to act with charity, to grow in love rather than to fall back into sin.”

Indulgences were historically reserved for those who made the pilgrimage to one of the “official” holy doors, Birch explained, but in keeping with the spirit of Vatican II, Pope Francis is empowering the local church.

“The riches that the church has …. (the pope is) trying to be more generous with that,” Birch added. “The bull says the reason why there are more is because the pope wants to open this up so the whole church can participate.”

For the first time, indulgences will also be granted for those who perform spiritual and corporal works of mercy, Birch said.

To learn more about the event, call the cathedral at (715) 392-8511.

In case of inclement weather, check the diocesan event line for cancellation, (715) 392-2937.