On December 8, 2015 in Rome, and on December 13 in dioceses throughout the world (including the Diocese of Burlington), Holy Doors will open marking the beginning of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. In addition to the physical door through which pilgrims will pass, there will be invisible, yet nonetheless real, graces to accompany them through the observance of certain conditions. The conferral of this special grace is the prerogative of the Holy Father and has its Scriptural origins dating back to the time of St. Peter to whom Jesus said, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).
With this key, God the Father has given to the Church the key to his merciful heart. That is, he has given the Church direct access to his immeasurable mercy. For centuries, the Church has called those special graces indulgences. An indulgence is “the remission the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven as to their culpable element.” (Indulgentiarum doctrina, #8). In plain English, that means that for those who have received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but still have to fulfill in justice the punishment that their sins deserve, an indulgence represents an authoritative appeal to God’s mercy for greater clemency. The Church makes that appeal on behalf of her children, confident in Jesus’ exhortation to “ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). Seeking an indulgence is an appeal to God’s mercy sought through confident faith and desire for personal conversion.
Although there were problems over five hundred years ago with the illegal buying and selling of indulgences, the Council of Trent in 1563 absolutely forbade the trafficking of indulgences as well as the supposed sale of blessings. There is never a financial transaction in obtaining an indulgence, or any grace, for that matter. The Father’s mercy is free.
What does one have to do to obtain the indulgence for the Jubilee Year of Mercy?
- Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
- Receive Holy Communion at Mass. (This presupposes that the pilgrim is able to receive the Eucharist. Speak with your pastor if you’re not sure).
Note: Confession and Mass do not have to be performed on the same day as passing through the Holy Door and praying for the Pope. The sacraments can be good for twenty days before or after passing through the door provided the penitent is in a state of grace at the time he or she passes through the door. It is desirable to perform all of these acts on the same day, if possible.
- Pass through the Holy Door at St. Joseph Co-cathedral between December 13, 2015 and November 20, 2016 with the intention of receiving the indulgence.
- Offer prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father—a minimum of one Our Father and one Hail Mary.
Note: For people who are in nursing homes or who are homebound and otherwise unable to travel to St. Joseph, Pope Francis grants them the indulgence when they unite their sufferings with Jesus and receive Holy Communion, if able; or at least, watch the Mass on TV. Likewise, prisoners may obtain the indulgence by praying in the prison chapel and appealing to the Father’s mercy. (Letter to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, September 1, 2015)
In general, an indulgence may be obtained once a day for yourself or you may offer it for a soul in purgatory, but it may not be transferred to somebody who is living.
The Church’s treasury of mercy is filled with overflowing. Knock and the door will be opened for you, too.