Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Today, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Francis inaugurated the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy with the celebration of the Mass.
In his homily, the Holy Father said that the Jubilee should be experienced with the "spirit that emerged from Vatican II, that of the Samaritan," so as to continue with the "missionary drive" and "enthusiasm" that began 50 years ago, which was "a genuine encounter between the Church and the men and women of our time."
This Jubilee, the pontiff said, aims at "reaching out to every person wherever he or she lives: in their city, home, workplace . . . wherever there is someone that is where the Church is called to reach out to bring the joy of the Gospel."
The Eucharistic celebration was preceded by readings from the conciliar documents (from Dei Verbum, Lumen gentium, Sacrosanctum Concilium and Gaudium et spes), as well as two passages from Unitatis redintegratio on ecumenism and Dignitatis humanae on religious freedom.
Amid tight security measures, the faithful streamed into the square starting at 6.30 am (the Mass itself began at 9.30 am). Despite recent terrorist threats, the crowd numbered at least 60,000, including hundreds of bishops, priests and cardinals, as well as Italian political leaders and foreign diplomats.
In his homily, Francis said that the Jubilee of Mercy begins with the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which “expresses the grandeur of God’s love. Not only does he forgive sin, but in Mary he even averts the original sin present in every man and woman who comes into this world. This is the love of God which precedes, anticipates and saves. The beginning of the history of sin in the Garden of Eden yields to a plan of saving love. The words of Genesis reflect our own daily experience: we are constantly tempted to disobedience, a disobedience expressed in wanting to go about our lives without regard for God’s will. This is the enmity which keeps striking at people’s lives, setting them in opposition to God’s plan. Yet the history of sin can only be understood in the light of God’s love and forgiveness. Were sin the only thing that mattered, we would be the most desperate of creatures. But the promised triumph of Christ’s love enfolds everything in the Father’s mercy. The word of God which we have just heard leaves no doubt about this. The Immaculate Virgin stands before us as a privileged witness of this promise and its fulfilment.
“This Extraordinary Holy Year is itself a gift of grace,” the pope explained. “To pass through the Holy Door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them. This will be a year in which we grow ever more convinced of God’s mercy. How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy (cf. Saint Augustine, De Praedestinatione Sanctorum, 12, 24)! But that is the truth. We have to put mercy before judgment, and in any event God’s judgement will always be in the light of his mercy. In passing through the Holy Door, then, may we feel that we ourselves are part of this mystery of love. Let us set aside all fear and dread, for these do not befit men and women who are loved. Instead, let us experience the joy of encountering that grace which transforms all things.
“Today, as we pass through the Holy Door, we also want to remember another door, which fifty years ago the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council opened to the world. This anniversary cannot be remembered only for the legacy of the Council’s documents, which testify to a great advance in faith. Before all else, the Council was an encounter. A genuine encounter between the Church and the men and women of our time. An encounter marked by the power of the Spirit, who impelled the Church to emerge from the shoals which for years had kept her self-enclosed so as to set out once again, with enthusiasm, on her missionary journey. It was the resumption of a journey of encountering people where they live: in their cities and homes, in their workplaces. Wherever there are people, the Church is called to reach out to them and to bring the joy of the Gospel. After these decades, we again take up this missionary drive with the same power and enthusiasm. The Jubilee challenges us to this openness, and demands that we not neglect the spirit which emerged from Vatican II, the spirit of the Samaritan, as Blessed Paul VI expressed it at the conclusion of the Council. May our passing through the Holy Door today commit us to making our own the mercy of the Good Samaritan.”
During the ceremony, the faithful proclaimed the prayers in various languages – Chinese, Arabic, French, Swahili, Malayalam – thus expressing the Jubilee’s universality and that it will be celebrated in every country and diocese. Next Sunday in fact, 13 December, all the cathedrals in the world will open their Holy Doors, a step the pontiff had already undertaken last week when he opened the Holy Door of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Bangui, Central Africa, during his African pilgrimage.
Almost at the end of the Mass, the pontiff put on cope, while the deacon solemnly proclaimed the inauguration of the special Jubilee of Mercy and the opening of the Holy Door, sign of Christ Himself, "the Gate." As the choir sang a canon in Taizé tradition (Misericordias Domini in eternum cantabo, Forever I will sing the mercies of the Lord), Francis headed to the atrium of the basilica. Before opening the Holy Door, he embraced Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who was present at the ceremony.
After the invocation, the pope went to the door, decked out with flowers, and pushed it open. Then he stopped for a few minutes in silence and called for the discovery of mercy by entering "the house of the Lord." Following him, Benedict XVI stepped through the Holy Door, followed by all the concelebrating cardinals and bishops, together with a delegation of priests, religious and lay people.
Led by the Pope, everyone went in procession to the altar of the confession. Here the pope stopped to pray, his head bowed before the crucifix. After a final prayer, he blessed all those present, bringing the ceremony to an end.