Q & A about the significance of the Year of Mercy in the diocese

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Editor’s Note: On March 13, Pope Francis declared his intention for the Church to highlight God’s mercy by celebrating the 2015-2016 liturgical year as an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. This yearlong celebration begins on Tuesday, Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and continues until Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, the Feast of Christ the King. Father Jeremy Rodrigues, administrative secretary to the bishop and director of the Office of Divine Worship, spoke with Rhode Island Catholic Staff Reporter Lauren Clem about the significance of the event and its observation within the Diocese of Providence. The following interview has been edited to fit the space allotted, but the entire interview is available for reading online by visiting www.thericatholic.com Keyword: Mercy

What is the Year of Mercy?
This year is set apart because it’s a jubilee year. Jubilee years traditionally have occurred every 25 years in the Church. The last jubilee year was in the year 2000, which marked the actual turn of the millennium. This year is different because it’s also an extraordinary jubilee year. So it’s not 25 years, in fact, we’re only 15 years out. When the Holy Father asked for a jubilee year, he felt that this was something that the Church needed. He tried to call everybody’s attention to it – to make it a universal observance, and to heighten, if you will, this level of participation throughout the world. So he’s called it a Jubilee Year of Mercy, which highlights God’s mercy, and also the mercy that the Church is involved in each and every day. So the works of mercy the Church is involved in, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, that’s the idea of this jubilee year. It’s intended to re-enliven the Church and to have people respond more to God’s mercy, therefore people can in turn respond to the world with mercy, having received God’s mercy but also respond mercifully to others. This is kind of a give-and-take, if you will, with the people. For the faithful, but also non-believers alike, inviting people to experience and understand what the Church is about.

Why does the Church have this tradition of celebrating jubilee years?
It actually dates from the Old Testament, but some of the first jubilees that we have on historical record date to the 15th century when popes have declared jubilees and pilgrimages. The whole idea of the jubilee year is intended to be an opportunity for people not only to reflect upon more Christian-centered themes, but more importantly the idea of pilgrimage. To make a pilgrimage to holy sites. It’s not all that different from other religions that require their faithful to make pilgrimages. They make pilgrimages to the Holy Land, they make pilgrimages to Rome, they make pilgrimages to different shrines throughout Europe that they have in Western civilization and even beyond. So this idea of the jubilee year started very early on. It’s a very ancient practice in the Old Testament, but also has carried on through the Western Church and Christianity such that the popes would declare a jubilee year inviting people to make a pilgrimage to the city of Rome to visit the important holy sites.

What is the Diocese of Providence doing to celebrate the Year of Mercy?
We’ve discussed what this is supposed to be about and we’re not looking to start new initiatives. We realized that the Church is already involved so much in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in the state and the diocese, so this will be an opportunity for us to highlight some of the good that the diocese is already doing. For example, the presence of our chaplains in hospitals and nursing homes and prisons. The fact that Mass is celebrated regularly at all of these places. That the sick are being visited, which are corporal and spiritual works of mercy. To invite people to come to the cathedral as a spiritual work of mercy. Coming to visit the cathedral as a place of pilgrimage because that is where the bishop is going to open a Holy Door. There will be events for the youth, for families that we’re encouraging. We’re encouraging parishes to consider different ways of evangelizing or reaching out as an opportunity to gather families back to the parish, that regular practice or attendance at Sunday Mass. We’ve offered some suggestions for that. We’ve organized all-day confessions, a day for confessions throughout the diocese on March 5, that’s a firm date because the Vatican is also doing that on the same day. They’ll have an all-day confession, if you will, so the Holy Father’s calling it 24 hours with the Lord, and the Diocese of Providence will be participating in that as well. Days of penance and recollection will also be important.

Can you tell us more about the Holy Door?
Part of the jubilee year is to have a Holy Door. And the Holy Father has asked that at least the cathedrals in the diocese have a Holy Door, and then if the bishop wants or deems it necessary he could also establish other parishes or places of interest to have a Holy Door. In the Diocese of Providence, we’re going to inaugurate the Holy Door on the 13 of December at the one o’clock Mass, and all the parishes of the diocese have been invited to this special event. This Holy Door is intended to be not just a nice thing in the cathedral, but it’s intended to be a reminder to us of this idea of pilgrimage, this constant pilgrimage that we are on. Traditionally, the Holy Doors were erected as a way to establish sanctuary for people who were, for lack of a better term, refugees or outcasts or in need. They would come to the church to find sanctuary. There’s that old sense of ‘if you’re in the church, you’re protected from anything civil, or anything secular, or anything of that nature.’ In a certain sense, that is the case. When we come to a church, we’re looking for sanctuary. We’re looking for a place to pray. We’re looking for a place to encounter God. And so the crossing of that threshold is a big step. And that’s the idea, that when pilgrims, people who come from all over cross the threshold, it’s an opportunity to say we are entering into a sacred space. It’s a reminder that we are walking toward this sanctuary, this place that is deemed holy. And, ultimately, it’s a symbol of our journey in life. You’re walking as a pilgrim during life hopefully to cross the threshold into heaven. You know, the door, that gateway into heaven. That’s the idea. This is that threshold. And every year, or every time there’s a jubilee year, the Holy Father will inaugurate a Holy Door for that purpose, to remind Christians of this journey towards the sanctuary. So people are invited to pass through the door, and then to come to pray and to make a spiritual work of mercy by doing that – praying for those who are in need, or the sick, or the dead.

And this Holy Door will be open through the whole Year of Mercy?
That’s correct. The door is to remain open for anyone who visits the cathedral from December 13 to November 20. That’s when the jubilee year closes, on the Feast of Christ the King.

How can Catholics around the diocese celebrate this Year of Mercy in their own everyday spiritual lives? Are there ways that they can integrate the theme of the year into their faith lives?
We’re asking pastors and leaders in parishes and communities to help the parishioners to do that. The best way that we have decided to encourage parishes and families to do that is to reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. What are they? During the jubilee year we have holy cards in our diocese that have the corporal and the spiritual works of mercy on them. To instruct those who are ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to admonish sinners, etc. So people are encouraged to live that out, but also to be mindful when doing all of those things that these are things that are asked of us in our everyday life. Not intended to be overly taxing, but when you talk about feeding the hungry, or giving to the thirsty, a lot of these things people do already, but to be more mindful of those good acts of charity that people are involved in. I think one of the hardest things for us is sometimes we become so self-defeating. We think of things in terms of success and success of the world, you know, how many people are going to Mass on Sunday, or how many people are receiving the sacraments, and granted those tell you a certain picture of what goes on in the diocese. But beyond all those things, people are engaged in the acts of charity or mercy and a lot of that is motivated by the people who come to Mass on Sunday already. So, yes, there is no doubt, you cannot remove the sacramental practice of people from the faith. People need to be connected to the parish, but people need to understand that the parish is already engaged in so many good things that people need to feel a little bit more aware of. Some people who do come to Mass don’t realize that a lot of these things are going on in the Church that they should and could be a part of and so those are the types of things that will be important during the Jubilee of Mercy.

Is there anything else about the Year of Mercy or about jubilee years generally that you’d like to share with the people of the diocese?
I think it would be important for Catholics to remember that while it seems like this is just another ordinary year, and it is on a certain level, it should be lived out in an extraordinary way. Any year would be an opportunity for that. People make promises and resolutions every year. Why not make this resolution an ability for us as Catholics to live out mercy in a particular way? To be more attuned to that? The Holy Father just offers us this opportunity. I think his whole concept of mercy for the Church, which, in a sense, this is nothing new, is an opportunity to highlight precisely what we’re trying to do in the diocese and to highlight mercy, and the works of God, who is all-merciful in our lives. So for Catholics to become more aware of that, that becomes more fruitful in their lives. And then, of course, it becomes more enlivened in the Church. There’s no special formula to work out or to live out this jubilee year, except that Catholics already have that road map. They have the sacraments, they have what the Church requires of us to give to support the Church and the community, they’re required to support those in need, you know all of these things that are the spiritual tools in our tool chest, if you will, in the Catholic tool chest, are so important to us. Basically it’s time to go into our tool chest, turn the light on, and start using them again. Dust all of off those spiritual tools that we have at our disposal, and that’s what the jubilee year should be for.