Lecture No. 29 – January 2016


Jubilee Year of Mercy

Jim Russell, Lecturer
Jim Russell, Lecturer

[dropcaps] O [/dropcaps] n March 13, 2015, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, announced the coming Jubilee Year of Mercy. The next month, he restated the coming year in a papal bull titled, “The Face of Mercy.”

Jubilee Years occur every 25 years. Most of us experience two or three of them in our lifetime. I remember the last Jubilee Year because we installed a new doorway that opened directly into the sanctuary. There was a big to-do when it was opened for the first time. It was a year of “Renewal and Reconciliation.” I believe there is a plaque over by it, and you can read all about it.


The start of the Year of Mercy brought to mind three questions. You all knew this was coming. What a subject for a lecture. I could not pass up the opportunity to go into the subject of the current Jubilee Year of Mercy. And although Father Eugene pointed out that is all right to nod off in church, with the exception of his homily, I would point out that this is not the church and this is usually much shorter than a homily.

The first question that came to my mind was what is a Jubilee Year?

One explanation can be found in Leviticus. The book establishes a sabbatical year every seventh year. Jews were allowed to plant and harvest their fields for six years, but the seventh year was to be a year of rest for the fields. They could not be worked nor could any plants that did grow that year be harvested. This prohibition included vines and fruit and nut bearing trees.

Leviticus further directs that after a cycle of seven sabbatical years the next year, the 50th year, was to be a Jubilee Year, a year of liberty throughout the land. Debts were to be forgiven and wealth be distributed to the less fortunate. Additional references to this special year occur both in and out of our Bible.

Pope_Boniface_VIIThere have been 25 Jubilee Years in the history of the church. The beginning of this special year is usually marked by the opening of the Holy Door of St. Peter’s in Rome. The first Jubilee Year was in 1300. Pope Boniface VII proclaimed a “year of forgiveness of all sins.” In 1350, Pope Clement VI called for a Jubilee Year every 50 years with 1350 being the second.

The period between Jubilee Years has varied from as few as 10 years, 1390 to 1400, to as many as 50 years. In 1425, Pope Martin V established the practice of calling a Jubilee Year every 25 years. And so it has been since then with two exceptions. Pope Pius VI declined to call for a Jubilee Year in 1800 while Napoleon ruled much of Europe including the Papal States. And in 1850, Pope Pius IX was in temporary exile. This was a period in Italy when wars were being fought to form the country of Italy from a collection of feudal states and the Papal States were being reduced to the Vatican as we know it. The last Jubilee Year was in 2000.

Pope Francis has called for a year of mercy. So, what is mercy? I am sure we all know several meanings. The Jesuit Priest, Fr. James F. Keenan, defined mercy as “the willingness to enter into the chaos of another.” Dictionaries list several synonyms for the word mercy, among which are leniency, clemency, compassion, grace, pity, forgiveness, forbearance, quarter, humanity and, of course, charity. Pope Francis has addressed most if not all of these in his homilies and speeches as he has visited various countries since last March. Mercy will be a theme during his coming visit to Mexico.

Living homeless in southeast Dallas, Texas in 2014.
Living homeless in southeast Dallas, Texas in 2014.

For us as Knights, the Year of Mercy is made to order. Charity is the basic principle of our Order. This is the lesson given by the Deputy Grand Knight during the First-Degree Ceremony.