December 18, 2015

Liturgies, opening of doors begin observance of Holy Year of Mercy

“This is the Lord’s gate: let us enter through it and obtain mercy and forgiveness,” Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin declares as he opens the doors of mercy at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Dec. 13. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

“This is the Lord’s gate: let us enter through it and obtain mercy and forgiveness,” Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin declares as he opens the doors of mercy at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Dec. 13. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Sean Gallagher and Natalie Hoefer

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, in concert with Pope Francis and other bishops around the world, began the Holy Year of Mercy on Dec. 8 with a Mass celebrating the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Mass beginning the holy year in the Church in central and southern Indiana was celebrated in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

Pope Francis announced the Holy Year of Mercy last April. He intends it as a time for Catholics around the world to learn about and appreciate more fully the gift of God’s mercy in their own lives and to share that mercy with others.

In his homily during the Dec. 8 Mass, Archbishop Tobin reflected on the connection between God’s mercy and Mary.

“In the fullness of time, God turned his loving glance on a young woman, on Mary,” Archbishop Tobin said. “In the fullness of time, he chose her, holy and immaculate, in love, designating her to be the Mother of the Redeemer of the human race.”

Archbishop Tobin said that Pope Francis chose to start the Holy Year of Mercy on the feast of the Immaculate Conception because that act by God of keeping Mary free from sin shows that “no one can place limits on the love of God, who is always ready to forgive. …

“Mercy, Pope Francis teaches us, is the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us,” Archbishop Tobin said. “My brothers and sisters, I believe the Holy Father proposes this special year as an antidote to all things that separate us from God and from each other.”

Archbishop Tobin then remarked that the Holy Year of Mercy can have a special meaning for the people of the United States.

“For us Americans, I believe that mercy answers the terrible scourge that is ravaging our nation, and perhaps guts our hearts as well,” he said. “And that is the fear, the fear that would have us hide from God … or the fear that would separate us from our brothers and sisters, daughters and sons of the same Father.”

Archbishop Tobin made this reflection on fear and mercy the day after officials of the archdiocese’s Refugee and Immigrant Services program, at his direction, welcomed a Syrian refugee family to Indianapolis. The refugees were welcomed despite the request of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence that they be kept out of the state until Congress could pass a new law related to immigrants and refugees.

“Our Holy Father invites us to abandon all fear and dread, for these do not benefit men and women who are loved,” Archbishop Tobin said during his homily. “Instead, Pope Francis asks, ‘Let us live the joy of encounter with the grace that transforms us all.’ ”

The archbishop continued that theme as he opened the doors of mercy, also known as holy doors, in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral on Dec. 13, the first of 341 days that the special doors will be open as part of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. (Related: See a photo gallery from this Mass)

Those who walk through the doors—or specially designated doors at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln at Saint Meinrad in St. Meinrad—and perform the prescribed actions are eligible for a plenary indulgence during the jubilee year, which ends on Nov. 20, 2016.

“I think having the Archabbey church designated as the other official site in the Archdiocese for a Holy Door is a great honor,” said Archabbot Justin DuVall of Saint Meinrad Archabbey. “It strengthens our relationship to the whole archdiocese, but also to the universal Church for this Jubilee Year of Mercy.”

In his homily on Dec. 13, Archbishop Tobin noted Paul’s call to the Philippians in the second reading to have no anxiety.

“I think, especially today, a message that tells us to have no anxiety can stop us in our tracks. …

“Some of us might be tempted to fight anxiety with our own brand of violence, by turning our backs on the victims of terror, scapegoating others, branding innocent people as suspicious or threats to our peace and security. Others of us might choose to simply do nothing at all, but try to live indifferent to the suffering of others.”

The archbishop recommended asking the question the crowds asked of John the Baptist in the Gospel reading from the third chapter of Luke: “What should we do?”

Archbishop Tobin outlined the three answers John provided: share—“an act of solidarity that allows the world to see the invisible God through our acts of compassion”; don’t cheat others, for those cheated “may seek revenge in violence”; and don’t bully, as bullying “sets the stage for violence … and violence begets violence.”

He then turned to the opening of the doors of mercy.

“Today’s liturgy is a wonderful way to begin the jubilee,” he said. “We remember that God cherishes us, wants us to flourish and offers us eternal life. We recognize that the mercy of God is the sure antidote for anxiety, which, if left unchecked, will suck the very life out of us. …

“So we ask ourselves, ‘What should we do?’ If we take this year seriously and gratefully accept what has been offered to us, … accept God’s mercy and manifest it to others, then ‘the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus’ (Phil 4:7)—guaranteed.”

To end the special Mass in which the doors of mercy were opened, the congregation was dismissed with this call, “Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful. Go in peace.”

Brandon and Amy Baker, members of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis, attended the Dec. 13 Mass with their five young children.

“Our [two oldest] daughters had their first reconciliation [on Dec. 9], so mercy is a theme in our household right now,” said Brandon. “We wanted to see the opening of the door of mercy and participate in this beautiful liturgy.

“And it was, it really was beautiful.”

(To help Catholics have a greater experience of God’s mercy, Pope Francis has established special plenary indulgences for the holy year. They can be gained in various ways. To learn more about them and the conditions under which they can be obtained, visit The website also provides information on the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, and lists celebratory events in central and southern Indiana.)

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