Story by S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) — The Year of Divine Mercy, proclaimed by Pope Francis last April, will open Dec. 8 with observances around the world. The Diocese of Lincoln is no exception. All Catholics in southern Nebraska are encouraged to take part in opening Masses as well as other opportunities throughout the jubilee.
“It is the favorable time to heal wounds, a time not to be weary of meeting all those who are waiting to see and touch with their hands the signs of the closeness of God, a time to offer everyone the way of forgiveness and reconciliation,” the Holy Father said as he made the proclamation.
Several ways to observe the Year of Mercy have already been planned in the Diocese of Lincoln, and more are in the works.
On Tuesday, Dec. 8, St. Mary Parish in downtown Lincoln will host an opening Mass at 12:10 p.m.
At 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13, Bishop James Conley will celebrate a Mass at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ for the opening of the Holy Door.
“Each of the four papal basilicas in Rome have a Holy Door for jubilee years,” explained Father Daniel Rayer, chancellor.
These ornate doors are only open during jubilee years. Pilgrims can pass through the doors and gain a plenary indulgence for themselves or for poor souls in purgatory, assuming they have met the other requirements.
For this jubilee, the Holy Father has asked that every cathedral in the world dedicate an entrance to serve as a local Holy Door. In this way, it will be possible for most of the faithful to receive the Jubilee Indulgence, “as a genuine experience of God’s mercy.”
Father Rayer explained that crossing through the Holy Doors is a symbolic action that gives a person the spiritual experience of encountering the gates of Heaven.
“It calls to mind John 10:9, where Jesus talks about being the good shepherd, ‘I am the gate. Anyone who enters through me will be safe…’” he said. “In a sense you are identifying the door with Christ, as an image of Christ.”
The Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln has set aside a pair of doors between the narthex and the nave to serve as the Holy Doors for this jubilee. A large banner has been procured to hang over the designated doors, and there will be a sign and pamphlets explaining the pilgrimage and its plenary indulgence, assuming the other requirements are met.
The diocese has also provided prayer cards to all parishes, featuring the Holy Father’s prayer for the Jubilee of Mercy and an image painted by Rembrandt called, “The Return of the Prodigal Son.”
A large part of the Year of Mercy will be practicing the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy (above). This is something every Catholic can do, even young children.
“Any of us can find ways to do these, and we should all try,” Father Rayer said. “If we have neighbors who have needs, we should try to reach out to them.”
Father Rayer noted that the diocese supports two good resources from Our Sunday Visitor. One is a series of eight catechetical books on Mercy, produced by the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. These are ideal for study groups.
The other is an app called “365 Days to Mercy.” It is available for free download at GooglePlay or iTunes and includes daily inspiration, stories and news related to the Jubilee of Mercy.
Father Rayer said that a “24 Hours for the Lord” event is planned for March 4-5, 2016, at the Cathedral. Priests from the area will sign up to provide the Sacrament of Reconciliation ‘round the clock for 24 consecutive hours.
“We hope that each deanery will have some adaptation of that as well,” he said.
Of course, the Feast of Divine Mercy will be observed with aplomb on April 3, 2016. Bishop James Conley will celebrate the 9 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral before heading to St. Cecilia Parish in Hastings for a 2:30 p.m. Holy Hour that will include the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Also at 2:30 p.m., Bishop Emeritus Fabian W. Bruskewitz will lead a similar holy hour at the Newman Center in downtown Lincoln.
Other activities for the jubilee are in the planning stages.
Religious educators are developing a curriculum to be used at diocesan schools. Schools and parishes are also encouraged to create their own ways of observing the jubilee. A prayer campaign for fallen—away Catholics has also been suggested.
There may be a diocesan pilgrimage to the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., in October 2016, perhaps joined by Bishop Conley.
Father Rayer noted that the diocese intends to collect personal testimonies from the faithful around the diocese to inspire faith in others.
“We hope people will be willing to share their encounter of God’s mercy,” he explained. “That’s one of the goals of the Holy Father, too. Some people have some really powerful stories of their encounters with God’s mercy.”
Those who wish to participate can get more information from the diocesan website or from advertisements in the Southern Nebraska Register.
“The pope wants as much as possible for us to have an encounter and experience with God’s mercy and love, with the result being that we are called to go out and share that love with others,” encouraged Father Rayer.
He continued, “In our current climate, we are so busy…and we have so many gadgets, and we probably don’t take time to be still and be quiet. It’s usually in the stillness of life that the person can experience God.”
He suggested that anybody who is not in the habit of being still and quiet before the Lord to set aside just five minutes a day to help develop a habit of prayer.
“It’s a good place to start,” he said.