What is immediately interesting about the Pope's letter ahead of the Year of Mercy is the old-fashioned nature of his concerns

The Pope has let us know some more details about the forthcoming Jubilee of Mercy, which is due to start on the feast of the Immaculate Conception this year, in a letter he has written to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who is in charge of the Council for the New Evangelisation, which is dealing with the running of the Jubilee. The text of the Papal letter can be found here.

What is immediately interesting about the letter is the old-fashioned nature of the Pope’s concerns. Most of the letter is about the Jubilee Indulgence, and going to confession, and the faculties he is granting to priests of the Society of Pius X to grant absolution. All of this is very cheering, though I imagine a few Catholics, and many non-Catholics, will wonder and scratch their heads.

First of all, the Pope makes it absolutely clear that the Jubilee of Mercy is a time to go to confession. He says: “It is important that this moment be linked, first and foremost, to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist with a reflection on mercy.” Mass, preceded by confession, is the order of the day.

The going through the holy door is merely a way of limbering oneself up for confession. So let us hope that his Jubilee Year does what is hoped of it, and brings people back to confession, especially those who have not been for years.

The second thing is indulgences, which can be applied to the living and the dead – a welcome reminder of the comforting doctrine of Purgatory. Indulgences are not fashionable in certain circles, but we should remember that the Jubilee itself is rooted on the Old and New Testaments, as is the concept of Indulgence. It is clear that Our Lord was the first to give “indulgence” to sinners – consider the case of the Good Thief, who is promised paradise that very day with Jesus. This is in keeping with the generosity to the land and to people that is laid down in the twenty-fifth chapter of Leviticus. Indulgences are the canonical form of this divine generosity. The person who neglects to obtain an indulgence for the living or the dead during this Jubilee of Mercy will be missing out on the opportunity of lifetime.

The third thing is the question of faculties. Most laity may not realise this, but priests who hear confessions do so with the permission of the bishop which is granted if the priest is found suitable after examination, and which is removed when the priest is no longer in good standing. The priests of the Society of St Pius X do not have faculties granted them by the local bishop (I assume because they have not asked them, and also because their ordinations, though valid, are illicit). The Pope, by this letter, grants them faculties, so that laity who confess to them may receive valid and licit absolution and thus take part in the Jubilee. Moreover, he goes on to say that he hopes that a permanent reconciliation with the Society may soon be possible. This represents a genuine overture to the Society and we can only hope that they respond in kind.

A Jubilee is a time to brush up on one’s Catholicism, and this letter from the Pope may come as a bit of a surprise to some – in which case, brush up on your Purgatory, your Indulgences, your theology of the Church and of Grace, and your Canon Law. And find out where your nearest church is where you can obtain the indulgence.