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Mercy With Misery: What the Pope’s Apostolic Letter Said

Last edited 22nd November 2016

Mercy With Misery: What the Pope’s Apostolic Letter Said

Athough the Jubilee of Mercy has ended, Pope Francis has decided that some of the novelties he applied to the Church during the Holy Year will continue.

He is allowing all priests to absolve the sin of abortion from here on out, while SSPX priests will be able to continue hearing confessions validly.

In addition, he has indefinitely extended the mandate of the Missionaries of Mercy and has decided to institute the World Day for the Poor, which will take place each year on the Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time.

The Pope announced his decision in his new Apostolic Letter Misericordia et Misera, meaning “Mercy with Misery.” Published November 21, the letter was signed by the Pope November 20 during Mass for the close of the Jubilee of Mercy.

In the letter, Pope Francis said that “the Sacrament of Reconciliation must regain its central place in the Christian life.”

“Given this need, lest any obstacle arise between the request for reconciliation and God’s forgiveness, I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion,” the letter read.

The provision made for the duration of the Extraordinary Holy Year “is hereby extended, notwithstanding anything to the contrary.”

Pope Francis firmly stressed that “abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life,” but insisted that “there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father.”

“May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation.”
The Pope had initially declared that all priests could forgive the sin of abortion in a set of pastoral guidelines for the Jubilee issues September 1, 2015, in which he also granted SSPX priests the faculty to forgive sins in confession.

A woman who obtains an abortion automatically incurs a “latae sententiae” excommunication, along with those who assisted her in the process. Because of this excommunication, the sin of abortion can normally only be absolved by a bishop, or certain priests appointed by him.

For specific occasions such as Advent or Lent, some bishops extend this faculty to all priests within their diocese. In the US, the faculty to absolve abortion has already been delegated to all priests.

However, the Pope’s new provisions take it to a universal level.

In his new apostolic letter, Pope Francis also extended his decree allowing SSPX priests to hear valid confessions.
He noted how during the Jubilee, he allowed “that those faithful who, for various reasons, attend churches officiated by the priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, can validly and licitly receive the sacramental absolution of their sins.”

“For the pastoral benefit of these faithful, and trusting in the good will of their priests to strive with God’s help for the recovery of full communion in the Catholic Church, I have personally decided to extend this faculty beyond the Jubilee Year, until further provisions are made, lest anyone ever be deprived of the sacramental sign of reconciliation through the Church’s pardon.”

The Society of St Pius X was founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1970 to form priests, as a response to what he described as errors that had crept into the Church following the Second Vatican Council. Its relations with the Holy See became strained in 1988 when Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four bishops without the permission of Pope John Paul II.

The illicit consecration resulted in the excommunication of the five bishops; the excommunications were lifted in 2009 by Benedict XVI, and since then, negotiations between the Society and the Vatican to re-establish full communion have continued.

Pope Francis has taken several steps to move forward on the path of full unification with the SSPX Society, including the offer of a personal prelature, which is a Church jurisdiction without geographical boundaries designed to carry out particular pastoral initiatives. At present, the only personal prelature in the Church is Opus Dei. However, the SSPX Society has so far rejected this proposal.

As another sign of his push for this emphasis on mercy to continue beyond the Jubilee, Francis also extended the special faculties given to the Missionaries of Mercy.

On Ash Wednesday more than 1,000 priests were sent out around the world as ambassadors of mercy.

Selected from every continent, the Missionaries of Mercy placed a special emphasis on their role as preachers and confessors.

They were given two special faculties that are usually unavailable to the average priest, the first being that they were not limited in geographic location in terms of hearing confessions.

Usually a priest has to ask permission from the local bishop before hearing confessions in a diocese other than their own, however for the Missionaries of Mercy that was not the case.
A second aspect of the Missionaries’ mission was that they were able to absolve sins in cases otherwise reserved to the Holy See.

Though there are several such sins, the Holy See clarified that the faculties of the Missionaries of Mercy were limited to just four: Profaning the Eucharistic species by taking them away or keeping them for a sacrilegious purpose; the use of physical force against the Roman Pontiff; the absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the Sixth Commandment (“thou shalt not commit adultery”) and a direct violation against the sacramental seal by a confessor.
Bishops were encouraged to contact Missionaries of Mercy in nearby dioceses and invite them to come to their own.
In his letter, the Pope thanked the missionaries for their “valuable service aimed at rendering effective the grace of forgiveness.”

“This extraordinary ministry does not end with the closing of the Holy Door,” he said, voicing his desire for their ministry “to continue until further notice as a concrete sign that the grace of the Jubilee remains alive and effective the world over.”

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