Who shows mercy?

by Frances Novillo
Posted at 11:17am on 28th May 2016

How have you heard about the Year of Mercy?  Who has told you about it?  Where have you experienced it?  I wouldn’t be surprised if your answer was: mainly from priests and in Confession, since many parishes have observed the Year of Mercy by providing more access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  On 23rd April, St Peter’s Square became an open air confessional, witnessing to the value of the Sacrament by making it visible to everyone in the square, tourists and pilgrims, Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  The Catholic Herald reported the 24 hours of mercy celebrated in Lent as a ‘world-wide ‘Confession drive’’ (1st March 2016).  Many thousands may walk through Holy Doors this year, but countless more are finding that ordinary doors to confessionals in local churches are also gateways to mercy, leading to wonderful encounters with Jesus, face of the Father’s mercy, through compassionate priests committed to expressing God’s love.  The Bishop of Plymouth even extended an invitation to non-Catholics during this Year of Mercy ‘to visit Catholic churches to talk to priests about their concerns and to receive a blessing.’ (The Tablet, 12th March 2016, p.29).

However, responsibility for expressing God’s mercy in this Jubilee Year is not given only to priests in confessionals.  We should not only expect to hear God’s mercy when we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  In this year in particular, we can be open to hearing mercy all around us.  You may mention mercy more in your hymns this year: Paul Inwood’s official hymn (www.magnificatmusic.com/mercy_8a.htm), in new offerings from Martin Foster (www.bearmusic.info/psalms-songs-of-mercy/) and CJM (www.cjmmusic.com/resources-ideas/face-of-your-mercy-a-new-song-for-the-year-of-mercy-free-download/), for example, and old favourites such as Praise my soul the king of heaven, There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, and Freely, freely, a song many worshippers have sung since primary school reminding everyone to share the mercy they have received (Matthew 18:33).

When we sing, we witness.  It’s hard to ignore someone singing in public, as anyone knows who’s heard a busker in a confined space such as a bus or train.  Sports fans sing together to make their support (or disgust) for a particular team or player louder and clearer than merely shouting about it.  Pedestrians walking past a church on Sunday morning may notice something is happening because of all the parked cars, but they find out what it’s all about when they hear what we’re singing together as the sound drifts out of the church windows and doors.  Thus in this Year of Mercy, we hear words of mercy sung by those worshipping around us, and in singing together as a congregation we share words of mercy with the wider community. 

‘#Year of Mercy’ has become shorthand in the presbytery where I work for ‘Oops, sorry, please forgive me’, as in the following exchange: 

-          Sorry I forgot our early morning meeting, getting you out of bed an hour early and completely wasting your time – hashtag year of mercy?

-          OK, alright then!

In an inclusive Mass in our parish, during which the Gospel message was summarised by a group of adults with learning difficulties, congregants were invited to speak words of mercy to one another, taking each others’ hands and saying simply: Turn back to God, then passing on this message to the next person in the pew, and so on.  In our annual parish musicians’ retreat day, we adapted an SSG Summer School reconciliation service, reflecting on sins committed in the course of our ministry as musicians, writing these down to place within a cross visible to everyone, then speaking words of mercy, hope, and forgiveness to one another.  During the 24 hours of mercy, I prepared Readers for two short Liturgies of the Word in which they spoke words of mercy to the congregations: Joel 2:13, the Gospel of the Prodigal Son, and the Litany of Divine Mercy.  Words of mercy were heard expressed by men and women of all ages and nationalities praying together.  In schools and children’s liturgy groups, children are illustrating and decorating words of mercy to share with their worshipping communities on church notice-boards, in assemblies, and at Masses.  If you’re looking for resources, check out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy pages to print off and colour in from http://looktohimandberadiant.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/spiritual-works-of-mercy-teaching-tools.html

On Radio 4 (Beyond Belief: Mercy, first broadcast on 14th March 2016) Bernadette Goulding (from Rachel’s Vineyard and Women Hurt: Facing Abortion Regret) shared her amazing testimony of mercy received herself and by others who had believed themselves beyond the reach of forgiveness.  Our remarkable capacity to love is revealed as we receive more and more of God’s mercy.  But there remain within our churches and neighbourhoods some who will take the attitude of Simon, the wealthy host in Luke’s Gospel account of Jesus anointed by a loving woman (Luke 7:36-48).  Simon did not approve of the woman as a suitable channel for compassion (Luke 7:39).  He did not think Jesus should receive her expression of love (Luke 7:39).  But Jesus broke down these barriers so that mercy could flow freely.  In this story, the woman showed her love to Jesus even before Jesus told her that her sins were forgiven (Luke 7:48); an even more generous expression of love than we sing about in Freely, freely where we commit ourselves to share forgiveness, peace, and power in response to the mercy we have received.  This year is an opportunity to see mercy everywhere and to show mercy everywhere.  Don’t leave it to the priests and the liturgical Penitential Acts!  In manifold ways, the Father’s mercy is received and shared not only by those we call father, but also mothers, sisters, brothers, children, friends, and strangers. 


Reproduced from Issue 357, Volume 42, Number 1 of Music and Liturgy, May 2016, by kind permission of the Society of Saint Gregory https://www.ssg.org.uk/

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