The Jubilee Year is an ancient Jewish custom that the Christians continued as the New Covenant people. In Jewish history, Ez 23:10-11 (21:1-6) and Deut 15:1-18 record the designation of a Sabbatical Year - a rest on the land every 7 years and a dedication to the Lord to sanctify it - much like the Sabbath on the seventh day of a week.
However, in Leviticus 25:8-17, this was taken further such that every “seven weeks of seven years, seven times seven years” ie 49 years shall pass, and then on the 50th year the Jews would “hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his family. A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be to you...”.
The Jubilee Year was therefore the 50th year - the consecrated year of holiness for the people and family of God.
On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary on the 8th December 2015, Pope Francis formally opened the Holy Doors of the Basilica of St Peter to mark the beginning of the Holy Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Announced back in April 2015 in the Papal Bull Misericordiae Vultus, the emphasis of this special Jubilee Year is the Mercy of God the Father - Merciful Like The Father (Luke 6:36).
Within that Papal Announcement, Pope Francis said that
the practice of pilgrimage has a special place in the Holy Year, because it represents the journey each of us makes in this life. Life itself is a pilgrimage, and the human being is a ‘viator’, a pilgrim travelling along the road, making their way to the desired destination. Similarly, to reach the Holy Door in Rome or in any other place in the world, everyone, each according to his or her ability, will have to make a pilgrimage. This will be a sign that mercy is also a goal to reach and requires dedication and sacrifice. May pilgrimage be an impetus to conversion: by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us...
It is fitting therefore, that our Holy Mother the Church, has always attached indulgences to Jubilee Years to share the richness of God’s Mercy and encourage the faithful to participate ever more deeply in the love of God. Pilgrims will be able to enter through the Holy Doors of the four Papal Basilicas of Rome and enjoy daily Mass and Confession to dispose themselves towards the receipt of the attached indulgences.
In answer to the Holy Father's call for the faithful to delve more deeply into reflection on the unfathomable depths of Divine Mercy, we recommend certain specially formulated pilgrimages.
More can be read about the Jubilee of Mercy here.