Missionaries of Mercy

This coming Ash Wednesday at the Vatican, Pope Francis will send forth “Missionaries of Mercy,” priests recommended by their bishops to be “living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of His pardon.” From what we understand, there will be 800 Missionaries of Mercy commissioned, 100 for the United States alone. During this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, they will be available, at the request of local bishops, to lead retreats and preach spiritual conferences.

Their mandate as confessors include the authority granted by the Holy Father to forgive even sins that are reserved to the Holy See. According to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, these sins include: Violation or profanation of the Holy Eucharist; absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the sixth commandment; unauthorized ordination of a bishop, which penalty is incurred by both the ordaining bishop and by the bishop who is ordained; direct violation by a confessor of the seal of confession and physical violence on the Roman Pontiff.

This commissioning of missionaries of mercy on Ash Wednesday should be for all priests a moment to reexamine their own priestly ministry, particularly the reverence with which they administer the sacraments, most especially the offering of Mass, the availability to which they make the Sacrament of Penance in the parish, and their own manner and style of preaching.

It can also be an opportunity for the People of God to truly pray for their priests so that they will never forget exactly to whom they are ontologically configured through ordination: Jesus Christ, the true High Priest.

All priests are called to be “missionaries of mercy,” even if they do not possess this particular mandate from the Holy Father. By their very nature and being, they are to be Christ, the merciful Good Shepherd to all whom they encounter. “Be Merciful, as your heavenly father is merciful,” says the Lord. May our priests both embody and receive mercy this year.