“Let us henceforth entrust this Year to the Mother of Mercy, that She turn Her gaze upon us and watch over our journey: our penitential journey, our year-long journey with an open heart, to receive the indulgence of God, to receive the mercy of God”.

There are a variety of images depicting the Mother of Mercy (or ‘Mater Misericordiae’), the oldest of these dating back to some time around 1280. With some variances, they essentially depict the Blessed Virgin Mary standing (or sitting) with a cloak which is held widely open – sometimes held by Angels – and beneath which, people are taking shelter. It is a popular image with groups such as Confraternities.

The imagery here is very simple and yet very powerful. The message is clear – all of us, every man, woman, child – can take shelter beneath the protection of the Mother of God.

It is interesting that this is the title of the Blessed Virgin under which the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has placed the rotation of the Holy Year of Mercy. With the explicit use of the word ‘mercy’ in the title, perhaps this is not so surprising. But I wonder if the reason for the Pope’s choice had more to do with that very clear message – ‘all are welcome here’.

Pope Francis has been at pains to explicitly extend the Holy Year of Mercy to everyone; none, he reminds us, are excluded. God’s mercy is there for everyone, for the asking. Indeed, in the Bull of Indiction for the Holy Year, he went out of his way to speak to particular groups of people and to people in very particular situations of life. At the conclusion of the Bull, he wrote –

“My thoughts now turn to the Mother of Mercy. May the sweetness of Her countenance watch over us in this Holy Year, so that all of us may rediscover the joy of God’s tenderness. No one has penetrated the profound mystery of the incarnation like Mary. Her entire life was patterned after the presence of mercy made flesh. The Mother of the Crucified and Risen One has entered the sanctuary of divine mercy because She participated intimately in the mystery of His love… She treasured divine mercy in Her Heart in perfect harmony with Her Son, Jesus.”

In this Holy Year, when our thoughts turn in a deeper way to the message and the witness of mercy, we can have no greater exemplar and model than the Blessed Virgin, and no prayer to the Lord more efficacious than Her own on our behalf.

May all of us seek Her maternal intercession and benefit by receiving it.