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In Judaism and Christianity, the concept of the Jubilee is a special year of remission of sins and universal pardon. In the Biblical Book of Leviticus, a Jubilee year is mentioned to occur every fiftieth year, in which slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest.
In the Holy Bible, Leviticus 25:8-13 states,
And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years. Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. A jubile shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed. For it is the jubile; it shall be holy unto you: ye shall eat the increase thereof out of the field. In the year of this jubile ye shall return every man unto his possession.
According to Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson (a member of the Chabad.org Ask the Rabbi team) in his answer to, "When is the next Jubilee year?", the Jubilee year is currently not observed or commemorated. He explains that, in the 6th century BCE, the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and sent the majority of its population into exile. Those who were deported are historically known as the Ten Lost Tribes. The Jewish peoples are certain before that point in time the Jubilee was regularly observed. They also believe after the destruction of the Second Temple and the disbandment of the Sanhedrin (supreme rabbinical court), the Jubilee year was no longer marked in any form. Rabbi Baaruch also noted, biblical law indicates the Jubilee is only observed when all twelve Israelite tribes are living in Israel. (Lev 25:10 “And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live on it...”) These are two of many reasons, the Jubilee year is currently not observed or commemorated. However, some Israelites are of the opinion that the Jubilee is observed as long as there is a partial representation of each tribe.
In Christianity, the tradition dates to 1300, when Pope Boniface VIII convoked a holy year, following which ordinary jubilees have generally been celebrated every 25 or 50 years; with extraordinary jubilees in addition depending on need. Christian Jubilees, particularly in the Catholic tradition, generally involve pilgrimage to a sacred site, normally the city of Rome.
The year of Jubilee in both the Jewish and Christian traditions is a time of joy, the year of remission or universal pardon. In Mosaic law, each fiftieth year was to be celebrated as a jubilee year, and that at this season every household should recover its absent members, the land return to its former owners, the Hebrew slaves be set free, and debts be remitted (see Jubilee (Biblical)).
The same conception, spiritualized, forms the fundamental idea of the Christian Jubilee, though it is difficult to judge how far any sort of continuity can have existed between the two. It is commonly stated that Pope Boniface VIII instituted the first Christian Jubilee in the year 1300, and it is certain that this is the first celebration of which we have any precise record, but it is also certain that the idea of solemnizing a fiftieth anniversary was familiar to medieval writers, no doubt through their knowledge of the Bible, long before that date. The jubilee of a monk's religious profession was often kept, and probably some vague memory survived of those Roman ludi saeculares which are commemorated in the "Carmen Saeculare" of Horace, even though this last was commonly associated with a period of a hundred years rather than any lesser interval. But, what is most noteworthy, the number fifty was specially associated in the early 13th century with the idea of remission. The translation of the body of St. Thomas of Canterbury took place in the year 1220, fifty years after his martyrdom. The sermon on that occasion was preached by Cardinal Stephen Lantron, who told his hearers that this coincidence was meant by Providence to recall "the mystical virtue of the number fifty, which, as every reader of the sacred page is aware, is the number of remission."
We might be tempted to regard this discourse as a fabrication of later date, were it not for the fact that a Latin hymn directed against the Albigenses, and certainly belonging to the early 13th century, speaks in exactly similar terms. The first stanza runs thus:
In the light of this explicit mention of a jubilee with great remissions of the penalties of sin to be obtained by full confession and purpose of amendment, it seems difficult to reject the statement of Cardinal Giacomo Stefaneschi, the contemporary and counsellor of Pope Boniface VIII, and author of a treatise on the first Jubilee, that the proclamation of the Jubilee owed its origin to the statements of certain aged pilgrims who persuaded Boniface that great indulgences had been granted to all pilgrims in Rome about a hundred years before. It is also noteworthy that in the Chronicle of Alberic of Three Fountains, under the year 1208 (not, be it noted 1200), we find this brief entry: "It is said that this year was celebrated as the fiftieth year, or the year of jubilee and remission, in the Roman Court."
On February 22, 1300, Boniface published the Bull "Antiquorum fida relatio", in which, appealing vaguely the precedent of past ages, he declares that he grants afresh and renews certain "great remissions and indulgences for sins" which are to be obtained "by visiting the city of Rome and the venerable basilica of the Prince of the Apostles". Coming to more precise detail, he specifies that he concedes "not only full and copious, but the most full, pardon of all their sins", to those who fulfill certain conditions. These are, first, that being truly penitent they confess their sins, and secondly, that they visit the basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul in Rome, at least once a day for a specified time—in the case of the inhabitants of the city for thirty days, in the case of strangers for fifteen.
No explicit mention is made of Communion as a requirement to receive the indulgence, nor does the word jubilee occur in the Bull—indeed the pope speaks rather of a celebration which is to occur every hundred years—but writers both Roman and foreign described this year as annus jubileus, and the name jubilee (though others, such as the "holy year" or "the golden year" have been used as well) has been applied to such celebrations ever since. Dante, who is himself supposed by some to have visited Rome during this year to gain the Jubilee indulgence, refers to it under the name Giubbileo in the Inferno and indirectly bears witness to the enormous concourse of pilgrims by comparing the sinners passing along one of the bridges of Malebolge in opposite directions, to the throngs crossing the bridge of the Castel Sant'Angelo on their way to and from St. Peter's. Similarly, the chronicler Giovanni Villani was so impressed on this occasion by the sight of the monuments of Rome and the people who flocked thither that he then and there formed the resolution of his great chronicle, in the course of which he gives a remarkable account of what he witnessed. Other attendees may have included the artists, Cimabue and Giotto, as well as Charles de Valois, the brother of the King of France.
Villani describes the indulgence connected with this jubilee as a full and entire remission of all sins di culpa e di pena (Italian: of guilt and of punishment), and he dwells upon the great contentment and good order of the people, despite the fact that during the greater part of that year there were two hundred thousand pilgrims on an average present in Rome over and above the ordinary population. With regard to the phrase just noticed, a culpa et a poena (in Latin), which was often popularly used of the Jubilee and other similar indulgences, it should be observed that it means no more than what is now understood by a "plenary indulgence". It implied, however, that any approved Roman confessor had faculties to absolve from reserved cases (sins whose forgiveness can only be granted by certain priests), and that the liberty thus virtually accorded of selecting a confessor was regarded as a privilege. The phrase was an unscientific one, and was not commonly used by theologians. It certainly did not mean, as some have pretended, that the indulgence of itself released from guilt (which could be punished by Hell) as well as penalty (for sins already forgiven, usually removed in Purgatory). Guilt is actually remitted in the Catholic Church only in virtue of sacramental confession and the sorrow of the penitent. The sovereign pontiff never claimed any power of absolving in grievous matters apart from the sacrament. "All theologians", remarks Maldonatus, "unanimously without a single exception, reply that an indulgence is not a remission of guilt but of the penalty."
Boniface VIII had intended that the Jubilee should be celebrated only once in a hundred years. Some time before the middle of the 14th century, great urgings, in which St. Birgitta of Sweden and the poet Petrarch amongst others had a share, were made to Pope Clement VI, then residing at Avignon, to anticipate this term. In 1343, Clement VI assented, and in 1350 accordingly, a Jubilee was held, though the pope did not return to Rome himself. Cardinal Gaetani Ceccano was dispatched to represent him.
On this occasion daily visits to the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano were enjoined, besides those to the basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul outside the Walls, while at the next Jubilee, in 1390, the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore was added to the list. The visit to these four churches has remained as one of the conditions for gaining the Roman Jubilee indulgence.
The celebration next following was held in 1390, and in virtue of an ordinance of Pope Urban VI, it was proposed to hold a Jubilee every thirty-three years as representing the period of the sojourn of Christ upon earth and also the average span of human life. In 1400, so many people came to Rome, that Pope Boniface IX granted the indulgence again, even though he had not decreed a Jubilee year previously.
Another Jubilee was proclaimed by Pope Martin V in 1423 (33 years after the last proclaimed Jubilee in 1390), but Pope Nicholas V, in 1450, reverted to the quinquagesimal period, while in 1470 Pope Paul II decreed that the Jubilee should be celebrated every twenty-five years, and this has been the normal rule ever since. Paul also permitted foreigners to visit some specified church in their own country, and contribute towards the expense of the Holy Wars, as a substitute for the pilgrimage to Rome.
The Jubilees of 1450 and 1475 were attended by vast crowds of pilgrims, and that of 1450 was unfortunately made famous by a terrible accident in which nearly two hundred persons were trampled to death in a panic which occurred on the bridge of Sant' Angelo. But even this disaster had its good effects in the pains taken afterwards to widen the thoroughfares and to provide for the entertainment and comfort of the pilgrims by numerous charitable organizations, of which the Archconfraternity of the Holy Trinity, founded by St. Philip Neri, was the most famous.
In 1500, Pope Alexander VI announced that the doors in the four major basilicas would be opened simultaneously, and that he himself would open the Holy Door of Saint Peter's. The celebrations around this were "founded on ancient rites and full of symbolic meaning" and the total number attending the initial Jubilee events was, according to Johann Burchard, an estimated 200,000 people. This act definitively ushered in several customs. (See Pope Alexander VI # The Jubilee (1500).)
The ninth Jubilee was solemnly opened on December 24, 1524 by Pope Clement VII, at a time when there were already symptoms of the great crises which would soon tear the Church apart, with the Protestant Reformation. The 1550 Jubilee was proclaimed by Paul III, but it was Pope Julius III who actually opened it.
In 1625, Urban VIII opened the ceremonial doors for the Jubilee year. However the number of pilgrims was lower than expected due to the wars in northern Italy and so the Pope suspended the declaration of indulgences outside Rome in an attempt to lure the faithful to the city. He then went on to declare a universal or extraordinary jubilee in 1628 to pray for peace. This was repeated the next year in 1629 and brought undoubted material benefits to the city. Finally, Innocent X oversaw the last of his jubilees in 1650.
Clement X presided over that of 1675. While Clement XI, who opened the Jubilee of the year 1700, is remembered especially for establishing one of Rome's most renowned charitable institutions, the Hospice St Michele a Ripa. Gradually other similar institutions were opened to offer shelter and assistance to pilgrims, as in the year 1725, the Holy Year called by Benedict XIII. A famous preacher during the Jubilee 1750, proclaimed by Benedict XIV, was Saint Leonardo da Porto Maurizio, the apostle of the Via Crucis, who set up 14 stations of the Cross inside the ruins of the Colosseum.
Clement XIV announced the Jubilee of the Year 1775 but died three months before Christmas and the Holy Door was opened by the new Pope, Pius VI. The difficult situation in which the Church found herself during the hegemonic rule of Napoleon prevented Pius VII from proclaiming the Jubilee of 1800.
More than a half a million pilgrims made the journey to Rome for the Jubilee of 1825. Twenty five years later, the Holy Year could not be held because of the unsettled situation in the Roman Republic and temporary exile of Pius IX. However, he was able to announce a Jubilee for 1875, but it was celebrated without any external solemnity, with only the clergy present for the inauguration. The holy doors were not opened, and the pilgrims who came were generally in Rome to do homage to the Pope, who had not accepted the Italian annexation of Rome by the troops of King Victor Emmanuel, rather than to obtain an indulgence.
The Jubilee of 1900, though shorn of much of its splendor by the self-confinement of the Pope within the limits of the Vatican, was, nevertheless, carried out by Pope Leo XIII with all the solemnity that was possible.
In the 20th century, Jubilees were held in 1925, 1933 (in commemoration of Jesus' death), 1950, 1975, 1983 (Holy Year of the Redemption) and 2000.
Pope John Paul II announced a Great Jubilee for the year 2000 with his Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente (As the Third Millennium Approaches) of November 10, 1994. In this writing, he called for a three-year preparation period leading up to the opening of the Great Jubilee in December 1999. The first year, 1997, was to be dedicated to meditation on Jesus, the second to the Holy Spirit, and the third to God the Father. This Jubilee was especially marked by a simplification of the rites and the requirements for achieving the indulgence, as well as a huge effort to involve more Christians in the celebration.
Protestant Churches and the Orthodox were invited to celebrate the Jubilee together with the Catholics as a sign of ecumenical dialogue. Furthermore, special Jubilees were invoked for various groups within the Church, such as children, athletes, politicians, and actors. World Youth Day, celebrated in Rome in August, brought over two million young people together.
The Jubilee was closed by the pope on January 6, 2001, by the closing of the holy door of St. Peter's and the promulgation of the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (Upon Entering the New Millennium), which outlined the pope's vision for the future of the Church.
The most distinctive feature in the ceremonial of the Jubilee is the unwalling and the final walling up of the "holy door" in each of the four great basilicas which the pilgrims are required to visit. The doors are opened by the Pope at the beginning of the Jubilee and then sealed up again afterwards. Previously, the rite included the use of a silver hammer (for removing the concrete at the opening) and a silver trowel (for sealing it again after the Jubilee). The Pope would pound on the wall, which would then be set to collapse. This ritual caused injury of bystanders, so for the Great Jubilee of 2000, Pope John Paul II simplified the rite considerably, opening and closing the doors with his hands.
Traditionally, the Pope himself opens and closes the doors of St. Peter's Basilica personally, and designates a cardinal to open those of St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul outside the Walls. In the Great Jubilee, the Pope chose to open all the doors personally, while designating cardinals to close all the doors except that of St. Peter's.
Catholic parishes all over the world share a similar rite dedicating a door for the purposes of the Jubilee Year in order to accommodate its parishioners who do not intend to visit Rome for the occasion. Local parishes' doors include the same indulgence given to the Basilica doors.
This is a plenary indulgence which, as stated by Pope Boniface VIII in Consistory, it is the intention of the Holy See to grant in the most ample manner possible. Of course, when first conceded, such an indulgence, and also the privilege annexed of choosing a confessor who had power to absolve from reserved cases, was a much rarer spiritual boon than it has since become. So preeminent was the favor then regarded that the custom arose of suspending all other indulgences during the Jubilee year, a practice which, with certain modifications, still exists to the present day. The precise conditions for gaining each Jubilee indulgence are determined by the Roman pontiff, and they are usually announced in a special Bull, distinct from that which it is customary to issue on the preceding feast of the Ascension giving notice of the forthcoming celebration. The main conditions, however, which do not usually vary, are five: confession, Communion, prayer for the Pope, complete renunciation of all attachment to sin, and visits to the four basilicas during a certain specified period. (The first four are common to all plenary indulgences.) The statement made by some, that the Jubilee indulgence, being a culpa et a paena, did not of old presuppose either confession or repentance, is absolutely without foundation, and is contradicted by every extant official document of the Roman Catholic Church. Besides the ordinary Jubilee indulgence, to be gained only by pilgrims who pay a visit to Rome, or through special concession by certain cloistered religious confined within their monasteries, it has long been customary to extend this indulgence the following year to the faithful throughout the world, though in 2000, the indulgence was extended to the whole world during the Jubilee year itself. For this, fresh conditions are appointed, usually including a certain number of visits to local churches and sometimes fasting or other works of charity. Further, the popes have constantly exercised their prerogative of conceding to all the faithful indulgences ad instar jubilaei (after the model of a Jubilee) which are commonly known as "extraordinary Jubilees". On these occasions, as at the Jubilee itself, special facilities are usually accorded for absolution from reserved cases, though on the other hand, the great indulgence is only to be gained by the performance of conditions much more onerous than those required for an ordinary plenary indulgence. Such extraordinary Jubilees are commonly granted by a newly elected pontiff at his accession or on occasions of some unexpected celebration, as was done, for example, at the convening of the First Vatican Council, or again at times of great calamity.
Pope John Paul II convoked Jubilees in 1983 (Holy Year of the Redemption) and in 2000 (the Great Jubilee). In 2000, he greatly liberalized the conditions for gaining the Jubilee indulgence. A visit to only one of the four patriarchal basilicas in Rome was necessary (entering through the holy door). To the four baslicas were added the Sanctuary of Divine Love in Rome, and each diocese was permitted to name a location within the diocese where the indulgence could be gained. For instance, the diocese of Rome added the chapel in the airport at Fiumicino as a possible pilgrimage site. Most dioceses simply named the local cathedral as the pilgrimage site. There was no requirement for multiple visits. On the last full day of the Jubilee, pilgrims were permitted to enter the holy door at St. Peter's until late into the night, so that no one would be denied the opportunity to gain the indulgence. The requirements of confession, Communion, prayer for the Pope and freedom from all attachment to sin remained in place, as for all plenary indulgences.