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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 Book of Leviticus, a Jubilee year (Hebrew: יובל yūḇāl) is mentioned to occur every fiftieth year, during which slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest.
In Western 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 Latin Church, generally involve pilgrimage to a sacred site, normally the city of Rome. The Catholic Church has declared the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy for 2015–2016.
In Jewish tradition the year of Jubilee was a time of joy, the year of remission or universal pardon. Leviticus 25:10 reads, "Thou shalt sanctify the fiftieth year, and shalt proclaim remission to all the inhabitants of thy land: for it is the year of jubilee."
The same concept forms the fundamental idea of the Christian Jubilee. The number fifty was specially associated in the early 13th century with the idea of remission. The translation of the body of Thomas Becket 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."
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."
In Roman Catholic tradition, a Jubilee or Holy Year is a year of forgiveness of sins and also the punishment due to sin. It is a year of reconciliation between adversaries, of conversion and receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, "...and consequently of solidarity, hope, justice, commitment to serve God with joy and in peace with our brothers and sisters." A Jubilee can be "ordinary" if it falls after the set period of years, and "extraordinary" when it is proclaimed for some outstanding event. With the encyclical Fulgens corona, Pope Pius XII declared the first Marian year or "Little Holy Year" for 1954. Pope John Paul II proclaimed a Marian year in 1987.
First Christian jubilee
In the face of great suffering, caused by wars and diseases such as the plague thousands of pilgrims came to Rome at Christmas in 1299. Cardinal Giacomo Stefaneschi, the contemporary and counsellor of Pope Boniface VIII, and author of a treatise on the first Jubilee, noted 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.
On February 22, 1300, Boniface published the Bull "Antiquorum habet fida relatio", in which, appealing vaguely to the precedent of past ages, he declared "...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.
The word jubilee does not occur in the Bull. 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. Among those who are recorded as among the pilgrims of that first Jubilee are Cimabue, Giotto, Charles of Valois, the chronicler Giovanni Villani, and Dante Alighieri who mentions it in the "Divine Comedy" in Canto XXXI of Paradiso.
Jubilee of 1350
Boniface VIII had intended that the Jubilee should be celebrated only once in a hundred years. Before the middle of the 14th century, Bridget of Sweden and the poet Petrarch (among others) urged Pope Clement VI, then residing at Avignon, to change this. In 1343, Clement VI assented, and set the time frame for every fifty years. In 1350 a Jubilee was held and although the pope did not return to Rome, Cardinal Gaetani Ceccano was dispatched to represent him. On this occasion daily visits to the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran were enjoined, besides those to the basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul outside the Walls.
Urban VI reduced the time period to thirty-three years and 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.
Jubilees of 1390 and 1423
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.[note 1]
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 Pope Paul III, but it was Pope Julius III who actually opened it.
In 1625, Pope 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.
Pope Clement X presided over that of 1675. While Pope 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 of San 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 Pope Benedict XIII. A famous preacher during the Jubilee 1750, proclaimed by Pope Benedict XIV, was Leonard of Port Maurice, who set up 14 Stations of the Cross inside the ruins of the Colosseum.
Pope 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 Pope 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 Pope 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 Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, 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.
On 13 March 2015, Pope Francis announced a special jubilee on the theme of mercy to be held from 8 December 2015 until 20 November 2016, and formally convoked the holy year through the papal bull of indiction, Misericordiae Vultus (The Face of Mercy), on 11 April 2015. 
"Great Jubilee" of 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.
Protestants and the Eastern Orthodox Church were invited to celebrate the Jubilee together with the Catholics as a sign of ecumenism. 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 Basilica 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.
Ceremonial of the Jubilee
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.
Miscellaneous Jubilee Events
Inspired Popes can include whatever seems fitting, such as Jubilee pilgrimages - thus the ever world-travelling pope John Paul II named some of his voyages Jubilee Pilgrimages: to the Holy Land in 2001 and 'a Jubilee Pilgrimage in the Footsteps of Saint Paul' in 2001 to Malta, Syria and Greece.
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.
List of Jubilee Years
- 1300 : Pope Boniface VIII
- 1350 : Pope Clement VI
- 1390 : decreed by Pope Urban VI, presided by Pope Boniface IX
- 1400 : Pope Boniface IX
- 1423 : Pope Martin V
- 1450 : Pope Nicholas V
- 1475 : decreed by Pope Paul II, presided by Pope Sixtus IV
- 1500 : Pope Alexander VI
- 1525 : Pope Clement VII
- 1550 : decreed by Pope Paul III, presided by Julius III
- 1575 : Pope Gregory XIII
- 1600 : Pope Clement VIII
- 1625 : Pope Urban VIII
- 1650 : Pope Innocent X
- 1675 : Pope Clement X
- 1700 : decreed by Pope Innocent XII, presided by Pope Clement XI
- 1725 : Pope Benedict XIII
- 1750 : Pope Benedict XIV
- 1775 : decreed by Pope Clement XIV, presided by Pope Pius VI
- 1825 : Pope Leo XII
- 1875 : Pope Pius IX (without great solemnity)
- 1900 : Pope Leo XIII
- 1925 : Pope Pius XI
- 1933 : Pope Pius XI
- 1950 : Pope Pius XII
- 1966 : Pope Paul VI
- 1975 : Pope Paul VI
- 1983 : Pope John Paul II
- 2000 : Pope John Paul II
- 2016 : Pope Francis
- Thurston, Herbert. "Holy Year of Jubilee." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 13 February 2016
- "What is a Holy Year?", Vatican, 17 February 1997
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Jubilee Year". Encyclopædia Britannica 15 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 534.
- "How awful was Catholic life under those immoral Renaissance Popes!". Rorate Caeli. Retrieved 25 March 2014. Quote: "[A]ll the clergy of the city were invited to the opening of the  Jubilee. The Pope himself performed this ceremony on Christmas Eve, 1499, having taken pains to settle all the details beforehand with his Master of Ceremonies. The ceremonial observed on these occasions was no modern invention, but, as the Bull of indiction expressly says, was founded on ancient rites and full of symbolic meaning. According to Burchard, the crowd which assisted at these solemnities numbered 200,000 persons. Although this may be an exaggeration, still it is certain that, in spite of the troubles of the times and the insecurity in Rome itself, the numbers attending this Jubilee were very large."
- Peter Rietbergen, Power and religion in Baroque Rome,2006
- Promulgated by Apostolic constitution Mirificus Eventus and prorogated by Motu Proprio Summi Dei Beneficio
- "Pope announces special Catholic Church Holy Year on theme of mercy". Reuters. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
- Vatican COntent Francesco Apostolic Letters w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_letters/documents/papa-francesco_bolla_20150411_misericordiae-vultus.html