WHAT IS A HOLY YEAR?
In the Roman Catholic tradition, a Holy Year, or Jubilee is a great religious event. It 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 year is above all the year of Christ, who brings life and grace to humanity.
The origin of the Christian Jubilee goes back to Bible times. The Law of Moses prescribed a special year for the Jewish people: "You shall hallow the fiftieth year and proclaim the 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. This fiftieth year is to be a jubilee year for you: you will not sow, you will not harvest the un-gathered corn, you will not gather the untrimmed vine. The jubilee is to be a holy thing to you, you will eat what comes from the fields."(The Book of Leviticus 25, 10-14) The trumpet with which this particular year was announced was a goat's horn called Yobel in Hebrew, and the origin of the word jubilee. The celebration of this year also included the restitution of land to the original owners, the remission of debts, the liberation of slaves and the land was left fallow. In the New Testament, Jesus presents himself as the One who brings the old Jubilee to completion, because he has come to "preach the year of the Lord's favour" (Isaiah 61: 1-2).
It is interesting to note that in almost every country, time is counted as before and after Christ's coming into the world, although today few people may realise the reasons for this calculation. For Christians then, the Jubilee of the year 2000 is especially important because it will be a celebration of the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ (apart from differences of exact chronological count.) What is more, it will be the first Holy Year which marks the turn of a millennium, since the first Jubilee was proclaimed by Pope Boniface VIII in 1300. For Christians then, the Jubilee of the Year 2000 should be a great prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God for the gift of the Incarnation of His Son and the Redemption He brings.
The Jubilee is called Holy Year, not only because it begins, is marked, and ends with solemn holy acts, but also because its purpose is to encourage holiness of life. It was actually convoked to strengthen faith, encourage works of charity and brotherly communion within the Church and in society and to call Christians to be more sincere and coherent in their faith in Christ, the only Saviour.
A Jubilee can be "ordinary" if it falls after the set period of years, and "extraordinary" when it is proclaimed for some outstanding event. There have been twenty-five "ordinary" Holy Years so far: the Year 2000 will be the 26th. The custom of calling "extraordinary" Jubilees began in the 16th century and they can vary in length from a few days to a year. There have been two extraordinary jubilees in this century: 1933 proclaimed by Pope Pius XI to mark the 1900th anniversary of Redemption and 1983 proclaimed by Pope John Paul II to mark 1950 years since the Redemption carried out by Christ through his Death and Resurrection in the year 33. In 1987 Pope John Paul II also proclaimed a Marian year.
THE HISTORY OF THE JUBILEE
The first ordinary Jubilee was proclaimed in 1300 by Pope Boniface VII a member of the noble Caetani family, with a Bull, "Antiquorum Habet Fida Relatio". Throughout Christendom (the known world at that time) there was great suffering, caused by wars and diseases such as the plague and all kinds of ills: among the people there was a great desire to return to a more holy way of living. So with great faith the Christians determined to travel (on foot) to Rome, to pray at the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul and to receive the Pope's blessing, in order to obtain the grace and strength to carry on. They came in their thousands at Christmas in 1299. Due to their great number the Pope, having enquired and learned the reason for their coming, full of admiration for their faith proclaimed a "year of forgiveness of all sins". A similar year would be held in future, every hundred years. Outstanding names are recorded among the pilgrims of that first Jubilee: Dante, Cima Bue, Giotto, Carlo de Valois brother of the King of France, with his wife Catherine. Dante Alighiere who writes of the event in his "Divine Comedy" in Canto XXXI of Paradise.
While the Apostolic See was transferred to Avignon in France (1305-1377) there were many requests for the second Jubilee to be held earlier, in 1350 instead of 1400. Clement VI gave his consent and set a period of fifty years between jubilees. Besides visiting the Basilicas built over the tombs of Peter and Paul the pilgrims were also required to visit to Saint John Lateran, the city's Cathedral, being the first Church of the Bishop of Rome who is the Pope. Later Pope Urban VI decided to reduce the period to thirty three years in memory of the earthly life of Jesus. When Pope Urban died, however, the new Pope, Boniface IX opened the Holy Door on Christmas Eve 1390, but since the numbers of pilgrims were so great he called a second Holy Year at Christmas 1400.
In 1425, and not in 1433, as it had been formerly set, Pope Martin V proclaimed the Holy Year 1425 with two novelties: a special commemorative Jubilee Medal and the opening of a Holy Door in the Cathedral of Saint John in the Lateran. Nicholas V called the 1450 Holy Year and in 1470 Pope Paul II issued a Bull to fix the Jubilee for every twenty-five years. The next Holy Year 1475 was proclaimed by Sixtus IV. And for the occasion the Pope wished to adorn Rome with more works of art: he ordered the building of the Sistine Chapel and the Ponte Sisto or Sixtus Bridge over the River Tiber (both named after him). Several renowned artists were working in Rome at that time: Verroccio, Signiorelli, Ghirlandaio, Botticelli, Perugino, Pinturicchio, Melozzo da Forli.
In 1500 Pope Alexander VI announced that the Doors in the four major basilicas would be opened contemporaneously, and that he himself would open the Holy Door of Saint Peter's. The ninth Jubilee was solemnly opened on December 24th 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 Reform. The 1550 Jubilee was proclaimed by Paul II, but it was Pope Julius III who actually opened it. The remarkable afflux of pilgrims caused no few difficulties in the city and Saint Philip Neri was among those who came to their help with his Holy Trinity Confraternity. It is recorded that in 1575, in the time of Pope Gregory XIII, as many as 300,000 people came to Rome from all over Europe. The next Holy Years were proclaimed by Clement VIII, (1600) Urban VIII (1650), Clement X (1675).
Innocent X, 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 he 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. As St Paul's Basilica was under new construction, having been destroyed by fire two years earlier, Pope Leo XII substituted the visit to St Paul's outside the walls with Santa Maria in Trastevere Basilica. 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, this Pope did proclaim the Holy Year 1875, although there was no ceremony of the opening of the Door due to Rome's occupation by the troops of King Vittorio Emmanuele.
It was Pope Leo XIII who called the 22nd Christian Jubilee which opened the 20th century of the Christian era, characterised by six beatifications and two canonizations, (Saint Jean Baptist de La Salle and Saint Rita da Cascia). In the Holy Year 1925, Pius XI wished to direct the attention of the faithful to the prodigious work of the missions. To gain the indulgence, the people were asked to pray (according to the intention of the Pope) for peace among peoples. In 1950, a few years after World War II, Pius XII called the Holy Year with the following indications: the sanctification of souls through prayer and penance and unfailing faith in Christ and the Church; action for peace and protection of the Holy Places; defence of the Church against constant attacks by her enemies; prayers for the gift of faith for those in error, and for unbelievers; the promotion of social justice and assistance of the poor and needy. It was during this year that the Pope defined the Assumption into Heaven of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as a dogma of the Catholic faith. (November 1st, 1950). The last ordinary Jubilee was called in 1975 by Pope Paul VI with two main themes for reflection and action: Renewal and Reconciliation.
TERTIO MILLENNIO ADVENIENTE
On November 10th, 1994, Pope John Paul II promulgated an Apostolic Letter, Tertio Millennio adveniente, addressed to "the Bishops, the clergy and lay faithful on preparation for the Jubilee of the Year 2000". The document contains a brief introduction and five chapters. The introduction presents the main subject of the letter: the Jubilee is a celebration of the redeeming Incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
Chapter I JESUS CHRIST IS THE SAME YESTERDAY AND TODAY, explains the significance and importance of the birth of Christ. He, the Son of God, became one of us in order to reveal to us God's plan for the whole of creation, and for mankind in particular. This is the essential point which makes Christianity different from other religions: it is God who comes in search of mankind, and shows the way for us to reach him. The incarnation of Christ is God's coming, to show us that we have taken the wrong road, the road of evil. "Overcoming evil: this is the meaning of the Redemption" (TMA 7) Christianity therefore, is the religion of the Incarnation, of the world's Redemption.
Chapter II, THE JUBILEE OF THE YEAR 2000, explains the origin of a Holy Year and the deep significance of this next one which will mark the end of one millennium and the beginning of another. With the Incarnation, God entered human history, eternity entered time: Christ is the Lord of time. In Christianity, time has a fundamental importance. Since God has entered our human time, there arises the duty to sanctify time. Against this background we can understand the custom of Jubilees which began in Bible times and continues in the history of the Church. Jesus himself proclaims the year of the Lord's favour. For the Church the Jubilee is a year of special grace, of remission of sins and the punishment due to them, a year of reconciliation between disputing parties. Our own lives are marked with jubilees, anniversaries of birthdays, and weddings and, for Christians, anniversaries of Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, Priestly or Episcopal Ordination. Communities, dioceses and parishes also celebrate Jubilees for anniversaries of foundation etc. Hence with regard to its content, this great Jubilee will be, in a sense, like any other. But at the same time it will be different, greater than any other for Christians and for all people of goodwill.
Chapter III, PREPARATION FOR THE GREAT JUBILEE, highlights the various events which can be seen as providential preparation for the Jubilee of the second Christian millennium. First of all the Second Vatican Council, "an event, focused on the mystery of Christ and his Church and at the same time open to the world. This openness was an evangelical response to recent changes in the world, including the profoundly disturbing experiences of the 20th century, ... the first and second World Wars ..." experiences which demonstrate the world's need for purification. The best preparation for the new millennium, the Pope writes, will be renewed commitment to apply the teachings of Vatican II to the life of every individual and of the whole Church. Other events seen as preparation for the Jubilee are the regular series of meetings of the Synod of Bishops, since Vatican II, synods which can be, universal, continental, regional, but also national and diocesan and which discuss and address various questions and matters regarding the life of the Church. The underlying theme of them all is evangelization, or rather the new evangelization. The ministry of the Bishop of Rome has special tasks and responsibilities with regard to the Jubilee of the Year 2000. In a sense all the Popes of this century have prepared for this Holy Year with numerous documents and messages, concerning social doctrine, for example the annual Message for Peace first delivered by Pope Paul VI in 1968. The present Pope, John Paul II, in his first Encyclical, (Redemptor hominis), spoke explicitly of the Great Jubilee as a time to be lived as a "new Advent". Papal journeys too, have become an important element in the work of implementing the Second Vatican Council. In this Letter he expresses the desire to visit Sarajevo, Lebanon, Jerusalem and the Holy Land, "the places on the road taken by the People of God of the Old Covenant, starting from the places associated with Abraham and Moses, through Egypt and Mount Sinai as far as Damascus, the city which witnessed the conversion of Saint Paul."
The Pope also affirms the important role of local Jubilees, in preparation for the Great Jubilee, heralded also by the extraordinary 1983 Holy Year of the Redemption, and the Marian year, 1986/87. "The Marian year was as it were an anticipation of the Jubilee and contained much of what will find fuller expression in the Year 2000". Furthermore, the Tertio Millennio adveniente was written in the Year of the Family, "a celebration closely connected with the mystery of the incarnation and with the very history of humanity"
Chapter IV, IMMEDIATE PREPARATION, presents a specific programme of initiatives for preparation for the Jubilee in three phases: ante-preparatory (1994-96) in which to revive in the Christian people an awareness of the value and meaning of the Jubilee of the Year 2000 in human history; the second, (1997-99) a three year period centred on Christ, the Son of God made Man, and so, Trinitarian. Reflection will therefore focus in 1997 on Christ; in 1998 on the Holy Spirit and in 1999 on God the Father, from whom the Lord was sent and to whom he has returned.
The main points indicated by the Pope for this immediate preparation which must be, he says, a profound general and individual examination of conscience, can be presented briefly as follows:
During the three-year period of preparation the Church will give special attention in 1997 to renewed appreciation of the Bible, of Baptism, of catechesis "the Apostles' teaching", and a strengthening of faith and the witness of Christians. In 1998 efforts will be made for a renewed appreciation of the presence and activity of the Spirit, the principal agent of the new evangelization, and attention for the signs of hope present in this past part of the century, in society and in the Church. In the third and final year of immediate preparation, according to the indications given by Pope John Paul II, the sense of being on a journey to the Father should encourage everyone to undertake an authentic journey of conversion, through renewed appreciation and better celebration of the Sacrament of Penance. Conversion is an indispensable condition of Christian love. Love which is expressed n the Church's preferential option for the poor and the outcast. The Jubilee could also be an opportune moment to reduce, of not cancel the international debt which weighs on many nations. The eve of the Year 2000 will also be a good time for interreligious dialogue; a time to hold joint meetings in significant places.
The celebration of the Great Jubilee, which will take place simultaneously in the Holy Land, in Rome and in all the local Churches throughout the world, will give glory to the Trinity, God, the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit.
- Chapter V of Tertio Millennio adveniente, "JESUS CHRIST IS THE SAME ... FOR EVER, speaks of the mission of the Church, called to carry on the work of Christ. Like the mustard seed in the Gospel, the Church has grown to become a great tree, able to cover the whole of humanity with her branches. Ever since the time of the Apostles, the Church's mission has continued without interruption within the whole human family. With the fall of the great anti-Christian systems in Europe, first of Nazism and then of Communism, there is urgent need to bring once more the liberating message of the Gospel to the men and women of today, and to the young generation in particular
What a blessing a New Year is ! You always feel you have a new beginning, a chance to start over, to try again! This coming year will be even more special and even more blessed because I believe special grace will be available this year for us. Thank you Lord for the Hope you put into our hearts for this year, a Hope and a Peace that defies understanding!
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