What is a Jubilee Holy Year?


Ed. Note – Pope Francis has called for an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy to begin December 8. This is the first in a series of articles explaining aspects of the Jubilee Year and particular plans for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

The Year of Jubilee was first implemented by the ancient Israelites at God’s command as a system of debt relief and assistance to the poor. At the end of a cycle of seven Sabbatical Years the Israelites were to celebrate a Jubilee year (Leviticus 25:8–10). During this year a proclamation of liberty was made and those Israelites who had been enslaved for their debts and Israelite families who had been forced to sell their land out of economic need, would be freed of these obligations and have their property restored.

The Israelites believed that the land belonged to the Lord and had been given to them as a gift. The Lord reminds them, “The land shall not be sold irrevocably; for the land is mine, and you are but resident aliens and under my authority” (Leviticus 25:23). The year of Jubilee proclaimed the sovereignty of God over time and nature, and called for God’s people to submit to his sovereignty. Thus the year was set apart for God and called “holy” and was to be observed with reverence.

Later in the Old Testament the theme of jubilee becomes a future promise associated with the coming of the Messiah and the age of the Spirit. The themes of release/liberty and return/restoration are interpreted as a future plan for God’s people aimed specifically at the weak and oppressed who are liberated by the Messiah (Isaiah 42:1-7, 61:1-11). In the New Testament Jesus makes a programmatic mission statement for his own ministry (Luke 4:16–30) which Jesus confirms through his own merciful actions toward the poor, the sick and the lost (Luke 7:22).

The first Catholic Holy Year of the Jubilee was celebrated by Pope Boniface VIII in the year 1300. Classic jubilees were celebrated every 25 years. In the 20th century these were celebrated in 1900, 1925, 1950, 1975, and the year 2000. It is also possible to celebrate extraordinary jubilees to celebrate special events and themes. During a Holy Year certain indulgences are granted to the faithful under certain conditions. Normally this involves prayers and pious works such as a pilgrimage to a basilica or church.

Pope Francis has designated the year from December 8th 2015 to November 20th 2016 to be the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. The date of the opening was chosen to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council.

As part of the celebration special Holy Doors will be opened beginning with one in the Cathedral of Rome, the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Then Holy Doors will be opened in other Papal Basilicas in Rome and in Cathedrals and co-cathedrals throughout the world. These doors “will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons and instills hope” (Misericordiae Vultus, 3). In recent letter on the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis has noted that he desires “that the Jubilee be a living experience of the closeness of the Father, whose tenderness is almost tangible, so that the faith of every believer may be strengthened and thus testimony to it be ever more effective.”


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October 27, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph