What is the Jubilee and what is its religious significance?

The Jubilee Year represents the year of repentance, conversion, and remission of sins. It is also called a holy year, as it opens, proceeds and closes with sacred rites, but also, and most importantly, because it promotes holiness in daily life.

The origins of the Christian Jubilee

The Jubilee has its roots in the Jewish tradition that observed, every 50 years, a year of rest of the land, with the aim of fortifying crops, the return of confiscated lands and the liberation of slaves.

To signal the beginning of this year, a ram's horn called a yobel was sounded, from which the Christian term Jubilee is derived.

The Christian Jubilee in History

The first Christian Jubilee took place in 1300, declared by Pope Boniface VIII with a Bull, Antiquorum habet fida relatio, which granted a plenary indulgence to any Roman who had visited St. Peter's Basilica and St. Paul's Outside the Walls at least 30 times – and any foreigner at least 15 times - throughout the year.

Initially, the Jubilees did not take place regularly, as the frequency was modified by various Popes; starting from 1475, however, the event took place every 25 years (the last were in 1950, 1975 and 2000).

 9 extraordinary Jubilees were also declared, the last one in 2015 by Pope Francis on the occasion of the 50th anniversary
of the end of the Second Vatican Council
. This Jubilee was dedicated to Mercy and was inaugurated with the opening of the holy door of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Bangui, on the occasion of the Pope's apostolic trip to Africa.

What happens during the Jubilee?

The Jubilee lasts for a whole year and is celebrated with different events. It begins on the night of the previous Christmas Eve, with the opening of the holy doors of the four main basilicas of Rome starting from St. Peter's in the Vatican.

The Pope arrives at St. Peter's Basilica, stops in front of the door and recites the formula in Latin: "This is the door of the Lord, open to me the door of righteousness". He then pushes on the doors with his hands, while from inside the basilica, attendants will proceed to fully open the door. He then stops at the threshold in prayer before finally crossing it, effectively inaugurating the holy year.

In the following days, the same ritual is carried out in the other three major basilicas: San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Maria Maggiore and San Paolo Outside the Walls. The doors remain open until the end of the Jubilee, on 6 January of the following year.

Every Jubilee also involves events and moments of reflection throughout the year.

Redemption and plenary indulgence: the religious significance of the Jubilee

In the New Testament, Jesus presents himself as the one who brings the Jubilee to completion; the Jubilee Year is therefore, first and foremost, the year of Christ.

It is a religious celebration aimed at promoting holiness and returning to the right path. The focal themes of this religious celebration are repentance and forgiveness of sins through pilgrimage and works of charity and mercy.

According to the Christian religion, in fact, in the year of the Jubilee it is possible to ask for a plenary indulgence, that is, the forgiveness of all sins.

According to the apostolic constitution Indulgentiarum Doctrina, to obtain the plenary indulgence it is necessary to perform the indulgenced work and fulfil three conditions:

sacramental confession,
Eucharistic communion,
and prayer according to the Pope’s intentions.

The three conditions, it is specified, "can be fulfilled several days before or after carrying out the prescribed work; however, it is advisable that communion and prayer according to the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff be done on the same day as the work is carried out.”

To experience and obtain the indulgence, the faithful are called to make a short pilgrimage to the Holy Door, open in every Cathedral or in the churches established by the diocesan Bishop, and in the four Papal Basilicas in Rome, as a sign of the deep desire for true conversion.

The conditions of the plenary indulgence, however, can always be modified by the Pope.