The following column was written by Father Rich at the beginning of the Holy Year of Mercy. We are re-printing it for you towards the end of this Holy Year and invite you to read it and view the documentary recommended below. A trailer is provided and some information about it, too.
Don’t miss history being made in Holy Year of Mercy
Last December, 2015, was the start of a pretty big deal. Several months beforehand, Pope Francis announced the Holy Year of Mercy, starting Dec. 8 and running through 2016.
A Holy Year is very different from other themed years. You may remember the Year of St. Paul or the Year of Consecrated Life just concluding. These and others like them are simply different themes the recent popes have asked the church to focus on in any given year, but a Holy Year is a completely different animal with much greater significance.
When Pope Boniface called the first Christian Jubilee in 1300, he intended to keep the same biblical themes of forgiveness and the remission of sins. So too, Pope Francis has called for this to remain the same for the new Holy Year, which we will commence this month.Though the first Catholic Holy Year was established by Pope Boniface VIII for 1300, the concept of the Holy Year goes back to the Old Testament, when every 50th year was a year of “Yobel” (meaning “ram’s horn”), because the special year was proclaimed by the blast of the ram’s horns. In these years, slaves were to go free and debts were to be forgiven. In the Christian era, the word “Yobel” was transliterated to “Jubileus” (“jubilee”), meaning “joyous festivity.”
There are two types of Holy Years, “ordinary” and “extraordinary.” An ordinary Holy Year is one on the regular interval of every 25 years, so the next ordinary Holy Year will be in the year 2025. This 25-year interval was established by Pope Paul II in 1475. Before that, there was no set rule for the frequency.
Then there is the very rare extraordinary Holy Year, which is called outside that normal interval. We have had three previous extraordinary Holy Years in all of church history: 1390, 1933 and 1983 — and now 2016.
As far as the ordinary Holy Years, there have been occasions throughout history in which they were either suspended or greatly curtailed for political reasons in which the church was threatened. For example, 1825 was the only Holy Year of the nineteenth century in which the Holy Door was opened.
The primary symbol of the Holy Year is the Holy Door, which is strictly symbolic, showing that God’s mercy is open to everyone who seeks it. These Holy Doors are in each of the four major basilicas in Rome, and they are always bricked up and closed off except during the Holy Year.
The most significant of the doors is at St. Peter’s Basilica, but the other three major basilicas of St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls have the same tradition. Each of these churches will have an ancient ritual played out to open the Holy Year. In the case of St. Peter’s, it will be the pope symbolically knocking on the door (often with a hammer) to open it. At each of other three major basilicas, a cardinal will do the same.
One of the other ancient traditions associated with the Holy Year is the acquiring of Holy Year bricks. There are approximately 3,000 bricks blocking the Holy Door of St. Peter’s.
In the early years of the celebration, when the pope and his assistants would open the sacred door at the beginning of the year there would be a frenzy by the public, scrambling to acquire full bricks or even portions of bricks relics. Often people would get hurt in this scramble, and at times even the pope got caught up in the crowd. For the opening of the Holy Year of 1575, eight people actually got trampled to death, and several of the pilgrims got through the door before Pope Gregory XIII did!
In recent years the Holy See has chosen different methods of distribution to avoid the unseemly behavior that may seem more like “Black Friday” shopping than an ancient papal ritual.
As a personal aside, I have a brick from every Holy Year since 1775 in my papal collection, as can be seen on http://www.papalartifacts.com/
So, early this month we will be able to witness history being made in the truest sense of the term, and although it may be a blip on the screen to the secular media, it is indeed monumental in the life of the church.
May this extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy inspire all of us to give thanks to God for his great mercy shown to us, and then in turn show it to others.
About the Documentary Featured Here:
Jubilee, 700 Years of Seeking Forgiveness
Having recently viewed this incredible documentary, Jubilee, 700 Years Seeking Forgiveness, I can honestly say I cannot recommend it highly enough. I was literally spellbound by the amount of detail and stunning images of the major basilicas in Rome and by the history of the Jubilee. Watching it did more to acquaint me with a major tradition of our Church, that most of us probably are not aware of, than anything else I’ve read or heard about it. You will know you’ve been in the presence of a holy celebration afterwards. And here we are, in this Jubilee of Mercy, with the chance to participate in it, even on a diocesan level, for our own Cathedral has a Holy Door, where we might pass into sacred space to partake of this beautiful tradition.
Please take the time to watch the trailer and consider buying or renting the documentary. You will be satisfied!
This is not just any year in Rome. Thousands of pilgrims are coming to the heart of Christianity because it is the Holy Year of Mercy. The tradition, dating back more than seven centuries, now has a documentary.
“This is Pope Francis’ first Holy Year so 700 years of Jubilee traditions are being collected, but with their own label: the Jubilee of Mercy.”
The documentary by television news agency, Rome Reports, delves into the origins of the Jubilee, from its first announcement in the year 1300 by Pope Boniface VIII to the extraordinary Jubilee this year.
“I grant a plenary indulgence to all Christians who come to Rome to visit the great shrines of St. Peter and St. Paul.”
To enrich the story, here is a collection of some of the most authoritative voices, including the spokesman for Pope John Paul II, the organizer of this Jubilee and the Vatican Secret Archives historian who discovers some clues hidden so far within the depths of history.
“The world knows nothing of these documents because no one has studied them in depth. Researchers have been carried away by the charm of that magical air and mystery.”
The almost 50-minute documentary delves into the problems Jubilees have faced throughout history, from floods in Rome to political problems with the new Italian state.
“On one side external religious manifestations were forbidden, they could not hold processions, parades, nothing religious in the streets of the city.”
The story reaches the last Jubilees, with the success of years 1950 and 2000, and the special emotion that a sick John Paul II found in Rome with millions of young people.
It also explains the novelty of this Holy Year of Mercy in comparison to all previous Jubilees.
‘Jubilee: 700 years seeking forgiveness’ can be seen on Vimeo in English, Spanish
. It is a way to comprehend the great historical weight of this celebration for the Church before passing through the Holy Door.