The first came in 1300; the last in 2000. They are jubilee years, special celebrations of pilgrimage and pardons that have occurred only 26 times in the history of the Catholic Church.
The 27th begins on De. 8, 2015 and runs through Nov. 20, 2016, declared the Holy Year of Mercy by Pope Francis.
The motto for the year, “Merciful Like the Father,” is an invitation to follow the merciful example of God, who asks people not to judge or condemn but to forgive and to give love, the council said.
Mercy, the pope wrote, is “the beating heart of the Gospel.”
The Holy Year or Jubilee, is one of the church’s most important events when the faithful make pilgrimages to Rome. A large number of visitors are expected at the Vatican so be sure to make your reservations with Do You Explore early.
The celebration begins when Francis opens the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica on Dec. 8 and features more than a dozen major events. Among them are a Jubilee for those involved with guiding or organizing pilgrimages and religious tourism from Jan. 19 to Jan. 21, a jubilee for teens on April 24, and a mass celebrated by Pope Francis in memory of the faithful departed on Nov. 1, the feast of All Saints.
Pope Boniface VIII instituted the first Christian Jubilee in 1300. In the wake of suffering from war, pilgrims came to Rome to repent at the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul, inspiring Boniface to proclaim a year of forgiveness of all sins.
Jubilee years have their origins in the Bible’s book of Leviticus, in chapter 25, verses 8-55. According to the Bible, a holy year is proclaimed every 50 years, in which slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, and the mercies of God would be manifest.
The last Jubilee occurred in 2000 celebrated by Pope John Paui II. Protestant churches and the Orthodox were invited to join with Catholics as a sign of an ecumenal dialogue. More than 2 million young people attended the World Youth Day in Rome that August.
The most distinctive ceremony of the Jubilee is the opening of the holy door in each of the four great basilicas that pilgrims visit. For centuries, the doors were opened with a silver hammer, not a key, “because the doors of justice and mercy give way only to the force of prayer and penance.” In 2000, though, John Paul used neither a hammer, nor a key, but strongly pushed the door open.
Traditionally, the Pope opens and closes the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica and designates a cardinal to open the doors of the Basilicas of Saint John Lateran, Saint Mary Major, and Saint Paul’s.
For Pope Francis, the celebration has a special meaning: “The whole Church — that has much need to receive mercy because we are sinners — will find in this jubilee the joy to rediscover and render fruitful the mercy of God , with which we are called to give consolation to every man and woman.”