Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Il Giubileo della Misericordia

Today's photos:


1. St. Peter's Basilica. Most of the ceremonies which involve the Pope will take place here where the tomb of Peter is.

2. St. Paul outside the walls. St. Paul is buried beneath the main altar.

3. St. John Lateran. Besides being one of the four major basilicas, this is the cathedral of Rome.

4. St. Mary Major. Of all the churches in Rome, this is the favorite of Papa Francesco.

5. The Holy Door in St. Peter's will be the first to be opened in a ceremony presided over by the Pope.

6. Ponte Sisto was built in preparation for the Holy Year of 1475.

7. The execution of Giordano Bruno in Campo dei Fiori was a tragedy of the Jubilee of 1600.

8. This door in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere substituted the Holy Door  of St. Paul outside the walls in 1825.


Papa Francesco strikes again, surprising the Christian world by calling an Extraordinary Jubilee Year in the Church! But what exactly is a Jubilee Year, also called a Holy Year? What does it mean and when was the custom begun? Here's some information for those of you who might be wondering what the commotion is all about. There are also several interesting curiosities in connection with various Jubilees over the centuries.


The ram's head


The word "Jubilee" is derived from the Hebrew yòbel, meaning "ram's head". The priests of ancient times used a trumpet in the shape of a ram's head to announce a year of remission (forgiveness) of debts and the return to freedom of slaves. It was an event which took place every five years. The Christian world adopted the word to describe a one-year period of spiritual forgiveness and freedom from the slavery of sin.


The four basilicas


The Jubilee is also called a Holy Year, a year in which the faithful are called from all over the world to come in pilgrimage to Rome and visit the four major basilicas (photos 1-4): San Paolo fuori le mura, Santa Maria Maggiore, San Giovanni in Laterano and especially San Pietro in Vaticano and the tomb of the Apostle. Each of these four basilicas has a special door (photo 5) Porta Santa (Holy Door) which is opened only during the period of a Jubilee Year. You might say it's a symbolic enactment of the opening of the Gates of Heaven.


The origins


The custom of a Jubilee Year is a very old one in the Church. The first Holy Year was proclaimed in 1300 by Pope Boniface VIII (1295-1303) from the balcony of the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano. Dante visited Rome during that first Holy Year and in the Divina Commedia he describes the great crowds of pilgrims he saw in the city. The original decree with which Boniface VIII proclaimed the first Jubilee Year is preserved in the atrium of St. Peter's Basilica. It can be seen high up on the wall near the Holy Door.


How often a Jubilee Year?


Considerable confusion followed that first Holy Year in 1300, as various popes changed the time span between one Jubilee and the next. Initially it was to be celebrated only once every 100 years. Then it was changed to 50 years, then 33 years (to match the number of years in the earthly life of Christ). Finally, beginning in 1450 with Nicholas V (1447-1455), the interval was set at 25 years which is where it is today.


The Extraordinary Jubilee of Papa Francesco


The last official Jubilee year we had was in the year 2000, so the next regularly scheduled Jubilee will be in 2025. So why is Papa Francesco calling a Holy Year for 2016? He was very careful to call this an Extraordinary Jubilee Year, one outside the normal pattern of 25 years. His intention is to emphasize the spiritual nature of the experience, so he is calling it in the name of Misericordia (mercy, clemency, compassion), a theme dear to his heart.


Extraordinary Jubilees in modern times


The Holy Year proclaimed by Papa Francesco is certainly not an unprecedented act. There has been a total of 76 Extraordinary Jubilee Years in the course of history, including the following three in modern times, called to commemorate specific events. In 1933 Pius XI (1922-1939) decreed a Holy Year to celebrate the 1,900 years since the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul VI (1963-1978) declared a Jubilee in 1966 in honor of the closing of the Second Vatican Council. The third Extraordinary Jubilee Year was called in 1983 by John Paul II (1978-2005) to commemorate the 1,950 years since the death and resurrection of Christ.


Jubilee curiosities


The Jubilee of 1450 was marred by a terrible disaster which caused the death of dozens of pilgrims. At that time the only bridge leading across the Tiber to St. Peter's Basilica was the Ponte Sant'Angelo. One day during the Holy Year there were so many people crowded onto the bridge going to or returning from St. Peter's that it caused a panic and many people were trampled to death or drowned in the river. As a result of this disaster, for the next Jubilee of 1475, Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) repaired an old Roman bridge leading into Trastevere to be used as an alternate approach to the Vatican, thus taking some of the pressure of the Ponte Sant'Angelo. That bridge in Trastevere is still in use today, Ponte Sisto (photo 6): named after its builder, Sixtus IV.


That same Jubilee Year of 1475 ended with a disastrous thunderstorm which caused the flooding of the Tiber and an ensuing epidemic. As a result the Pope prolonged the celebration to Easter of 1476, the only time in history that the Holy Year was extended beyond one year.


It was in the Jubilee Year of 1500 that the custom of the opening and closing of the Holy Door was begun in the four major basilicas, a tradition which continues to this day. Only one time in history, however, has the Pope officiated personally at the opening of the Holy Doors in all four basilicas on different days. This was John Paul II in 2000.


The Jubilee of 1525 was scarcely attended by the faithful because of the war going on at the time in Europe, a prelude to the disastrous Sack of Rome which would happen two years later in 1527.


In the Jubilee of 1575, three churches were added to the list of the four major basilicas which pilgrims were advised to visit: San Sebastiano, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme and San Lorenzo fuori le mura. This was the beginning of what is now known as the visit to the Seven Churches. And our authorities of today should take note that in 1575 a law was passed freezing the rent of rooms in hotels and other boarding places to prevent  outrageous increases in view of the enormous influx of pilgrims into the city. Special police were also activated that year to protect the pilgrims from robbers and kidnappers.


In 1600 the Jubilee saw the greatest number of pilgrims up to that time, three million people. A serious negative event occurred that year, marring the celebration. Giordano Bruno (photo 7) was executed in Campo dei Fiori on February 17.


The Jubilee Year of 1650 was perhaps the most non-religious celebration in history. It was called by Innocent X Pamphili (1644-1655). The organization of the activities was entrusted to the notorious Donna Olympia, sister-in-law of the pontiff. Dozens of parades and celebrations were held which had nothing to do with religion or the spiritual nature of the Jubilee.


The Jubilee of 1675 was enhanced by the presence of Queen Cristina of Sweden who had abdicated the throne and converted to Catholicism, taking up residence in Rome. This year, too, saw many activities of a non-religious nature, such as bullfights in the Colosseum!


In 1700 the Jubilee was plagued by several disasters. First of all, the Pope who proclaimed the Holy Year, Innocent XII, died before the Year began. The Jubilee was then celebrated by his successor, Clement XI (1700-1721). In addition, that year Rome was struck by torrential rains, the flooding of the Tiber and even an earthquake! The same fate befell Clement XIV who called the Holy Year of 1775 on April 30, 1774, but died on September 22, 1774. The Jubilee was then celebrated by his successor, Pius VI (1775-1799).


Two Holy Years along the way were skipped completely . . . cancelled. One was in 1800 when Rome was brutally occupied by the troops of Napoleon. The second cancellation occurred in 1850 when Pius IX (1846-1878) was forced into temporary exile by the Italian troops of unification. The pontiff, however, lived long enough to celebrate the next Holy Year in 1875. This was a very low key celebration however, because after Rome was taken from the papacy in 1870, Pius IX considered himself a prisoner in the Vatican, and attendance at the Jubilee was scarce.


During the Holy Year of 1825, the basilica of San Paolo fuori le mura could not be used because it had been destroyed by a disastrous fire in 1823. A substitute Holy Door had to be found elsewhere, and it was decided to use the center door of the basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere (photo 8). This was the second time that the basilica in Trastevere was involved; the first time was in the Jubilee of 1625 when San Paolo fuori le mura could not be visited because of an epidemic in that part of the city.


Among the religious celebrations during the Jubilee Year of 1900 called by Leo XIII (1878-1903) was the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in all the churches of the world at the exact same time on December 31, the first time in the history of the Church that such an event was celebrated.


Carnival balls were suspended during the Jubilee of 1925, and the Italian government for the first time participated by decreeing sanctions against blasphemers and crimes of immorality. For the first time, pilgrims arrived in Rome by air in addition to land and sea arrivals. The one country not represented with pilgrims was Russia, at that time under Communist rule.


The Jubilee of 1975 was the first in which the opening and closing ceremonies were telecast worldwide. This year also saw the record for number of pilgrims in attendance during the year – 9 million people arriving from almost every nation in the world.


In 2000 John Paul II called and celebrated what came to be known as the Great Jubilee of 2000. It was announced in 1994, and preparations began immediately. Churches and other building were restored, including the spectacular restoration of the façade of St. Peter's Basilica. Streets and bridges were repaired and a subway line was extended for the occasion. The giant parking lot under the Janiculum Hill next to St. Peter's was created to handle the hundreds of buses which would bring pilgrims to the Basilica.  Never had Rome seen so many public works going on at the same time. This Holy Year also saw a new tradition born: the celebration of "individual Jubilees" within the year, such as the Jubilee of scientists, of teachers, of lawyers, of physicians, of Romans, of students and dozens of other categories. There was even a Jubilee of prison inmates! (This was an "away game" as the Pope traveled the short distance from the Vatican to Regina Coeli Prison in Trastevere to celebrate the prisoners' Jubilee). Attendance at the Great Jubilee of 2000 reached the record figure of 25 million visitors.


So now everyone awaits and prepares for Papa Francesco's Straordinario Giubileo della Misericordia in 2016. Preparations are underway, including stringent security measures, considering the threats to Rome by the Islamic extremists of Isis. Despite the threats and the short notice of this Jubilee, many people expect to see the numbers of pilgrims match or better the 25 million of the year 2000 because of the great worldwide popularity of our current Pope. 


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