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What is the Jubilee?

Towards the Jubilee 2025

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“Jubilee” is the name given to a particular year; the name appears to derive from the instrument used to mark its beginning: that is, the yobel, the ram's horn, the sound of which proclaims the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). This holiday occurs every year, but it takes on special significance when it marks the beginning of a Jubilee year. We can find an initial concept of it in the Bible: a Jubilee year was to be convened every 50 years, since it was the “extra” year, to be lived every seven weeks of years, i.e., every 49 years (cf. Leviticus 25:8-13). It was intended as an occasion on which to re-establish proper relationship with God, with one another, and with creation, and involved the forgiveness of debts, the return of alienated land, and the resting of farm land.

Quoting the prophet Isaiah, the Gospel of Luke also describes Jesus’ mission in this manner: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19; cf. Isaiah 61:1-2). Jesus lives out these words in his daily encounters and relationships, which bring about liberation and conversion.

In 1300, Pope Boniface VIII called the first Jubilee, which is also called a
“Holy Year,” since it is a time in which God's holiness transforms us. The frequency of Holy Years has changed over time: at first, they were celebrated every 100 years; later, in 1343 Pope Clement VI reduced it to every 50 years, and in 1470 Pope Paul II made it every 25 years. There have also been “extraordinary” occasions for Holy Years: for example, in 1933 Pope Pius XI chose to commemorate the 1900th anniversary of our Redemption in Christ, and in 2015 Pope Francis proclaimed the Year of Mercy. The manner of celebrating a Jubilee Year has also changed: originally it consisted of a pilgrimage to the Roman Basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul, later other signs were added, such as that of the Holy Door. By participating in the Holy Year, one is granted a plenary indulgence.

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