A year during which a solemn plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful under certain conditions. Holy Years are ordinary when they occur at regular intervals (every 25 years in modern times) and extraordinary when they are proclaimed for some very special reason, e.g., in 1933, to celebrate the anniversary of the Redemption.
In pre-Exilic Judaism every 50th year was a jubilee year, or year of remission (Lev 25.25–54), in which debts were pardoned and slaves freed. After the Exile and until a.d. 70, the Jews continued to hold a sabbatical year in which debts of fellow Jews were remitted. The medieval popes came to apply such a custom spiritually, decreeing a Holy Year or Jubilee, beginning and ending with special sacred ceremonies, which was intended to improve the religious life of the faithful.
History. The first Holy Year in 1300 began on the evening of December 24–25 (the end of the old year and beginning of the new, by the reckoning of the Roman Curia), when large crowds visited St. Peter's basilica. Others continued to come on the following days, for a tradition had arisen that the first year of every century was especially propitious for gaining special indulgences. Though no written source could be located, Pope boni face viii issued the bull Antiquorum habet (February 22), which determined that every 100 years a universal jubilee should be celebrated. During the centenary year, under condition of contrition and confession, the faithful could gain a plenary indulgence by making visits to the basilicas of st. peter's and saint paul-outside-the-walls: 30 if they were Romans, otherwise 15. Immense crowds of pilgrims visited Rome in answer to this bull (engraved in marble and still found at the side of the Holy Door in St. Peter's). In 1342 clement vi decreed a jubilee every 50 years; hence the second Holy Year was in 1350. In 1389 urban vi reduced the time to 33 years (according to the belief that our Savior had lived that long) and proclaimed the third Holy Year for 1390. Two more basilicas were to be visited, St. John Lateran, and St. Mary Major. The fourth jubilee was the centenary year 1400, and the fifth was held in 1425 by martin v, who preferred in those unsettled times to wait two years after the 33 years as determined by Urban VI had elapsed. In 1450, nicholas v celebrated a jubilee and canonized the popular bernardine of siena. Finally, in 1470, paul ii reduced the time to 25 years, so that the next Holy Year was in 1475, and up to our days this custom has remained. In 1500 alexander vi prescribed the ceremonies that are observed essentially even today: the pope opens the Holy Door of St. Peter's and appoints three cardinals to do the same in the other basilicas, using assigned rites and prayers. At the end of the Holy Year, the Porta Santa is again walled up.
Great pomp accompanied later jubilees, although the French invasion of Italy prevented its celebration in 1800. Though leo xii in 1825 held another jubilee, political troubles prevented that of 1850. In 1875 Pius IX was a prisoner in the Vatican and felt obliged to celebrate the jubilee in a very restricted way. But leo xiii renewed the solemnity in 1900, and pius xi proclaimed the ordinary Holy Year in 1925, and the extraordinary in 1933. The Holy Year of 2000, marking the transition to the third Christian millennium witnessed unprecedented crowds
visiting Rome and other designated shrines worldwide for the jubilee indulgence.
Requirements and Ceremonies. An ordinary Holy Year begins on December 24, with first vespers of Christmas. On this day, the Holy Doors of the four basilicas are simultaneously opened. Conditions for the jubilee indulgence include confession made especially for gaining the jubilee indulgence; communion, and visits to the four major basilicas, for those who are in Rome, but elsewhere, to churches designated by the local ordinary. Each papal document of proclamation specifies the exact conditions of the jubilee. Local ordinaries receive faculties to dispense from these conditions all those who are unable to fulfill them.
Bibliography: p. brezzi, Storia degli anni santi (Milan 1949). r. foreville, "L'idée de jubilé chez les théologiens et les canonistes (XIIe–XIIIe): avant l'institution du jubilé romain (1300)," Revue d'Histoire Ecclesiastique 56 (1961) 401–423. f. ferrero, "Año Santo y moral: originalidad y perspectivas historicas de un gesto eclesial controvertido," Studia Moralia 11 (1973) 181–200. t. j. reese, "A Eucharistic Millennial Jubilee," Worship 69 (1995) 531–537.
[j. j. gavigan/eds.]