JUBILEE YEAR, an institution in the Roman Catholic Church, observed every twenty-fifth year, from Christmas to Christmas. During its continuance plenary indulgence is obtainable by all the faithful, on condition of their penitently confessing their sins and visiting certain churches a stated number of times, or doing an equivalent amount of meritorious work. The institution dates from the time of Boniface VIII., whose bull Antiquorum habetfidem is dated the 22nd of February 1300. The circumstances in which it was promulgated are related by a contemporary authority, Jacobus Cajetanus, according to whose account (" Relatio de centesimo s. jubilaeo anno " in the Bibliotheca Patrum) a rumour spread through Rome at the close pf 1299 that every one visiting St Peter's on the 1st of January 1300 would receive full absolution. The result was an enormous influx of pilgrims to Rome, which stirred the pope's attention. Nothing was found in the archives, but an old peasant 107 years of age avowed that his father had been similarly benefited a century previously. The bull was then issued, and the pilgrims became even more numerous, to the profit of both clergy and citizens. Originally the churches of St Peter and St Paul in Rome were the only jubilee churches, but the privilege was afterwards extended to the Lateran Church and that of Sta Maria Maggiore, and it is now shared also for the year immediately following that of the Roman jubilee by a number of specified provincial churches. At the request of the Roman people, which was supported by St Bridget of Sweden and by Petrarch, Clement VI. in 1343 appointed, by the bull Unigenitus Dei filius, that the jubilee should recur every fifty years instead of every hundred years as had been originally contemplated in the constitution of Boniface; Urban VI., who was badly in need of money, by the bull Salvator nosier in 1389 reduced the interval still further to thirty-three years (the supposed duration of the earthly life of Christ) ; and Paul II. by the bull Inefabilis (April 19, 1470) finally fixed it at twenty-five years. Paul II. also permitted foreigners to substitute for the pilgrimage to Rome a visit to some specified church in their own country and a contribution towards the expenses of the Holy Wars. According to the special ritual prepared by Alexander VI. in 1500, the pope on the Christmas Eve with which the jubilee begins goes in solemn procession to a particular walled-up door (" Porta aurea ") of St Peter's and knocks three times, using at the same time the words of Ps. cxviii. 19 (Aperile mihi portas justitiae). The doors are then opened and sprinkled with holy water, and the pope passes through. A similar ceremony is conducted by cardinals at the other jubilee churches of the city. At the close of the jubilee, the special doorway is again built up with appropriate solemnities.
The last ordinary jubilee was observed in 1900. " Extraordinary" jubilees are sometimes appointed on special occasions, e.g. the accession of a new pope, or that proclaimed by Pope Leo XIII. for the 12th of March 1881, " in order to obtain from the mercy of Almighty God help and succour in the weighty necessities of the Church, and comfort and strength in the battle against her numerous and mighty foes." These are not so much jubilees in the ordinary sense as special grants of plenary indulgences for particular purposes ( Indulgentiae plenariae in forma jubilaei).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)