Last week, we talked about the idea of pilgrimage. Our acts of pilgrimage, to shrines and other holy places, are geographical journeys we take together. This week, we talk about indulgences, julbilees and holy years—reflections of incarnational piety that can be described as journeys transcending time. They unite us with each other in a less physical way. Nevertheless, these are real and profound demonstrations that “we’re all in this together.” We are connected with the Communion of Saints and the Church’s treasury of merit.
Indulgences grant a remission before God of temporal punishment due to sin. They recognize that our sins have temporal effects on us and our relationships with others in the Body of Christ as we live as pilgrims here on earth.
When one person is harmed, when we do an evil act, we suffer the effects together. When one person acts in a holy manner, the effects upon others are even greater. We can help each other in the process of healing and purification. Through the Church and the merits of Christ’s love, there is a great “exchange of holiness,” as described in paragraph 1475 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The good effects of our acts of goodness, like the bad effects of our sins, are shared.
Pope Francis declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016. This was an act of healing unity within the Church.
Jubilees date back to the Old Testament. They had a cycle of forgiving debt. Every fiftieth year, everything would be restored to its original owner.
Pope Boniface VII declared the first Catholic jubilee in the year 1300. In the 20th century, jubilees were celebrated in 1933, 1950, and 1983. The Great Jubilee of 2000 was the goal of Pope John Paul II’s entire pontificate.
Jubilees are celebrated not just in Rome, but in every local diocese. A special Holy Door is set apart (usually in the Cathedral, though other Holy Doors may also be declared), representing the physical threshold of the pilgrimage, the sign that one has reached the goal and “earned” the indulgence. The pilgrim must also fulfill certain other duties, typically the reception of Holy Communion, Confession, and prayers for the intentions of the Pope.
Crossing the threshold of a Holy Door shows the incarnational nature of our faith. It’s a tangible act of “walking the walk.” It’s an act of the mind, the heart, the body. It recognizes that we’re entering the Lord’s house and he’s welcoming us. Pope Francis said that we also go out from the doors of the church as missionaries, keeping the cycle going.