Tertio Millennio Adveniente
Toward the Third Millennium
Page 5

12. The words and deeds of Jesus thus represent the fulfilment of the whole tradition of Jubilees in the Old Testament. We know that the Jubilee was a time dedicated in a special way to God. It fell every seventh year, according to the Law of Moses: this was the "sabbatical year", during which the earth was left fallow and slaves were set free. The duty to free slaves was regulated by detailed prescriptions contained in the Books of Exodus (23:10-11), Leviticus (25:1-28) and Deuteronomy (15:1-6). In other words, these prescriptions are found in practically the whole of biblical legislation, which is thus marked by this very specific characteristic. In the sabbatical year, in addition to the freeing of slaves the Law also provided for the cancellation of all debts in accordance with precise regulations. And all this was to be done in honour of God. What was true for the sabbatical year was also true for the jubilee year, which fell every fifty years. In the jubilee year, however, the customs of the sabbatical year were broadened and celebrated with even greater solemnity. As we read in Leviticus: "You shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his family" (25:10). One of the most significant consequences of the jubilee year was the general "emancipation" of all the dwellers on the land in need of being freed. On this occasion every Israelite regained possession of his ancestral land, if he happened to have sold it or lost it by falling into slavery. He could never be completely deprived of the land, because it belonged to God; nor could the Israelites remain for ever in a state of slavery, since God had "redeemed" them for himself as his exclusive possession by freeing them from slavery in Egypt.

13. The prescriptions for the jubilee year largely remained ideals—more a hope than an actual fact. They thus became a prophetia futuri insofar as they foretold the freedom which would be won by the coming Messiah. Even so, on the basis of the juridical norms contained in these prescriptions a kind of social doctrine began to emerge, which would then more clearly develop beginning with the New Testament. The jubilee year was meant to restore equality among all the children of Israel, offering new possibilities to families which had lost their property and even their personal freedom. On the other hand, the jubilee year was a reminder to the rich that a time would come when their Israelite slaves would once again become their equals and would be able to reclaim their rights. At the times prescribed by Law, a jubilee year had to be proclaimed, to assist those in need. This was required by just government. Justice, according to the Law of Israel, consisted above all in the protection of the weak, and a king was supposed to be outstanding in this regard, as the Psalmist says: "He delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy" (Ps 72:12-13). The foundations of this tradition were strictly theological, linked first of all with the theology of Creation and with that of Divine Providence. It was a common conviction, in fact, that to God alone, as Creator, belonged the "dominium altum"—lordship over all Creation and over the earth in particular (cf. Lev 25:23). If in his Providence God had given the earth to humanity, that meant that he had given it to everyone. Therefore the riches of Creation were to be considered as a common good of the whole of humanity. Those who possessed these goods as personal property were really only stewards, ministers charged with working in the name of God, who remains the sole owner in the full sense, since it is God's will that created goods should serve everyone in a just way. The jubilee year was meant to restore this social justice. The social doctrine of the Church, which has always been a part of Church teaching and which has developed greatly in the last century, particularly after the Encyclical Rerum Novarum, is rooted in the tradition of the jubilee year.

14. What needs to be emphasized, however, is what Isaiah expresses in the words "to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour". For the Church, the Jubilee is precisely this "year of the Lord's favour", a year of the remission of sins and of the punishments due to them, a year of reconciliation between disputing parties, a year of manifold conversions and of sacramental and extra-sacramental penance. The tradition of jubilee years involves the granting of indulgences on a larger scale than at other times. Together with Jubilees recalling the mystery of the Incarnation, at intervals of a hundred, fifty and twenty-five years, there are also Jubilees which commemorate the event of the Redemption: the Cross of Christ, his death on Golgotha and the Resurrection. On these occasions, the Church proclaims "a year of the Lord's favour", and she tries to ensure that all the faithful can benefit from this grace. That is why Jubilees are celebrated not only "in Urbe" but also "extra Urbem": traditionally the latter took place the year after the celebration "in Urbe".

15. In the lives of individuals, Jubilees are usually connected with the date of birth; but other anniversaries are also celebrated, such as those of Baptism, Confirmation, First Communion, Priestly or Episcopal Ordination, and the Sacrament of Marriage. Some of these anniversaries have parallels in the secular world, but Christians always give them a religious character. In fact, in the Christian view, every Jubilee—the twenty-fifth of Marriage or Priesthood, known as "silver", the fiftieth, known as "golden", or the sixtieth, known as "diamond"—is a particular year of favour for the individual who has received one or other of the Sacraments. What we have said about individuals with regard to jubilees can also be applied to communities or institutions. Thus we celebrate the centenary or the millennium of the foundation of a town or city. In the Church, we celebrate the jubilees of parishes and dioceses. All these personal and community Jubilees have an important and significant role in the lives of individuals and communities.

In view of this, the two thousand years which have passed since the Birth of Christ (prescinding from the question of its precise chronology) represent an extraordinarily great Jubilee, not only for Christians but indirectly for the whole of humanity, given the prominent role played by Christianity during these two millennia. It is significant that the calculation of the passing years begins almost everywhere with the year of Christ's coming into the world, which is thus the centre of the calendar most widely used today. Is this not another sign of the unparalleled effect of the Birth of Jesus of Nazareth on the history of mankind?


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