... Catholics were urged to "pour forth prayers unto God for the exaltations and prosperity of Holy Mother Church, and of the Apostolical See, and for the extirpation of heresy, and for the peace and concord of Christian princes, and for the peace and unity of the whole Christian people."
Dec. 1, 1852, marked the beginning of a month-long jubilee in Boston, the second in two years, granted by Pope Pius IX.
As readers may recall, Pius IX's tenure was a turbulent one, coinciding with the movement toward Italian unification. In late 1848, he fled Rome for his safety, and under the protection of French troops, was finally able to return on April 12, 1850.
The year of his return was due to be a jubilee year, which has taken place every 25 years since 1475. Briefly, it is a time during which, after fulfilling certain obligations, a Catholic can receive a plenary indulgence. A plenary indulgence grants an individual the remission of temporal punishment, or punishment associated with past sins, which remains even if the sins have been forgiven.
Three months after his return, a 15-day jubilee was announced. During that time, Catholics could receive a plenary indulgence after receiving the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist. It was left to local ordinaries to choose when the jubilee would commence, and what "public prayers and other pious exercises as they shall consider most proper for attaining the object in view."
Bishop John Fitzpatrick of Boston announced the upcoming jubilee in The Boston Pilot, stating that "the first thoughts of Our Holy Father, after being restored to the possession of his See, are those of deep thankfulness to God and tender solicitude for his spiritual children." As a reflection of these, he has chosen to use "in our favor the supreme power of the keys given by Our Divine Lord to the blessed Apostle St. Peter, he grants to the Christian Church the grace of a plenary indulgence in the form of a Jubilee."
The 15-day jubilee had to take place before June 23, Bishop Fitzpatrick left the decision to each pastor to decide when their parish would observe it and named the first two weeks of Lent as the jubilee period for the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.
Only a few months would pass until Pius IX issued an encyclical letter, dated Nov. 21, 1851, which states that he had "resolved to open anew the celestial treasures of the Church, under the form of a Jubilee."
This time, the jubilee would take place over a one-month period in 1852, the start of which was once again left to local ordinaries. As the jubilee was longer, so, too, was the list of requirements to receive a plenary indulgence. Catholics who wished to do so were required to receive the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist; visit three churches designated by the ordinary, or one of the churches three times; give alms to the poor; give alms to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith; and fast for, at least, one day during the jubilee period.
Finally, Catholics were urged to "pour forth prayers unto God for the exaltations and prosperity of Holy Mother Church, and of the Apostolical See, and for the extirpation of heresy, and for the peace and concord of Christian princes, and for the peace and unity of the whole Christian people."
Confessors could be any regular or secular priest who was deemed appropriate for the role, and they were given the authority to excuse one or more of the requirements based on age, infirmity, or some other condition, or see that a substitute completed a requirement on behalf of an individual seeking a plenary indulgence.
Bishop John Fitzpatrick of Boston reiterated these terms to his priests in his own circular letter on Nov. 14, 1852, nearly a year later. With the end of the year, and the opportunity for a jubilee approaching, he stated that it would commence in Boston on Wednesday, Dec. 1, and continue through the end of the month.
In his journal entry for Dec. 31, the final day of the jubilee, Bishop Fitzpatrick reveals the overwhelming number of Catholics who participated, writing: "the Jubilee ends to-day. During the whole month confession has been heard by the bishop and all the priests assisted by Rev. Mr. McDonald from morning till night. But great numbers have tried in vain to be heard. The time was too short, one month for the whole diocese."
Reflecting on the previous year, The Boston Pilot in early 1853 stated the jubilee passed by quietly, and conjectures that "perhaps the peace with which Christendom has been blessed during the past year, the increasing prosperity of Religion and of Society, and the continued humiliation of the enemies of God and man, may be the partial fruit of this Jubilee."
- Thomas Lester is the archivist of the Archdiocese of Boston.
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