The SSPX's participation in the Jubilee of Mercy

Note on the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy and the participation of the Society of St. Pius X

Status quaestionis

1. On March 4, 2015, Pope Francis announced in St. Peter’s Basilica his decision to convoke an Extraordinary Jubilee that would be a Holy Year of mercy, with Christ’s words as its motto: “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful” (Lk 6:36). This Holy Year will extend from Tuesday, December 8, 2015, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, to Sunday, November 20, 2016, the Feast of Christ the King of the Universe in the modern calendar.

The Holy Door of the cathedral of Rome, as well as all the Holy Doors—which for this occasion will be called “Doors of mercy”—of the Roman basilicas and also of the diocesan cathedrals and of the principal shrines in the Catholic world, will be opened on Sunday, December 20, 2015, the Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday).[1] In order to obtain the Jubilee indulgence, the usual conditions are required: confession, Communion, recitation of the Credo and prayer for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff (such as the Our Father or the Jubilee prayer).[2]

On April 11, 2015, Pope Francis signed the Bull of Indiction of the Jubilee in which he explains that he chose the date of December 8, 2015, for the opening of the Holy Door at St. Peter’s because of the 50th anniversary of Vatican Council II, in which the Church—according to the wishes of John XXIII—set aside the weapons of severity so as to have recourse to the arms of mercy. Hence the question arises of what attitude to adopt with regard to this Extraordinary Holy Year.

What is a Jubilee?

2. In the Catholic Church, a jubilee is a time of grace. The term has a biblical origin and designates the sound of the trumpet that inaugurated, every 50 years, the time of expiation and the emancipation of the inhabitants of the land. Debts were remitted, slaves were freed, and everyone regained possession of his patrimony, recovering lands and houses (cf. Lev 25:8-17).[3] With the coming of Our Lord, these earthly considerations gave way to the acquisition of true goods, those of Heaven.

So it is that, during the Jubilee, the Church grants a plenary indulgence, which consists of the remission in God’s sight of the temporal punishment due to sins that have already been forgiven.[4] It is an act of ecclesiastical authority that draws from the Church’s treasury these special graces, applicable to the souls of the living by way of absolution, and to those of the deceased by way of suffrage (canon 911). The Church asks all the faithful to set great store by them (“omnes magni faciant indulgentias”), since this dispensation from the Church’s treasury was entrusted by Christ to the Roman Pontiff (can. 912).

Besides seeking the remission of punishment due to sins and the amendment of life, the Jubilee “should cause the faithful to make progress in the virtues and in union with God,” and “the prayers to be recited in the basilicas must be made for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff.”[5]

3. The theological reason why the Church asks us to set such great store by this act of the supreme authority is set forth as follows by St. Thomas Aquinas:

Indulgences hold good both in the Church’s court and in the judgment of God, for the remission of the punishment which remains after contrition, absolution, and confession, whether this punishment be enjoined or not.

The reason why they so avail is the oneness of the mystical body in which many have performed works of satisfaction exceeding the requirements of their debts; in which, too, many have patiently borne unjust tribulations whereby a multitude of punishments would have been paid, had they been incurred. So great is the quantity of such merits that it exceeds the entire debt of punishment due to those who are living at this moment: and this is especially due to the merits of Christ: for though He acts through the sacraments, yet His efficacy is nowise restricted to them, but infinitely surpasses their efficacy."[6]

The pope, in granting the Jubilee plenary indulgence, is distributing the merits of Christ which belong to the whole Church:

Now those things which are the common property of a number are distributed to the various individuals according to the judgment of him who rules them all."[7]

He performs an important act that is necessarily connected with the redemption by Our Lord, whose infinite merits he dispenses.

A jubilee is therefore always a commemoration of the redemption, which is signified by the opening of the Holy Door.[8] The Enchiridion Indulgentiarum states it formally: the well-disposed believer obtains the indulgence

through the Church’s help when, as minister of Redemption, she dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfaction won by Christ and the saints."[9]

As the Dictionnaire de Theologie Catholique explains,

the theological foundation of the practice of indulgences is the dogma of the communion of saints: the merits of the Head and of the members of the entire Church make up one and the same treasury where, by virtue of the power of the keys, the pope and the bishops draw, so to speak, what is needed to supply what they remit in terms of individual satisfaction.

The action of the ecclesiastical authority, which is direct and in the form of absolution in the case of indulgences for the living, can be only indirect and by way of suffrage or intercession in the case of indulgences on behalf of souls in purgatory: neither the pope nor the bishops have jurisdiction beyond this world."[10]

4. Historically, the first so-called “jubilee” plenary indulgence, to be obtained every 100 years, was instituted on Christmas 1300 by Boniface VIII. This interval “was shortened to 50 years by Clement VI in 1343, then to 33 years by Urban VI in 1389”.[11] Finally,

Paul II (Ineffabilis providentia, April 19, 1470) set the cycle of holy years at one every 25 years; Sixtus IV therefore declared a Jubilee in 1475; this interval has remained in force, notwithstanding the extraordinary jubilees.... Gradually, the meaning of the jubilee shifted from the simple “plenissime” indulgence to a broader and more positive intention: spiritual renewal in love for God, fidelity to the Gospel and thereby the progress of human society in justice and charity” (Pius XII, Bull Jubilaeum maximum, May 26, 1949).[12]

Most importantly, the Apostolic Constitution Per annum sacrum (December 25, 1950) proclaimed the universal character of the jubilee indulgence, which was extended until December 31, 1951. It was no longer absolutely necessary to make the journey to Rome, since ordinaries were authorized to designate in every episcopal see, for the prescribed visits, the cathedral church and three other churches of oratories in which worship services were celebrated regularly.

Paul VI, after wondering about the usefulness of the Holy Year for the contemporary Church, classified the year 1975 in terms of Vatican Council II (10th anniversary of the conclusion of the proceedings), by having it place the emphasis on metanoia, man’s interior conversion on this occasion, while keeping the declaration of the indulgence. He appointed a Central Committee for the Holy Year (May 10, 1973), with Cardinal Maximilien de Furstenberg presiding, to be in charge of organizing the Jubilee; it proposed common prayer to all Christians, under the banner of reconciliation."[13]

5. In summary,

the jubilee, or Holy Year, is a plenary indulgence which, through the performance of certain practices determined by the papal authority, guarantees to the faithful who are in the state of grace the total remission of the punishment due to sins, by virtue of the transferability of merits, or the communion of saints. The only difference between the jubilee and the plenary indulgence is the greater solemnity of the act (reading of the Bull of Indiction by the pope; then the opening of the Holy Door) involving the power of the keys in its fullness and making the indulgence more certain in its effects."[14]

Thus the Jubilee is essentially a solemn plenary indulgence granted by the pope on certain occasions, and it consists “not only in the remission of the punishment due to sins, but in personal sanctification.”[15]

The Jubilee of Pope Francis

6. The Holy Year convoked by Pope Francis is an extraordinary jubilee, since it does not correspond to the 25-year cycle. Church history attests to the existence of dozens of extraordinary jubilees since 1518. The popes convoked them both to commemorate anniversaries of coronation or of ordination and to avert all sorts of dangers from plague and war or attacks against the Church by modern States.

For example, Pope Leo XIII convoked an extraordinary jubilee lasting three months at the beginning of his pontificate,[16] then another from March 19 to December 31, 1881,[17] and a third for the year 1886.[18] His predecessor had convoked four,[19] and his successor, St. Pius X, organized two extraordinary jubilees, one lasting three and a half months for the 50th anniversary of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception,[20] the other lasting eight months to commemorate the peace of Constantine.[21]

7. The occasion for the opening of the Holy Door is the 50th anniversary of the conclusion of Vatican Council II on December 8, 1965. The choice of this date to begin the Jubilee Year is the cause of the difficulty. But this circumstance does not affect the essence of the jubilee; its act, ordered to its object, remains the plenary indulgence and the sanctification of the faithful people. For this occasion or circumstance to affect the jubilee and distort it, it would be necessary for it to become the specific object or end thereof.[22]

Now the conditions for obtaining the indulgence, as spelled out, are traditional (prayer, confession and Communion, visit to a jubilee church). In the letter containing instructions that he addressed to Cardinal Fisichella on September 1, 2015, the pope expresses his intention that

the celebration of the Holy Year [may] be for all believers a true moment of encounter with the mercy of God. It is indeed my wish that the Jubilee be a living experience of the closeness of the Father, whose tenderness is almost tangible, so that the faith of every believer may be strengthened and thus testimony to it be ever more effective."

In the Bull of Indiction Misericordiae vultus, the purpose of this Holy Year is identical: to celebrate the mercy of the Father whose face is Jesus Christ (no. 1), to be merciful with others as the Father is with us (no. 13), to make it “possible for many of God’s [estranged] sons and daughters to take up once again the journey to the Father’s house” (no. 18), to promote personal prayer (no. 14), confession (nos. 17-18) and corporal and spiritual works of mercy (no. 15), etc.

The nature of the jubilee does not change because it is marred by reference to the documents, the spirit or the reforms of Vatican II (cf. the choice of the date of the opening in no. 4 and the ecumenical theme in no. 23), unless one were to maintain that every act of the pope becomes illegitimate by that very fact. But if that assumption is granted, then is it easy to show that the preceding jubilees were illegitimate too, yet the Society did not abstain from participating in them. It was enough to keep our distance from the ceremonies for the anniversary of Vatican II, in which we cannot take part.

8. In 1975, Paul VI wondered about whether it was opportune to convoke such a demonstration in our era. But finally he linked the Holy Year to the renewal desired by the Council that had ended 10 years earlier:

the celebration of the Holy Year can be linked consistently with the spiritual approach of the Council itself, to which We are anxious to give faithfully a suitable follow-up...."[23]

In the Bull of Indiction Apostolorum limina (May 23, 1974), he pointed out that

10 years after the end of the Ecumenical Vatican Council II, the Holy Year, it seems to Us, should somehow mark the completion of a time dedicated to reflection and reform, and start a new phase of construction, thanks to theological, spiritual and pastoral work.... Thus, during the Holy Year, real progress may be made in the renewal of the Church and also in the pursuit of certain goals which We have especially at heart, in accordance with the farsighted spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

Now that 10 years have passed since the Second Vatican Council began the great and salutary work of renewal in the fields of the pastoral ministry, the practice of penance and the sacred liturgy, We consider it altogether fitting that this work should be reviewed and carried further.... We shall pursue the application thereof with even more zeal."

Among the steps to be taken, Paul VI recalled the strength of “the ecumenical movement, to which the Catholic Church adheres as far as she is able”.[24] This 10th anniversary of the Council did not prevent Archbishop Lefebvre and the seminary of Econe from traveling to the great pilgrimage organized in Rome that year, on May 24-25, 1975.

9. The Jubilee Year 2000 was the occasion for unworthy apologies, speeches in the Masonic spirit, interreligious ceremonies, etc., and one cannot maintain that Pope John Paul II had a clear, orthodox explanation of the mystery of the Incarnation of Christ, since he developed a modernizing theology of universal redemption based on Gaudium et spes (22.2).

No one maintained that one must not participate in that jubilee because of a false concept of the Incarnation that the pope promoted.[25] The same goes for the weaknesses of the doctrine about mercy that is currently being invoked. Moreover, the Bull of Indiction of the Jubilee Year 2000 decisively declared that it was faithful to Vatican Council II:

The coming of the Third Millennium prompts the Christian community to lift its eyes of faith to embrace new horizons in proclaiming the Kingdom of God. It is imperative therefore at this special time to return more faithfully than ever to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which shed new light upon the missionary task of the Church in view of the demands of evangelization today. At the Council, the Church became more deeply conscious both of the mystery which she herself is and of the apostolic mission entrusted to her by the Lord.

This awareness commits the community of believers to live in the world knowing that they must be ‘the leaven and, as it were, the soul of human society, destined to be renewed in Christ and transformed into the family of God’ (Gaudium et spes, no. 40). In order to meet this commitment effectively, the Church must persevere in unity and grow in the life of communion (Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente [November 10, 1994], no. 36). The imminent approach of the Jubilee offers a powerful stimulus in this direction."[26]

10. On the contrary, it is obvious that this 50th anniversary of the Council could not be cause for rejoicing, since we denounce and continue to denounce the errors and the harmful nature of the reforms undertaken in the Church since Vatican II (ecumenism, religious liberty, liturgical reform...). This is the reason why, although we can benefit from the extraordinary jubilee of Pope Francis to gain the indulgence and to sanctify ourselves as Roman Catholics, we cannot participate in the official ceremonies which, anyway, will be organized around the New Mass. As in 1975. As in 2000.

Our conduct

11. In his Letter to Friends and Benefactors dated May 24, 2015, the Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X clearly indicated the course to follow:

When the floodgates of grace are opened wide, we must receive abundantly! A Holy Year is a great grace for all the members of the Church. We live, after all, by true mercy, as all the pages of the Gospel and of the traditional liturgy teach us. In keeping with the 'preliminary discernment '[27] on which Archbishop Lefebvre based the conduct of the Society of St. Pius X, in these times of confusion, we reject a one-sided mercy and live by mercy in all its aspects….

Let us take this appeal to mercy seriously, as the inhabitants of Nineveh did! Let us go in search of the lost sheep, let us pray for the conversion of souls, let us perform as much as we can all the works of mercy, both material and especially the spiritual works, for there is a serious shortage of the latter….

As for us, dear brothers and sisters in the Faith, we must take advantage of this Holy Year to ask the God of mercy for an ever-deeper conversion to holiness and implore the graces and pardons of His infinite mercy.

We will prepare for the centennial of the apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima by practicing devotion to her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart and propagating it with all our strength, as she demanded. We will keep begging that her requests, particularly the consecration of Russia, will at last be properly carried out.

There is no opposition between these thoughts turned toward Mary and the Year of Mercy, on the contrary! Let us not separate what God wants to see joined: the Two Hearts of Jesus and Mary, as Our Lord explained to Sister Lucy of Fatima.

Every district of the Society will inform you of the particular works to be performed in order to benefit from all the graces that Divine Mercy will grant us during this Holy Year. And in this way we will offer as well as possible our collaboration with the merciful will of God to save all people of good will."

12. Because of the centennial of the apparitions in Fatima and the major international pilgrimage to Portugal that we will organize in 2017, God willing, the General House has planned no major pilgrimage to Rome during this jubilee of mercy. But nothing prevents seminaries, districts and priories from organizing them, as it is possible to gain the jubilee indulgence in all the dioceses of the world.


13. It is a truth of faith proclaimed by the Council of Trent (Session 25) that “the use of indulgences is very salutary for the Christian people,”[28] and the 1917 Code of Canon Law asks all Catholics to set great store by it (canon 911). It would be paradoxical if, just because we want nothing to do with the failed council that was Vatican II, we ended up scorning a truth proclaimed at the Council of Trent and encouraged by the whole Tradition of the Church!

St. Alphonsus de Liguori used to say that “in order to become a saint, it is enough to gain as many indulgences as possible! ”[29] No one endangers his salvation by participating in the jubilee of mercy, unless he calls into question the power of the keys which Francis legitimately holds. And “If, however, the one granting an indulgence remits punishment without sufficient reason, ...the indulgence is nevertheless gained fully.”[30]

14. The joy of the jubilee does not consist of rejoicing in Vatican Council II, but in the grace poured out by the [visible] head of the Church who draws from the treasury of the infinite merits of Christ and of all the saints. The grace poured out profusely will always be a cause of joy for those who are well disposed to receive it.


1 For example, in Paris the Jubilee churches are: Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Sacred Heart Basilica on Montmartre, the Basilica of Our Lady of Victories, the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Church of St-Louis-d’Antin, the Church of St-Sulpice and the Miraculous Medal Chapel. In the diocese of Sion, in Valais, the Jubilee churches are: the cathedral of Sion, St. Maurice Basilica, the hermitage in Longeborgne, the basilica in Valere, the hospice of St. Bernard the Great, and the churches in Martigny-Ville and Monthey.

2 The intentions of the Supreme Pontiff are the growth of the Catholic Church, the uprooting of errors, concord among heads of States, and the peace and tranquility of the whole human race. Cf. R. Naz, art. “Jubile” in: Dictionnaire de droit canonique, no. 7.

3 A. Boudard, art. “Jubile” in: Dictionnaire encyclopedique de la Bible (Brepols-Maredsous, 1987), 693.

4 The use of the term indulgentia was preceded by the use of redemptio or ransom, or else of remissio. The word indulgentia became widespread, especially in 1215 at the Fourth Lateran Council, canon 62. But “since the late 11th century indulgences in the modern sense of the word existed with all their constitutive elements.” Cf. E. Magnin, art. “Indulgences” in: Dictionnaire de Theologie Catholique, vol. 7 (Paris: Letouzey et Ane, 1922), cols. 1594 and 1607.

5 R. Naz, op. cit., nos. 1 and 7.

6 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Supplement, q. 25, art. 1.

7 Ibid.

8 The ordinary or extraordinary character of the holy year does not matter and is entirely secondary; once decreed by the supreme authority of the Church, a jubilee is a holy and sanctifying act, because it is an act of Christ and of His Church.

9 See Manuel des indulgences (Paris: Lethielleux, 1969), 13, quoting Norm 1 issued by Paul VI in the Apostolic Constitution Indulgentiarum doctrina (January 1, 1967), in: Documents of Vatican II, Austin P. Flannery, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975), 62-79 at 75.

Indulgentia est remissio coram Deo poenae temporalis pro peccatis, ad culpam quod attinet, iam deletis, quam christifidelis, apte dispositus et certis ac definitis condicionibus, consequitur ope Ecclesiae quae, ut ministra redemptionis, thesaurum satisfactionum Christi et Sanctorum auctoritative dispensat et applicat."

10 Magnin, op. cit., col. 1594.

11 R. Naz, Traite de Droit canonique (Paris: Letouzey et Ane, 1954), 2:181.

12 R. Foreville, “Jubile” in: Dictionnaire de spiritualite (Paris: Beauchesne, 1932-1995), 8:1483-1487.

13 P. Levillain, art. “Annee sainte”, in: Dictionnaire historique de la papaute (Paris: Fayard, 2003), 107.

14 Foreville, op. cit., ibid.

15 Naz, Dictionnaire de Droit canonique, vol. 6, col. 194.

16 Brief Pontifices maximi (February 15, 1879).

17 Brief Militans Jesu (March 12, 1881).

18 Encyclical Letter Quod auctoritate (December 22, 1885).

19 In 1851, in 1854 (for three months), in 1858 and in 1869-1870.

20 Encyclical Letter Ad diem illum (February 2, 1904).

21 Apostolic Letter Magni Faustique (March 8, 1913).

22 Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 7, a. 3, ad 3; q. 18, a. 5, ad 4; q. 18, a. 10, corpus et ad 1 et 2; etc.

23 Address on May 9, 1973, translated from the French text in Documentation Catholique, no. 1633 (June 3, 1973):

501-503. The Press Office of the Holy See explained:

In the present circumstances, the next Holy Year acquires particular importance because it coincides with the tenth anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, which intended to be a solemn appeal of the Church to all her members that they commit themselves to an in-depth renewal of their minds, of structures and of pastoral organization for the salvation of the world" (ibid., 504).

24 Bull of Indiction Apostolorum limina of the Holy Year 1975, abridged translation in The Tablet (June 15, 1974): 20.

25 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptor hominis (March 4, 1979), no. 8.

26 Bull of Indiction Incarnationis mysterium of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 (November 29, 1998).


In practice our attitude should be based on a previous discernment (…): when the pope says something that is consistent with Tradition, we follow him; when he says something that goes contrary to our Faith, or he encourages or lets something be done that harms our Faith, then we cannot follow him! The fundamental reason for this is that the Church, the pope, and the hierarchy are at the service of the Faith. It is not they who make the Faith; they must serve it. The Faith is not being created, it is unchangeable, it is transmitted." They Have Uncrowned Him, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Angelus Press, 1988: Chapter XXXI, p. 229.

28 Quoted by Fr. D. Joly, “Vers Rome: gagner aux pieds des Apotres les indulgences du salut”, in Fideliter 135 (2000): 10.

29 Cited in Manuel des Indulgences, thesaurisons pour le Ciel (Editions D.F.T., 2005), 6.

30 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Suppl. q. 25, a. 2, ad 1.