The Jubilee of Mercy
and the participation of the Society of Saint Pius X
An Extraordinary Jubilee
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 coronations or of ordinations 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,1 then another from March 19 to December 31, 1881,2 and a third for the year 1886.3 His predecessor had convoked four,4 and his successor, St. Pius X, organized two extraordinary jubilees, one lasting three-and-a-half months for the fiftieth anniversary of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception,5 the other lasting eight months to commemorate the peace of Constantine.6
The occasion for the opening of the Holy Door is the fiftieth anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council 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.7 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.
Spirit of Vatican II
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 it is 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.
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 ten 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....”8 In the Bull of Indiction Apostolorum Limina (May 23, 1974), he pointed out that “ten 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 ten 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.”9 This tenth anniversary of the Council did not prevent Archbishop Lefebvre and the seminary in Ecône from traveling to the great pilgrimage organized in Rome that year, on May 24-25, 1975.
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.10 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.”11
On the contrary, it is obvious that this fiftieth 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, the liturgical reform, etc.). 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.
In his Letter to Friends and Benefactors dated May 24, 2015, the Superior General of the Society of Saint 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’12 on which Archbishop Lefebvre based the conduct of the Society of Saint Pius X, in these times of confusion, we reject a diluted mercy and live fully by whole mercy....
“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 be carried out properly at last. 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.”
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.
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,”13 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!
Saint Alphonsus de Liguori used to say that “in order to become a saint, it is enough to gain as many indulgences as possible!”14 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.”15
The joy of the jubilee does not consist of rejoicing in the Second Vatican Council, but in the grace poured out by the 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 Brief Pontifices Maximi (15 February 1879).
2 Brief Militans Jesu (12 March 1881).
3 Encyclical Letter Quod Auctoritate (22 December 1885).
4 In 1851, in 1854 (for three months), in 1858 and in 1869-1870.
5 Encyclical Letter Ad Diem Illum (2 February 1904).
6 Apostolic Letter Magni Faustique (8 March 1913).
7 Cf. Saint 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.
8 Address on 9 May 1973, translated from the French text in Documentation Catholique, no. 1633 (3 June 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).
9 Bull of Indiction Apostolorum Limina of the Holy Year 1975, abridged translation in The Tablet (15 June 1974): 20.
10 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis (4 March 1979), no. 8.
11 Bull of Indiction Incarnationis Mysterium of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 (29 November 1998). [English translation at Vatican website.]
12 “In practice, our attitude must be based on a preliminary distinction, made necessary by the extraordinary circumstances of a pope won over by liberalism. This is the distinction we must make: when the pope says something in keeping with Tadition, we follow him; when he says something that goes against the Faith, or encourages it, or allows something to be done that attacks the 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. They do not make the Faith, they must serve it. The Faith cannot be made; it is immutable, and it is handed on.” Abp. Lefebvre, They Have Uncrowned Him (2009). We find this preliminary distinction again on the occasion of the pilgrimage in the year 2000 in articles penned by the Superior of the District of France published in Fideliter no. 135, p. 1 and no. 138, p. 2.
13 Quoted by Fr. D. Joly, “Vers Rome: gagner aux pieds des Apôtres les indulgences du salut”, in Fideliter 135 (2000): 10.
14 Cited in Manuel des Indulgences, Thésaurisons pour le Ciel (Éditions D.F.T., 2005), 6.
15 Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Suppl. q. 25, a. 2, ad 1.