According to Leviticus, the purpose of a Jubilee celebration is to practice forgiveness. According to Leviticus, the Lord told Moses to observe a Jubilee at the end of seven times seven years.
This is where the modern observance of a jubilee began. We know, also, that the word Jubilee comes from the Hebrew, meaning ram's horn. So the celebration was to include the blowing of a horn — as well as the freeing of all Jewish people who were in slavery, and the forgiving of debts, and the resting of the soil, and the returning of property that had been purchased from those who had fallen upon hard times.
The point of the Jubilee, according to Leviticus, is that none of God's people should live in poverty. Especially when others of God's people have money and property and full, fat bellies.
Since the coming of Christianity, the Jubilee celebration has acquired new layers of meaning. In a publication of the Vatican, written especially for the Holy Year 2000, it is said to be the time for punishment for sins, for remission of sins, for reconciliation among enemies, for conversion and for the penitence of the sacrament.
In the Catholic tradition, Jubilees are now celebrated every 25 years. But this Jubilee is different, explains Pope John Paul II, "The 2,000 years since the birth of Christ represent an extraordinary Jubilee, not only for Christians, but indirectly for all of humanity." In a papal bull he evokes the memory of the Jubilee of 1300. That's when Pope Boniface VIII offered abundant remission of sins to those who would visit St. Peter's Basilica in the Eternal City.
During 2000, faithful Catholics may make a pilgrimage in order to acquire a Jubilee indulgence. The indulgence is defined as "the remission before God of the temporal punishment for already pardoned sins." In other words, an indulgence presumes that the penitent sinner has already been forgiven by God.
Believers may make a pilgrimage to a cathedral near their home. Or they may go to the Holy Land. Or they may come to Rome.
In Rome, they may make a pilgrimage to one of several sites, including the Christian Catacombs or one of the four Patriarchal Basilicas, where they are to take part in Mass, or Vespers or some other pious exercise, ending their worship with "Our Father," a profession of faith and prayer to the Virgin Mary.
Pilgrimages may also include visiting of brothers and sisters in need — those who are sick, imprisoned, or elderly — or a variety of other forms of personal sacrifice. Pilgrimages may be made alone or with a group, and may be made many times throughout the year.
And the pope has made it clear that nations, too, are to use this year to practise forgiveness. Specifically, he urges forgiving the debt of the Third World countries.