Pope Benedict XIV – Peregrinantes – Proclaiming a Holy Year for 1750, 5 May 1749

[Pope Benedict XIV]
To all the faithful of Christ, Greetings and Apostolic Benediction.

That we are pilgrims from the Lord and seekers after our future homeland, that we all have sinned and have frequently abandoned the way of God’s commandments and like foolish sheep have wandered astray, is well established. If we should say that we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves. Our conscience bears witness to our many transgressions, which cause us to fear death and the approaching judgment of God. If we should say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar. But of course His judgments are true and just, and we must endure His scourges because we have sinned against Him, have acted unjustly, and have committed iniquity. For this reason He does not cease to punish and castigate us so that we may return to Him before Judgment Day.

Care for sinners

The Church continually looks after its members so that it may recall sinners to the path of salvation and obtain pardon for their sins. The Church offers mercy to the guilty; but few listen to the salutary warnings of the Church. Many are entangled with evil affections or bound by the cares and pleasures of life. They fly from the spirit of penitence and the discipline of improving their character; they despise God’s goodness, patience, and forebearance. The Church generously offers indulgences at all times, but some neglect them ruinously and others make no effort to acquire them properly and deserve them. Meanwhile our days are running out, and we shall be poured out like water on the earth. But when the just Judge has appeared, we may learn too late that our hard and impenitent hearts have stored up wrath for us and that whatever we have not done penance for remains to be punished by the divine Judge.

Holy Year

2. Therefore, Our predecessors chose certain times during the course of the centuries to remind all the faithful of the approaching end of the world, and to instill in them a greater zeal for correcting their sins, thus obtaining the salvation of their souls. This was done of old each hundredth year. Later, considering the length of a generation, they decided to enact a holy year every twenty-five years. In this way, almost everyone-at least once in his lifetime-could experience these general means for obtaining propitiation and indulgence. The Church would also prescribe an appropriate list of penitential exercises. This holy year, a year of renovation, penance, reconciliation, and grace, will begin on the next winter solstice. We beseech all who answer to the name of Catholic to observe it.

3. The kingdom of heaven is at hand; heed Our preaching and do penance. Little children, it is the last hour; return to the Lord and be reconciled with God. The world and its concupiscences will pass; but eternal life is promised only to those who have done the will of God. What is the will of God but your salvation? To fulfill this will, the Church calls you. She devotes the entire coming year to public exercises of religion and piety; she desires that all her children who have been nourished with the milk of Catholic doctrine, may merit the mercy and grace of God, both for themselves individually as well as for the whole brotherhood. She opens the doors of the churches and her charitable heart to the arriving multitudes. To all who ask sincerely, she promises forgiveness.

4. One can have an unshakeable confidence in this promise for a number of reasons. First of all is the supreme power of binding and loosing, given by the Redeemer to Peter and his successors, and Peter’s inestimable merits. The treasury of satisfaction, composed of the merits, sufferings, and virtues of Christ, His Virgin Mother, and all the saints and entrusted to Us for dispensation also inspires confidence. The blood of the Apostles and martyrs of old, poured out on the earth like water to build up the Church, cries to the Lord for pardon and peace for the faithful. In addition, Church discipline has been conformed both to the rigor of the ecclesiastical rule by assigning works of penance and to the spirit of Christian clemency by granting indulgences. Finally, the holiness of the proposed goal, the profit of the Christian people, and the example of those who have gone before us in the faith provide still more reasons for confidence in this promise.

5. Therefore, what time and the custom of Our predecessors recommend, We shall accomplish. We proclaim and promulgate a great and universal Jubilee in this Our City for next year, 1750. It is to begin with the first vespers of the vigil of the Nativity and is to continue for the entire year. It will glorify God Himself, exalt the Catholic Church, and sanctify all the Christian people.

Requirements for the Indulgence

6. During this year We mercifully grant complete indulgence, remission, and pardon of all their sins to all the faithful of Christ, both men and women, who are truly penitent and who fulfill the following spiritual exercises. They must have confessed and communed. If they are residents of Rome or of Vatican City they must have piously visited the basilicas of the Blessed Peter and Paul, of Saint John Lateran, and of Saint Mary Major at least once a day for thirty successive or interrupted days. These days may be computed by the natural rhythm of the sun or by the ecclesiastical rhythm of the daily divine service. In the latter case a day is to be counted from first vespers of one day until the end of twilight of the following day. If they are pilgrims or foreigners, they must visit these churches for at least fifteen such days. Both Romans and non-Romans must have piously prayed for the exaltation of the Holy Church, for the extermination of heresies, for concord among Catholic princes, and for the salvation and tranquility of the Christian people.

Some Unable to Fulfill all Conditions

7. Some who set out to fulfill these requirements may be physically unable to complete their visitations to the churches. If they are truly penitent, have confessed, and received holy communion, We want them to share in the indulgence and remission mentioned above just as if they had actually fulfilled all the conditions.

8. Rouse your enthusiasm at the announcement of so great a gift offered you. Undertake the task that can save your souls with great eagerness and fervor. Let not the comforts of home hold you back; let not the labor of the journey frighten you. Weigh the spiritual gift by the standards of the Christian faith and do not permit the eagerness of worldly men for earthly treasure to surpass the desire of the faithful for heavenly treasures.

The New Rome

9. The great reward of your journey will be spiritual renewal. What can delight a Christian more than to behold the glory of the cross of Christ where it shines supreme on earth and to see with one’s own eyes the monuments of victory by which our faith has conquered the world? It will even be possible to see the summit of the ages bowed in reverence to religion. This one-time Babylon no longer extends the threats of arms and war for the destruction of nations and the subjugation of kingdoms. Rather, it recommends proper discipline for the education and salvation of the peoples. Once the memory of old superstitions had been buried in oblivion, sincere worship of the true God and the majesty of sacred rites shone everywhere like a jewel. When the shrines of false deities had been overturned by true religion, then churches were consecrated to the supreme God. In addition, the impious games and mad spectacles of the circus were obliterated from the minds of men; the cemeteries of the martyrs were visited; the monuments of tyrants were overthrown; tombs of the Apostles were built by the emperors themselves; the precious ornaments of Roman pride were transformed into places of worship; and the more eminent shrines to the provincial gods were converted from pagan temples into Christian churches. Finally, the sight of the countless multitudes converging on the City this year from everywhere will fill your heart with joy. When each one recognizes so many other Catholics of different nations and languages and rejoices with them all in brotherly love in the presence of their common Mother, the Roman Church, he will perceive the dew of heavenly benedictions, as if it descends from the top of Hermon near at hand and is poured out on him and on the inhabitants of the Holy City.

Those Who Have Left the Church

10. Our great hope is that those who long ago, deceived by lies of the devil, left the Church might now return to the unity of the Catholic faith. Do they not hear her voice calling them most lovingly to her embrace? Do they not understand that when they left the faith they began to direct their course by human conventions and they handed themselves over to be taught by others who willfully led them astray with various foreign doctrines? But alas! How many there are among them who are not ignorant of these things! And indeed they do not deny that the foundations of each individual sect are weak and, if shaken a little, collapse easily. But what is more to be deplored is their evil lack of interest in the things of God. Because of this they despise the light of truth and the voice of their conscience. As enemies both of the Catholic Church and of their own souls, they refuse to understand what they ought to do. Nor do they wish to examine the straight way of the Lord which is the only way back to the portals of salvation. May they at least be awakened by the example of your faith and devotion to consider that they will have no excuse on the Judgment Day if they continue to spurn the reasons which have been offered to them for recognizing the truth. May your obvious agreement in the worship of God, in the discipline of Christian life, and in reverence toward the Pope, spiritual Father of every Catholic, all serve as an incentive for emulation and an occasion for shame among those who have left the Church. Our whole desire is that the earth be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, the honor of God, and the purity of the Christian faith, and that holiness of character flourish and increase among all nations. We ask this as though drawing up a line of battle. We hope to obtain this through the intercession of your prayers. The most clement Lord says that He is moved by your intercessions. At the same time We shall pray for peace for the Catholic Church, for the happiness of Christian princes, and the safety of all the faithful.

Wage a New Kind of War

11. But you, Venerable Brothers, leaders of the Catholic religion, Patricians, Primates, Archbishops, and Bishops who serve as ambassadors among the Christian people, call a meeting, gather the people, announce to them the holy year. Endeavor to see that our plan is effective, both for the glory of God and the benefit of the whole Church. God has granted His people peace after the calamities of a long war; may this gift which God gave for the temporal tranquility of His people lead also to the improvement and, finally, to the eternal salvation of this same people. A new kind of war against the enemies of our salvation must now be waged. The license of thinking and acting must be curbed. The luxury and the pride of life must be restrained and cupidity for gain must be kept in check. All impurity must be purged and all enmity eliminated. All hatreds must be abolished.

12. To action, therefore, you priests, ministers of God. Sound the trumpets and declare a spiritual war against the enemies of the cross of Christ. Strengthen the languid hands of your soldiers and straighten their bent knees. In the first place, make straight the path for those who have decided to come to this citadel of religion, this impregnable stronghold. Let them hear from you that they are not called here for leisurely roaming nor to view strange sights; but they are summoned to carry arms in a Christian militia and to undertake the labors of fighting and war. What are the arms that Satan fears if not the vigils of the pious, their prayers, fastings, almsgivings, their works of Christian humility and of mercy? By these the tyrannical domination of human cupidity is overcome, and the kingdom of love is strengthened and extended.

13. While going forth into this pious war, it is fitting that those protected by the cross of Christ and those gathered together in the armor of God advance so that no occasion of doing harm is given to the attacking enemy. Let these peaceful, harmonious, modest, and religious soldiers proceed on their journey. While they ask the guidance, mercy, and assistance of God (whose banner they profess to follow), may His discipline prove them worthy so that they may deserve to obtain the promised crown of victory. But you, Venerable Brothers, while you strive to inspire them with these goals, bear in mind that the office of exhortation and persuasion is easy. Example, however, is stronger than words; it is more effective to teach by doing than by talking. Therefore, let the splendor of your holy actions shine before them, so that seeing your good works they may conform their lives and habits to the standard of yours. Do not forget hospitality, service, and sharing. While the Church shows a more abundant mildness for the spiritual needs of the faithful, let the temporal necessities of the poor also be relieved with greater mercy.

Advice to Secular Leaders

14. Our most dear sons in Christ, the Emperor elect, the kings, and all Catholic princes, have received blessing upon blessing from Him by whom kings rule. We beg that they may be ardently inflamed with pious zeal to promote the glory of God. Above all, may they aid the zeal and vigilance of Our Venerable Brothers, the bishops and higher leaders, and order their magistrates and ministers to help them, so that the license of evildoers may be restrained and the zeal of the good supported by kingly aid and favor. Especially let them show generosity toward pilgrims. Let them see to it that they travel safely without being harrassed by wicked men. Rather, let them be received lovingly in hospitals, homes, and public inns and, after being refreshed with food and necessities, let them proceed happily on their journey returning with joy to their fatherland. In this way kings and princes may incline God favorably toward themselves, so that they may live long and happily on earth. Then in the end, they may be received into the eternal tabernacles by these same poor people toward whom they showed mercy and in whom Christ is fed and nourished.

15. Now in order that the knowledge of this letter may more easily reach all the faithful, We desire that copies of it, printed and signed by a public notary and marked with the seal of an ecclesiastical dignitary, have the same authority which the present letter would have if shown and displayed.

16. No one may weaken or oppose this document of Our indiction, promulgation, concession, exhortation, petition, and will. But if any one does presume to do so, may he know that he will incur the indignation of the omnipotent God and of His apostles, Peter and Paul.

Given in Rome, at Saint Mary Major, in the year of the Incarnation of our Lord 1749, May 5, the ninth year of our Pontificate.