From MICHAEL WILSON in ROME
On Christmas eve this year, Pope Paul VI will "break down" the cemented-up Holy Door into the Basilica of St Peter with three quick symbolic taps of a silver hammer.
Stepping across the threshold, the Pope will officially declare begun the 25th jubilee year in the history of the Catholic Church and which he has dedicated to the interior .tenewal of mankind, with emphasis on peace in the world and a reconciliation with God. , In a way this is an anti-climax llecause, reversing bygone traditions, Paul declared 1974 a preparatory Holy Year, during which the same indulgences and spiritual benefits could he obtained in the local dioceses. 1975 will sec the culmination of the nniversal Church's spiritual programme instead of being its forerunner.
The Church of Christ has adopted the Holy Year from the Jewish Church, which records that the Lord (Yahweh) spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai and Ordered a Jubilee every 50 years; "jubilee" being the an41ent Hebrew word for the fam's horn which "trumpeted" it in.
" The Catholic Church dates its jubilees from the "official" first one proclaimed by Pope Boniface VIII on February 23, 1300, after "hordes of pilgrims" had been streaming into Rome since Christmas the previous year and literally forced it upon him.
But Pope Paul, proclaiming the 1975 Holy Year, recalled that the origin and inspiration came from a developing sense of the specific goals of a pilgrimage, such as when Pope I Ionorius III announced a Holy Year for the pilgrimage to the tomb of St Thomas a Becket in Canterbury in 1220.
Boniface's Bull of Indiction for this first Holy Year is engraved in marble at the side of St Peter's Holy Door for all to read, announcing that a jubilee would be called "every 1001h year to come."
There are vivid eye-witness descriptions of how the pilgrims "went husband and wife and children, leaving their houses closed and all in a group; some too poor to get a horse carried their aged fathers on their shoulders."
The purpose of the pilgrimage to Rome is to gain spiritual benefits primarily by visiting the tomb of the Apostles Peter and Paul. The first recorded Christian pilgrimage to these tombs was made by Bishop Abercius of Hierapolis, Egypt, around 210.
Rulers, through whose lands pilgrims travelled, obtained some spiritual benefits by protecting them. There is an eighth century record of verses written for a Queen's tomb testifying to her protection: "Proceed then safely, 0 Pilgrim. Whoever you are, corning from thc distant lands of the West to the Tomb of St Peter you will have nothing to fear on the way, either from the arms of thieves or from the cold, or the storms of dark nights . . ." The pilgrim of the Middle Ages was a distinctive figure, wearing penitential garb, a broad-brimmed hat for protection against sun and storm, a wallet or pouch slung across his shoulders, an iron-shod staff in his hand and often a sword for protection.
Unlike the modern pilgrim of this coming year who might buy airline insurance before flying out to Rome, the pilgrim of those days was advised to put his affairs in order for records show that sometimes less than 20 per cent of those who left returned alive, dying from hardship, pestilence and plague rather than at the hands of bandits.
Only one of these Holy Years has been proclaimed by an absentee Pope; it was the second, called -by Pope Clement VI, an Avignon pope, in 1350. There were Holy Years in 1390 and again in 1400 but it was in 1450 that the Jubilee was marked by the greatest tragedies. First plague swept the city during the summer months. One historian related: "A great death came to Rome and many people, many of the visitors died. The hospitals and churches were filled with sick and dying and they fell dead in the streets like dogs."
With the cold weather the plague abated. But almost at the end of the Holy Year, on December 19, a large crowd of people, afoot, on horseback and in carriages, returning from the adoration of the Holy Face
(St Veronica's Veil) in St Peter's, ran into an equally large crowd heading towards St Peter's. They met in the middle of the bridge across the Tiber at the Castel Sant Angelo.
Within minutes the bridge was a shambles and when rescue work, by the light of flickering torches, had ended around midnight, 172 persons
had been trampled to death, tens of others drowned and hundreds injured.
It was Pope Paul II, who ascended the throne of Peter in 1464, who established the present-day tradition of a Holy Year every quarter century. This practice has been followed ever since with the exception of years during which the papacy has been impeded.
Pope Alexander VI was the first to brandish the silver
hammer (he also inaugurated the recitation of the Angelus) and Pope Gregory XIII, in 1575, who first "sealed up" the Holy Door with a trowel and "fresh cement."
After Pius VI had been captured by the French after the Revolution and forced into France, where he died at Valence in 1799, his successor Pius VII refused to call the 1800 Holy Year under French
domination. Again, Pope Pius IX was in exile in Gaeta in 1850 and by 1875, with the overthfow of the Papal States in 1870, had become the "prisoner of the Vatican." He called no jubilees although Leo XIII, still a "Vatican prisoner" in 1900, did. The Holy Year is essentially a pilgrimage and this jubilee of 1975, more than any other in history, is a clear and all-out effort on the part of Pope Paul VI to establish a season of quickened prayer and spiritual reconciliation.
The pilgrimages, and the emphasis is on "communal pilgrimages," began in the local churches during the preparatory year and should culminate in Rome where "the process of renewal and reconciliation, the veneration of the tombs of the apostles and the renewal of adherence to the Church of Peter" will take place.
Pope Paul has laid special stress on the spiritual advantages to be gained by both the local pilgrimages and those to Rome. These spiritual benefits range from an increased tranquillity of mind and spirit, a renewed confidence in the workings of God on a global scale and, within one's own personal sphere, to that oftmisinterpreted and misunderstood word "indulgence."
The Catholic Church's
doctrine of indulgences has always been criticized and denied by non-Catholics, who cite Martin Luther (who was not against indulgences but the abuse of indulgences) and also by many Catholics who make no effort to understand the real intent and meaning.
What exactly is this indulgence? The important part of an indulgence lies not so much in the indulgence itself as in the reality behind the indulgence, which is to promote sincere conversion and fervour of charity as the condition for the remission of the temporal penalty. As Christians we know that we are all sinners; as Catholics we also know that we may obtain sacramental absolution, or remission of the guilt of such sin through contrition and confession.
Certain images, symbols, are used by the Church to indicate that a person is wholly or in part reconciled to God and to the Church through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the intercession of the saints, the actions of these saints and other holy men, and through the general holiness of a whole community. This is the Treasury of Grace from which we obtain the indulgence or remission of sin.
The Church makes it clear that the degree of generosity with which you will be treated in the form of partial or plenary indulgence depends entirely upon yourself, your attitude towards sin, your repentance of it, the prayers you have said.
It is made clear to the individual that, were he left to his own resources, or to be dealt with strictly on the merits of the "case," he would probably not be able to atone for his misdeeds but that the fund of Good stored up within the community, this Treasury of Grace, and which will be focused upon him, through his prayers and those of others, will atone, in part or in full, for what he himself could not accomplish alone in atonement.
In that sense, Pope Paul or the bishops are saying: "What are your dispositions for good? If you do not have them then there is nothing that we can do.
Among the spiritual benefits to be acquired is that the salutary use of the indulgence makes us understand the malice of sin; it recalls the deep union of all of us in Christ and the importance of mutual charity; it reawakens trust in God and stimulates the fervour of divine love.
Pope Paul VI has laid down certain overt acts of piety which are required to gain partial or plenary indulgences.
The faithful, to obtain plenary indulgences, must visit the fonts of Christianity as represented by the four major basilicas of St Peter, St Paul, St John in Lateran and St Mary Major; they are encouraged, too, to visit other Christian centres such as the catacombs.
In these centres they should pray for the intentions of the Pope. No set formulae of prayers are prescribed; they may recite whichever they choose. Communion may be received during, before or after the pilgrimage to the basilicas.
This Holy Year the visits to the shrines may be made in any order and need not be on the same day. While the "practices" are stressed, the Holy See reminds all Catholics that these practices represent only the conclusive stage and the external sign of a whole process of spiritual renewal and of strengthening one's love of God and of one's fellowman.
Every facility is given the Catholic to go to confession and special powers have been granted priests accompanying pilgrimages to hear the con fessions of their faithful; they are permitted to give absolution even in cases normally reserved to higher authorities. Partial indulgences may be gained by those carrying out particular acts of piety, charity
and abstinence in a spirit of faith, abnegation and fervour; also by the faithful who are present with pious intention at the sacred preaching of the Word of God.
Many travellers start out with the pre-conceived idea that the foreigner is out to "gyp" them and are hesitant about even a pilgrimage to Rome. This is just not true. There are, naturally, a minute number of persons in any country who live by their wits and, therefore, will seek to profit from visitors by taking them for the proverbial "ride." None the less, by and large the pilgrim in 1975 will find that he is among honest people willing to be helpful and with more patience and understanding than many citizens of his own cities.
The Italian is a Latin and all Latins are given to talking with their hands, shoulders and facial expressions as much as with their tongues; they are an emotional people and given to a
certain amount of exuberant loudness. A group of Italians talking are not near to blows, merely making a point during a friendly discussion.
Rome has taken great pains this coming year to see that visitors are provided with every facility. Porters' tips at rail, sea and air terminals are controlled and there are official rates for cars and taxis. For example, the fixed fare from Rome's Fiumicino airport to the city centre is 7,000 lire or around £.5.
Those arriving at the railway station may find that they are importuned by individuals saying "taxi meester" or "want a car, meester?" Avoid these at all cost; they are runners for the outlawed, un-metered cars and may demand astronomic fares, with a nasty dispute in the offing if the rider protests.
All taxis in Rome and other major cities are required to display a list of fares in a halfdozen languages, of which English is one. These lists show that the cab-driver may not carry more than four persons and is entitled to charge more on Sundays, holidays, at night
and for certain extras such as suitcases.
The Rome bus network is good and covers most of the city although the buses themselves leave much to be desired by English standards. There is a single fare within the city of 50 lire (roughly 34pence) and, as many of the buses have automatic ticket machines, keep a supply of 50 and 100 lire (you get change) coins.
The most popular bus is the No. 64, the only bus running to St Peter's through the heart of the city. It is not only popular with the visitors to St Peter's and the Vatican but also with
the pickpockets and snatchers
of bags and cameras. So keep a tight hold on all wallets, bags, cameras,
In fact, and especially for women, watch out for an especially Roman type of pursesnatcher. They work in pairs on a scooter or in a small car. One does the driving, up alongside the victim, while the other snatches the object — and off they scoot.
Children are allowed in bars, even encouraged, since all sell ice-cream, soft drinks, cakes and sweets; also sandwiches if you don't want lunch. All kinds of drinks, even scotch and gin, are sold but the Italian is usually to be found sipping a mild aperitif. Extra charges are made for sitting at tables.
Nearly all restaurants have a fixed price tourist menu. All restaurants make a slight cover charge which includes bread for a la carte meals and, remember, the meat and fish courses come without vegetables; these cost more. Although a service
charge is added to the bill the eater is expected to add a small additional tip, about 100 lire per head.
The climate in Rome can vary extraordinarily quickly from very cold to very hot. So be prepared for hot days in February and cold ones in May. The best way to see Rome is on foot, so bring the stout walking shoes. Women pilgrims should carry a long-sleeved sweater or jacket if in light summer dresses for bare shoulders are not permitted in St Peter's and the guards are strict. Slacks are allowed but not extreme miniskirts, bare midriffs or shorts.
The Pope holds a general weekly audience on Wednesdays and audience tickets are free of charge. You can get them from your tour agent, diocese or many places in Rome. Newly-weds may go to the Vatican itself, through the Bronze Doors, and be given the tickets plus a medal donated by the Pope. The emphasis of this Holy Year is on the pilgrimage but there should always be a sense of real joy and pleasure, mingled with devotion and reverence, in the visit.
This is far removed from thoughtless tourism, Christ never preached a grim, morose faith but one in which the enjoyment of the things of the world, created by God, was to be shared with a deep devotional appreciation of them and of all God's works.
Pope Paul often ends his talks: "I wish you all a very happy holiday in Rome or wherever you may be going."