Bishop David L Ricken of Green Bay, Wis., uses his crosier to nudge a helium balloon skyward outside SS. Peter and Paul Church in Weyauwega, Wis., June 26. Bishop Ricken joined Father Xavier Santiago, left, altar servers and parishioners as they launched 150 balloons as part of the parish's 150th anniversary celebration. (CNS photo/Sam Lucero, The Compass)

Celebrating the Parish Jubilee

How to organize, commemorate a milestone anniversary


The word “jubilee” excites us. It brings to mind occasions of joy, of happiness, a time to commemorate in a special way an event, place or person. Fourteen-hundred years before Jesus, the term was written in the Old Testament’s Book of Leviticus, Chapter 25, spelling out Jewish law regarding a jubilee celebration. Scripture says it will take place every 50 years, and it is a time when debts are forgiven, slaves are freed, property is returned to the original owner and the land shall lie fallow with no planting or reaping. The jubilee was marked by forgiveness, mercy and remembering all the gifts of God.

Catholic Church and Jubilee History

The Catholic Church did not impart a Christian Jubilee until the 14th century. In the year 1300, Pope Boniface VIII (r. 1294-1303) proclaimed the first universal jubilee. At the end of the year 1299, pilgrimages were filling Rome and flocking to St. Peter’s Basilica. They were seeking to celebrate a new century, and there was a belief of unknown origin that if they went to Rome and to St. Peter’s during the year 1300 their sins would be pardoned. While the Church had not announced a pardon, Pope Boniface decided to condone the belief and issued a papal bull making 1300 a Holy Year, what became known as a Jubilee Year. He approved a plenary indulgence, a remission of temporal punishment, if Catholics confessed their sins, made a pilgrimage to Rome during that year and visited the basilicas of Sts. Peter or Paul 15 times. If they lived in Rome, then they needed to visit those churches 30 times. This was the first Christian Jubilee Year, and it was Boniface’s idea to repeat it every 100 years.

In 1343, St. Bridget of Sweden (1303-73), among others, persuaded Pope Clement VI (r. 1342-52) to reduce the time between jubilees to 50 years and thus allow more people to experience the event in their lifetime. For a short period, the jubilee was held every 33 years to reflect the time Christ walked the earth. But in 1470, Pope Paul II (r. 1464-71) changed the frequency to 25 years, and it has remained so. Today, jubilees or Holy Years announced by the pope are either ordinary, in the set sequence of 25 years, or extraordinary, a special year declared by the pontiff.

Jubilee in the Context of the Parish

Altar server Nathan Heenan carries a crucifix
down the aisle of St. Mary Church in Menasha, Wis., prior to the beginning of the parish’s 150th anniversary Mass in 2017.CNS photo/Sam Lucero, The Compass

It is difficult to pinpoint when celebrating a parish jubilee began, but they are widely popular. If a pastor decides he wants to acknowledge such an occasion, planning is essential, and bringing it to the parish council is often a good place to start. That group can flesh out the issues, timing, etc. Will this be a yearlong celebration, one day or something in between? Celebrating the 100th year of a parish likely would be more involved than a 25th anniversary celebration. Gaining parishwide enthusiasm is necessary for success.

The following discussion is not meant to be all-inclusive — it is not a dissertation on how to plan a jubilee — but simply a sharing of thoughts, concepts and recommendations, some of which different parishes have used. Certainly the kind of jubilee will determine which, if any, of the ideas are useful.

Organizing the necessary planning groups or committees to ensure success is important. Groups concerned with worship, publicity, entertainment, special events, finance, and a steering committee come to mind. The parish finance committee or a similar group is key to evaluate how this jubilee will impact the parish coffers, what is realistic in terms of expenses and ways to recoup spending. The availability of money is an upfront and continuous consideration.


A committee for the liturgy and/or worship ensures that God is at the center of all activities. The whole purpose of the jubilee celebration is to thank God for his mercy and the gifts he has given to allow the parish to thrive.

In a jubilee announced by a pope, there is always an indulgence attached. While a local pastor cannot offer a special indulgence during a parish jubilee, an indulgence can be attained anytime by a Catholic who piously fulfills all the prescribed conditions. Focusing parishioners on attaining an indulgence could be part of the jubilee. Unfortunately, many Catholics may not be familiar with the teaching on indulgences; they might not even understand what an indulgence is. Perhaps a homily or two explaining this little-known teaching would be useful.

If the parish typically does not conduct a Forty Hours devotion of Eucharistic adoration, maybe this is the year. It is a special way to draw us closer to God, offer our thanksgiving for his never-ending grace and mercy. The entire parish participates; there is a solidarity when everyone comes together in 40 hours of exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.

On Corpus Christi Sunday (June 20 this year) a procession with the Blessed Sacrament is an opportunity for Catholics to publicly proclaim their love for the Eucharist. Participation by large numbers of parishioners and clergy makes for an impressive event. Obviously, church location may negate a procession through the town or neighborhood; having a procession inside the church or in the church parking lot are alternatives. Both the Corpus Christi (Eucharistic) procession and Eucharistic adoration are Church devotions associated with achieving a plenary indulgence.


Certainly some kind of memento of the celebration is in order. A brochure about the occasion or, if it is a jubilee celebrating 50-plus years, a commemorative photo album would be appropriate. Pictures and stories representing the history of the parish over the years, the names of those baptized, married and buried in the parish can be included.

‘Fixing Our Gaze On Christ’
“Every Jubilee Year is like an invitation to a wedding feast.
From the different  churches and ecclesial communities
throughout the world, let us all hasten
to the feast now
being prepared; let us  bring with us everything that already
unites us and, by fixing our gaze on Christ alone, let us
grow in the unity which is the fruit of the Spirit.”

Pope St. John Paul II, in Incarnationis Mysterium,
the bull of indiction of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000

Asking parishioners to bring in items that represent the parish story and organize these memorabilia in a display for all to see is not only interesting but pays tribute to the parish. A Christmas ornament identifying the jubilee or with the image of the parish church is a wonderful keepsake. Of course, different kinds of apparel such as T-shirts and hats are always popular.

Vintage bulletins help tell the history of the parish in a real way of what it was like 25, 50 or 100 years ago. They remind today’s parishioners that others knelt in these same pews, brought their kids to religious education classes, came without fail to Mass, kissed the cross on Good Friday, said the Creed, patiently waited outside the confessional and loved Our Lord and the Catholic Church just as we do. The jubilee glorifies the goodness of God, but we acknowledge those who built and sustained our parish.

Entertainment/Special Events

Anything with food is good: picnics, sit-down dinners, coffee and doughnuts after Mass. One parish buried a time capsule. A talent show is always an attraction. When it fits, invite longtime parishioners to talk about their experiences. If there are well-known people who are or once were parishioners, ask them to tell how the parish and the Faith impacts their live. Organize a pilgrimage or two; consider keeping them local to attract more participants. As every pastor knows, getting the bishop involved requires advance notice.

Invite parish members living in nursing homes or who are homebound to as many activities as possible, especially to Mass. Except for their health, these folks would still be active in the parish. Reach out to the fallen-away and clearly indicate that they are welcome.

If there are diverse ethnic groups in the congregation, find ways to acknowledge how their presence enhances the life of the parish. Also seek to honor veterans, especially on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day.


Use the diocesan newspaper to announce forthcoming events and to tell their stories after they have taken place. Every parish has members talented with photography, moviemaking or writing skills that can document the jubilee’s special moments and archive them for the next generation of Catholics. Local media outlets and the internet are sources for announcements. The church bulletin can have a section segregated off to announce jubilee activities. Signs and banners that decorate spots both inside and outside of the church are effective.

For centuries, whether they’re celebrated by the universal Church or by a small, individual parish, jubilees have been an important way to celebrate how Christ is working in the lives of the faithful. Let’s continue to celebrate him!

D.D. EMMONS writes from Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, and is a longtime contributor to OSV publications.

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