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Heather wrote:

Hi, guys —

I was wondering about the Jubilee year. I've read a little about it and it seems to have been mostly a Jewish tradition.

  • Is there a reason Pope Boniface started it in 1300?
  • Also, are all sins forgiven if a person makes the pilgrimage and visits the basilicas?
  • Is receiving Holy Communion a normal part of the process?


  • I was wondering if the Pope has direct communication with God, more so than prayer?
  • Since he has the ability to change doctrine, is this because God has told him to do so?

I am a non-Catholic and have a basic understanding of Catholic beliefs.

Thank you!


  { Can you answer questions on the Jubilee year and the Pope's ability to communicate with God? }

John replied:

Hi, Heather —

Thanks for your question.

Let's start by correcting some incorrect premises. The Pope doesn't have the authority to change doctrine; neither does the Church. The Catholic Church has never changed a single doctrine.

Doctrines have, however, developed. That is, as questions were asked throughout the centuries, doctrines have been clarified and further defined but never has the Church said what we believed previously is wrong. For instance, the Church always believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Beginning with the Gospels, and later in the writings of the earliest of Church Fathers, it is abundantly apparent that the Church always believed Christ was manifested at the moment of consecration during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

It wasn't until the Lateran Council that the Church further defined the doctrine to explain how and what happens. That's because for several centuries in Western Church, this question kept on coming up so relying on Scripture, Tradition, and the leading of the Holy Spirit, the Church explained that the substance of bread and wine change into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ, but the appearance of Bread and Wine remain. This definition didn't negate the previous understanding — it clarified it.

So Doctrine doesn't change. The Church will never say the Eucharist is not the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. The Church will never say last year we believed abortion was wrong, but today it's OK.

Now it is important to differentiate between doctrine (those things that deal with faith and morals) and practice, disciplines, and pastoral provisions. For instance, the Western Church for centuries offered the Mass strictly in Latin. Previous to that, the Mass was in Greek. It did so because those languages were the world languages which everyone in the West spoke. It wasn't because of any belief in the language. In the 1960's the Church changed that practice because the circumstances changed.

Another example is that prior to Vatican II, all Catholics (again in the Western Church) were bound to abstain from meat on Fridays. This was a pastoral provision. Catholics worship as a community, not just individually so on Fridays we made a communal act of sacrifice by fasting from certain foods. Today, Catholics are free to choose their own sacrificial act to perform on Fridays, but again, it is a pastoral provision or discipline. We are bound to these because we are bound to obedience, not because the provision itself is a doctrine. There was never anything unholy about eating a cheeseburger or hot dog on Friday, but if you deliberately did so (when the discipline required that you abstained) you were guilty of disobedience.

So to recap, neither the Church nor the Pope changes doctrine. On the other hand, disciplines and so forth are subject to change.

So now having cleared that up, let's move to your first question.

The Pope doesn't have a more direct pipeline to God other than prayer. However, when it comes to teaching as the Universal Pastor, a definitive truth about doctrine (faith and morals), he is prevented by the Holy Spirit from officially teaching error. This is called infallibility. It is limited to faith and morals and it is under specific circumstances. Moreover, it is not a direct line of communication like divine inspiration. Rather it is the Holy Spirit, preventing error from being taught.

I'll let one of my colleagues answer the other question regarding Jubilees.

In the mean time, I hope this clarifies your first question and the incorrect premise behind it.

John DiMascio

Mary Ann replied:

Heather —

The Pope has the same direct communication with God the Father that every Christian has in the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ. He does not receive revelations like the ones that the Mormon President claims to receive.

The Jubilee year is rooted in the Jewish tradition. To gain the privileges of the Jubilee Year, one must:

  • be free from serious sin
  • communicate (receive Holy Communion) and
  • confess (go to sacramental Confession).

Sins are not forgiven by the Jubilee privilege; rather, the temporal punishment that comes from sin is remitted.

In other words, the repair work that has to be done on yourself and on the universe, (whether by prayer, charity, or suffering to purify), is cancelled, and one is healed of the effects of sin.

Mary Ann

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