By the grace of God and favor of the Apostolic See,

To the Clergy and Faithful of the Diocese of Philadelphia

November 4th, A.D.1854

Venerable Brothers of the Clergy, and Beloved Brethren of the Laity

With that solicitude to promote the glory of God -the veneration due to the ever blessed and Immaculate Mother of His only begotten Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and thereby to establish more happily His kingdom among men, which has, from the earliest ages of Christianity, distinguished the successors of St. Peter in the See of Rome, our present and illustrious chief pastor, Pius IX, has proclaimed a universal Jubilee, inviting the faithful in every part of the world, to unite their supplications before the throne of God; by prayer, fasting, alms, deeds and other good works to obtain from Him who is rich in mercy those temporal and heavenly succors of which the Church was seldom, if ever, more in need.

Come, let us adore, and fall down before our God: and weep before the Lord that made us; He says to all who will receive His word, but especially to those who rejoice in the "divine light of Catholic freedom." Calling to mind the former days of trials that are past, "Let us praise the Lord with joy, let us joyfully sing to God our Savior; let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, for He is the Lord our God and we are His People." (Ps. 94)

On the other hand contemplating the calamities of every kind that afflict His Church, the Vicar of Jesus Christ partaking in the sufferings of his beloved Master, as he is also of His power, calls upon us to arise -to behold the evils which, as the waves of the sea, on every side, beset the Church- the humiliation of her children, the growing strength and exaltation of her enemies. And since our arms are not those of flesh and blood, nay since experience proves that they who trust in such things, are not of the race of those men by whom salvation is brought to Israel, he exhorts, he entreats us to turn now at length to the Lord our God, and be once more His people, to remember the mighty works, the gracious sign of His Divine Presence and protection which in our own times has not been withheld from his Church, to renew the vows of fidelity, love and obedience which we all made when we were adopted into His family. Most earnestly does he admonish us to shake off the torpor of spiritual sloth and religious indifference which like a cancer still eats its way into the heart of Society, "to cast aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, to walk honestly as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness; not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences." (Rom. 13: 12,14)

Shall we not listen to the voice of our supreme Pastor -venerable not less for his profound sorrow; a pastor whose illustrious name and noble deeds, only a few years since, were from hour to hour on the lips of a treacherous world? Shall we not obey a ruler of the universal Church of God who would indeed have made Rome, in a political, as it has long since been in a sublime sense, a light to enlighten the nations, a joy to the whole earth, had not treachery and ingratitude combined to defeat the work; and this, where such return of hate for love, of basest selfishness for generous confidence were least expected? Well may we be patient with our staunchest adversaries when we must bear witness to the deeds of such enemies within our own ranks.

"With thee I was wounded in the house of them that loved me" (Zach. 13:6), said the prophet, mourning in God's name, over the obduracy of His most favored people. And how truthfully may the Sovereign Pontiff, be, who next to Jesus Christ, is the chief bishop and shepherd of our souls, repeat this day the same mournful words. At such a spectacle so humiliating in every true Catholic, faith may waver, and hope grow faint, did we not recall the Apostle's warning -"Dearly Beloved, think not strange the burning heat which is to try you as if some new thing had happened to you- for the time is that judgment should begin at the house of God; and if, first at us, what shall be the end of them, who believe not the gospel of God?" (1 Peter 4: 12,17).

In thus speaking openly of the afflictions of the Church, of which indeed the Encyclical Letter (February 2, 1849) made no secret, we forget not, Christian Brethren, the many motives for thankfulness and hope which certainly exist. Never before, it has been truly observed, has the area of Catholicity been more widely extended. Never before has been there such unanimity on the one grand and only question of a religious character which at present so widely interests the Catholic mind.

The empires of antiquity, at the several epochs of their greatest renown, would now hardly form a third part of that vast dominion, within which the symbol and the altars of our Faith are everywhere to be found, or of that Christian people, composed of every tribe and nation from whose hearts the expression of faith and attachment to the See of Peter, is as ready to break forth as it was in the days of Augustine, 'Roma locuta est, causa finita est'. Rome has spoken; the controversy is at an end.

Seldom, if ever, have there been more glorious examples of conversion to the faith than within the last half-century. Examples too, of heroic charity have not been wanting: How many have accepted the sweet imitation of Jesus Christ; "if thou wilt be perfect, go, sell what thou hast and give to the poor; and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me." (Mark 10:21).

Wealth, talent, genius, youth full of joy and hope; and venerable age -the noble in heart and intellect as well as the noble by birth and rank, have heard these words and obeyed. With the apostle have they cheerfully said -"The things that were gain to me the same I have counted loss for Jesus Christ. Furthermore, I count all things to be but loss, for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord." (Phil. 3:7-8)

The testimony thus given to the presence of the Holy Spirit's ever abiding with the Church has produced a world-wide and profound expression. It as been "an odour of life unto life for man; unto others it has been an odour of death unto death. " (2 Cor. 2:16) And it must in great part account for the renewed activity with which the foes of our holy religion everywhere combine against it. Even in these our evil days, as in the first age of Christianity, apostolic men have preached the Gospel and planted the Cross of Jesus Christ, in the remotest regions of the world. Martyrs have rejoicingly shed their blood; consecrated virgins have offered their lives to be one perpetual sacrifice in the same holy cause. Their labors have not been in vain. The success of Catholic Missions, not only in distant heathen lands, but in the heart of Europe -in old and populous cities where it was justly feared heresy and infidelity had long since destroyed every germ of faith- has been confessed by those who, unmindful of our Savior's promises and trained from childhood to hate the Church of their fathers, long for the day when the name of Israel will be remembered no more.

For these, our brethren, it is one of your sacred duties to pray. The more ardent their misguided zeal against us, the more fervent and humble should be our supplications in their behalf. They were all present to the mind of our and their Redeemer, when, on the last evening of His life, and in the midst of a people who were, the next day, to reject and deny and put Him to death -even the death of the Cross- He poured forth this divine prayer as well for them as for his beloved disciples:

"I Pray not that Thou wouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou wouldst keep them from evil. And not for them only do I pray but for them also who through their word, shall believe in Me; that they all may be one, as Thou, Father, in Me, and I in Thee: that they all may be one in Us that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me. And the glory which Thou has given to Me, I have given to them, that they may be made perfect in one; and the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast also loved Me." (John 17:15,20,23)

In behalf of these especially was the "Prayer Association" proposed to you by the Bishops of the United States in the last National Council (First Plenary Council of Baltimore, 1852), and approved by receipt from Rome, dated September 5th, 1852. It is again recommended to your attention. The conditions for gaining the indulgence attached to the Jubilee, are as follows, and nearly in the words of the Holy Father:

  • First: To confess our sins with humility and with a sincere detestation of the same.
  • Second: Having been purified by sacramental absolution, to receive reverently the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
  • Third: To visit devoutly three churches designated by the bishop, or one of them at three different times.
  • Fourth: To pray therein with devotion for some time, according to the intentions of His Holiness, for the exaltation and prosperity of our holy mother, the Church, and of the Apostolic See, for the extirpation of heresies, for peace and concord among Christian princes, for the peace and unity of the whole Christian people.
  • Fifth: To fast once and give alms to the poor as your piety may dictate.

The above conditions must all be fulfilled within the period of three months during which the Jubilee will continue, beginning from this day. The churches designated are, for the Catholics living south of Vine Street, in the Consolidated City of Philadelphia, the churches of St. John, the Evangelist, St. Joseph and St. Theresa: for those living north of Vine Street, the churches of St. Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and St. Malachy.

The more distant Congregations, viz., of Port Richmond, Frankford, Manayunk, etc., will follow the advice of their Pastors with regard to the three visits to the churches.

To the Pastors and Congregations in the Consolidated City of Philadelphia, it is recommended, that the exercises of the Jubilee be made as far as possible, between the present date, November 5th and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8th, inclusively.

To the many Congregations throughout the Diocese, the same invitation is extended, that "the prayers of many being heard at one time in the sight of the glory of the Most High God" (Tobit 3:24), we may more faithfully comply with the intentions of our beloved Pontiff, Pius IX. Should God so will it, it may come to pass, that like the devout Sarah and Tobias who have left us their example we also, with our Chief Pastor at our head, may be able to say, "Blessed is Thy Name, O God of our fathers! Because after a storm Thou makest a calm; and after tears and weeping Thou pourest in joyfulness. Be Thy Name, O God of Israel, blessed forever." (Tobias 3:13,22-23)

On which day the fast is to be kept is left for each one to determine for himself. But if we would not lose the spiritual blessings of this season, it must be a fast in reality, at least, according to the present mitigated discipline of the Church.

The alms to be acceptable in the sight of God, should be given from a motive of real charity; and according to our means, not such alms as imply no sacrifice or self-denial.

As is the practice usual on these occasions whenever there is only one church, in any town, city or district, a visit to it, three times, will be sufficient to gain the indulgence. In all cases, wherein any of the conditions become impracticable or very inconvenient, we authorize the parish priest or the confessor to commute them provided that the Sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist be received by all who are capable of them; and that prayers be offered up in conformity with the intentions of the Holy Father.

May we not joyfully hope that if the great body of the faithful, with a good heart and willing mind, comply with these conditions, our prayers will be answered? And since, one of the principal intentions of the reigning pontiff in proclaiming the Jubilee, has been by means of your united suffrages, to obtain the grace of the Holy Spirit in giving a decision on the subject of the Immaculate Conception of the ever-venerable Virgin Mother of Jesus Christ, shall we not confidently believe that abundant light will be imparted to him and to the Prelates now convened around his throne in the Eternal City? As the long wished for day approaches, let us pray still more fervently, attentive to the invitation of the Church we so often hear "Sursum Corda" Let us lift up our hearts in frequent earnest prayer that the decision may be such as will redound to the praise of the adorable Trinity, the salvation of man, and to the honor of her, who, next to God is indeed the 'Aeterni Coeli Gloria, Beata Spes Mortalium' (The Eternal joy and glory of the heavens; the ever blessed hope of fallen man).

If such be the will of God and your piety deserves it, before the close of the year we may hear again the voice of Peter as when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, making known by the lips of Pius IX, to the assembled representatives of every nation under heaven that from henceforth and for ever, all generations of true believers shall invoke Mary, Mother of God, as the Ever Immaculate Virgin, conceived without the stain of Original Sin.

Such appears to be the expectation of the whole Catholic world. The looking forward for the "coming of the Messiah," her Divine Son, Christ Jesus, was not more general in the times before His advent, than is this universal expectation that the Vicegerent of this same Divine Son, our Holy Father, will decide that the Blessed Virgin was never stained by Original Sin, -that by a special privilege, which the Almighty could certainly grant, Mary was always exempt from that law to which all the children of Adam are subject- that from the first moment of her existence Mary was perfect purity itself in the sight of God. And, that therefore the words of Holy Writ and of Christian antiquity are to be understood in their literal sense, when it is said "Thou art all beautiful, 0 Virgin Mary! And there is not a spot in thee. In thee no spot of sin either is, or ever was, or ever will be." "Tota pulchra es, Virgo Maria! et macula non est in Te; macula peccati non est in Te, neque unquam fuit nec erit."

Although the Church has not yet declared the Immaculate Conception to be an article of faith, nevertheless it is evident she cherishes this most just and pious belief with a loving constancy, second only to that infallible certainty with which she maintains the truth of all those doctrines the acceptance of which is necessary for salvation. With a zeal probably never surpassed in former ages, the subject has been investigated by many of the most gifted and holy men now living; and with such a magnificent outlay of ancient and modern learning, of profound argument, and soul stirring eloquence have they treated it, as to leave not only the more devout clients of Mary, but every unbiased mind, convinced beyond the possibility of doubting, that if there be anything certainly true, next to the defined doctrine of faith, it is this apostolic, and therefore ancient and beautiful belief.

Hence, it is not surprising, that wherever the most enlightened piety exists, there also, hardly a moment's hesitation on this subject will be entertained. "Caro Jesu Caro Maria!" "The flesh of Jesus is the flesh of Mary !" They will at once exclaim with the great St. Augustine. How can it be that the God of all purity, to whom even the least shadow of sin is an object of eternal abhorrence, would have suffered His Virgin Mother to be, even for an instant, such an object in His sight! From her He received that flesh and blood, that human nature in which, made one with the Divinity, he redeemed the world, and can we believe that the same in Mary's person, in any possible degree was ever sullied by the demon's breath; dishonored by the taint of guilt? Or again, with St. Cyril, the pious Catholic will ask, "Who hath ever heard that an architect built a glorious dwelling for himself, and at once gave it over to be possessed by his most cruel and hated enemy?"

If there were no other words of Holy Writ on this topic but one -"Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ" (Matt. 1: 16),- they would be amply sufficient. Behold the divine fact that overthrows every difficulty; the inspired oracle that sweeps away every objection.

Never, Christian Brethren, never can we admit that she was for one moment the slave of the devil; the Virgin, who was destined to be the Mother of God, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, the Ark of the New Covenant, the Mediatrix of Mankind, the Terror of the Powers of Darkness, the Queen of all the heavenly hosts.

Purer than heaven's purest angel; brighter than its brightest Seraph; Mary, after her Creator, God, who made her and gave her all, is the most perfect of beings, the masterpiece of Infinite Wisdom, Almighty Power and Eternal Love.

To such a being we cannot reasonably suppose that a perfection was denied her which had been already, gratuitously bestowed on inferior creatures: on the Angelic spirits, for example, some of whom afterwards fell away from God and are lost forever. And again the first man and the first woman were created sinless; pure as the virgin world on which the Almighty had just looked down with infinite delight and declared it to be "valde bona", exceeding good. How just and natural, therefore, and may we not add how unavoidable is the conclusion, that this divine privilege was not withheld from Mary, set apart, as she was, from all eternity, for office and honors in the kingdom of God, to which no other created being ever will or can be exalted. The more so, since profound divines do not hesitate to assert, that rather than be without the grace conferred upon her in her Immaculate Conception, and thus, though only for an instant an object of God's displeasure, Mary would have preferred to forfeit forever the infinite dignity of being the Mother of Jesus Christ.

Gladly would we dwell more at length on the subject, but you observe yourselves the occasion does not allow it. The few thoughts we have uttered are but the echo of Christian antiquity; of the faith, the filial love, the confidence in Mary, when apostles and evangelists were still on earth and revered her name.

How profound should be our gratitude, in being able to say that name which we also reverence; their confidence in Mary we cherish; their filial love we share; their faith is ours. Could the Martyrs and Virgins, the heroic confessors of the faith, the renowned Fathers and Doctors of the Church, "beloved of God and men, and whose memory is in benediction" (Eccles. 45: 1). Could these arise and unite their voices to those of their successors, now around the Chair of Peter, what would be their testimony? They would point to their immortal writings, and in the language of St. Augustine, so worthy a representative of the genius, wisdom and piety of the primitive Church, they would remind us, that when they speak of the law by which all the children of Adam are born children of wrath, "they speak not of Mary", with regard to whom, on account of the honor due to our Lord, when they discourse of sin, they wish to raise no question whatever. (Liber de Natura et Gratia, 36:42). Nay, with an Amen, loud like the thunder of Heaven, they would respond to the following declaration of the Council of Trent, Sess. V. "This holy Synod declares that it is not its intention to include in this decree, where original sin is spoken of, the Blessed and Immaculate Mother of God."

May the day soon dawn upon the world, whether it be in our unhappy times or not, when with one mind and one heart, Christendom will acknowledge and proclaim this her most honorable privilege. Meanwhile submitting every thought, word and wish to the judgment of the Church, we will continue to confess her power; regarding Mary as that "great sign" which St. John saw in heaven; a woman so resplendent with light, grace and divinity, that he describes her as "A woman clothed with the sun; with the moon beneath her feet; and on her head a crown of twelve stars, whose Son shall rule the nations with an iron rod and her Son was taken up to God, and to His throne." (Apoc. 12:1,5).

And should the Dragon of Impiety, spoken of, in the same mysterious vision, whose power to seduce the nations is but too evident, still continue to make war on God and His Church: should the fearful days of widespread unbelief, foretold by the Apostles, prove to be our own, when man "will no longer endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will heap up to themselves, teachers, having lying lips; turning away their hearing from the truth to give heed to fables; speaking proud words of vain philosophy; despising government and all majesty, audacious, self-willed-fearing not to bring in sects; promising their followers liberty, whereas they themselves are the slaves of corruption; days of calamity, in which the same inspired teachers warn us, men will blaspheme whatever things they know not; that is, the unsearchable ways of God and mysteries of religion, and what things soever they naturally do know, in these they will he corrupted; mockers, murmurers, full of complaints, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without affection, without fidelity, walking according to their own desires in ungodliness, filled with avarice and envy, counting for a pleasure the delights of a day; sporting themselves to excess; rioting in their feasts with you, having their eyes full of adultery and never ceasing sin"; alluring unstable souls who have lost their faith, and leaving the right way, will, in the end discover that they have been following "wandering stars to whom the storm of darkness is reserve forever." (See Jude 1: 13,16,18; 2Peter 2:10-15; Rom. 1:30-31; 2Tim. 4:3-4; et aliter)

Christian brethren, if these be times in store for the already afflicted Church of Jesus Christ, in the midst of which, with fear and trembling, we, her children, are to work out our salvation, to whom can we turn with more confidence, than to His 'divine' mother whom the Church has never invoked in vain.

Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy! Guard the kingdom of the Christ-loving Pius, our Chief Bishop. Pray for the people. Intercede for the clergy. Protect the consecrated Virgins. Unto us all give strength against our enemies and thine: courage to the fearful; joy to those who mourn, peace to the contrite of heart; perseverance to the just. Let all experience thy protection, Virgin and Mother, through whom the nations are brought to penitence, the demons are put to flight and they that sat in darkness and the shadow of death are filled with the knowledge and the love of thy Only-begotten Son.

But what will prayer, almsdeeds, fasting, even the life-giving Sacraments avail, if we listen not to the warning of out Saviour; if we do not avoid the occasions of sin? "He that loves the danger, shall perish in it" (Eccles. 3:27), is a maxim of our Redeemer which no change of fashion can affect; a gracious admonition which should never be absent from our thoughts; above all in times and circumstances like the present. Fly, therefore, from all evil company. "For as the lion always lieth in wait for prey, so do the sins for them that work iniquities." (Eccles. 27:3). Beware of secret societies. Trust not their agents; too often only false brethren in disguise. Trust in God and His Law; and "you will put to silence the ignorance of foolish men," and many a prejudice against the Catholic Church will disappear. Let your ambition be, not to amass riches, but to owe no man anything; not to secure "office", but to live soberly, justly and piously in the world.

Frequent the church and not the taverns. Banish from your homes dangerous books, the bane of purity in every age, the scourge of modern society. Watch over the children whom God hath confided to you, if you would not set the seal to your own condemnation. For Christ's sake who said -"Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of God (Mark 10: 14)- bring them to Him by your good life and holy conversation. Allow them not to grow up in ignorance and vice. Teach them to pray: to pray for all men; benefactors, friends and enemies; to love their homes, their native land, and never to be ashamed of their Religion; rather to be always ready to reply in the spirit of the noble St. Hilary to the Emperor Constantius, "I am a Catholic, I am a Christian; I will not be a Heretic. "

And since the Church in the United States, has solemnly chosen the Mother of our Lord as its special Patroness and Protector; setting apart the Feast of her Immaculate Conception to be our national festival. Oh, first devoutly learn, and then teach your children from their earliest years, to cultivate true, filial piety towards her, letting no day pass without respecting the Archangel's salutation. Encourage them to the sweet task, the salutary practice with the words of Saint Bernard, and may we all remember them: "Heaven smiles, the Angels rejoice; the world exults, when we say, Ave Maria, Hail Mary."

For the rest, Brethren, trust perfectly in the grace which is offered to you:

"who by the power of God are kept by faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time wherein you will greatly rejoice, if now you must be, for a little time, made sorrowful in diverse temptations that the trial of your faith -much more precious than gold which is tried by the fire- may be found unto praise and glory and honour at the appearing of Jesus Christ; whom having not seen, you love; in whom also now, though you see Him not, you believe and believing, shall rejoice with joy unspeakable and glorified, receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:5-9).

Given under our hand, at our residence in Philadelphia, on the Feast of St. Charles Borromeo in the year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and fifty-four.

+ John Nepomucen Bishop of Philadelphia