Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Sabbatine Privilege

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 13
Sabbatine Privilege

by Josef Hilgers


The name Sabbatine Privilege is derived from the apocryphal Bull "Sacratissimo uti culmine" of John XXII, 3 March, 1322. In this Bull the pope is made to declare that the Mother of God appeared to him, and most urgently recommended to him the Carmelite Order and its confratres and consorores. The Blessed Virgin asked that John, as Christ's representative on earth, should ratify the indulgences which He had already granted in heaven (a plenary indulgence for the members of the Carmelite Order and a partial indulgence, remitting the third part of the temporal punishment due to their sins, for the members of the confraternity); she herself would graciously descend on the Saturday ( after their death and liberate and conduct to heaven all who were in purgatory. Then follow the conditions which the confratres and consorores must fulfill. At the end of the Bull the pope declares:


Istam ergo sanctam Indulgentiam accepto, roboro et in terris confirmo, sicut, propter merita Virginis Matris, gratiose Jesus Christus concessit in coelis (This holy indulgence I therefore accept; I confirm and ratify it on earth, just as Jesus Christ has graciously granted it in heaven on account of the merits of the Virgin Mother).


Our first information of this Bull is derived from a work of the Carmelite Balduinus Leersius ("Collectaneum exemplorum et miraculorum" in "Bibliotheca Carmelit.", I, Orleans, 1752, p. 210), who died in 1483. The authenticity of the Bull was keenly contested especially in the seventeenth century, but was vigorously defended by the Carmelites. The chief opponents of its authenticity were Joannnes Launoy and the Bollandist, Daniel Papebroch, both of whom published works against it. Today it is universally regarded by scholars as inauthentic, even the "Monumenta histor. Carmel." of the Carmelite B. Zimmerman (I, Lérins, 1907, pp. 356-63) joining in rejecting it.

In 1379, in consequence of the hostility still shown to their order and especially to its name, the Carmelites besought Urban VI to grant an indulgence of 3 years and 3 quarantines to all the faithful who designated them and their order "Ordinem et Fratres B. Mariae Genetricis Dei de Monte Carmeli" (Bullar. Carmelit. I, 141); this was granted by Urban on 26 April, 1379. It is difficult to understand why, instead of asking for this indulgence, they did not appeal to the old promise and the recent "Bulla sabbatina", if the scapular was then known and the promise to St. Simon Stock and this Bull were genuine and incontestable. While the Bull of John XXII was ratified by some later popes in the sixteenth century (cf. Bullar. Carmelit., II, 47, 141), neither the Bull itself in its wording nor its general contents were thereby declared authentic and genuine. On the contrary, the ratification by Gregory XIII on 18 September, 1577 (Bullar. Carmelit., II, 196), must be interpreted quite in the sense of the later Decree of the Holy Office. This Decree, which appeared in 1613, expresses no opinion concerning the genuineness of the Bull, but confines itself to declaring what the Carmelites may preach of its contents. The Bull forbids the painting of pictures representing, in accordance with the wording of the Bull, the Mother of God descending into purgatory (cum descensione beatae Virginis ad animas in Purgatorio liberandas). It must be also remembered that the latest authentic summary of indulgences of the Carmelite Order of 31 July, 1907 (Acta S. Sedis, XL, 753 sqq.), approved by the Congregation of Indulgences, says nothing either of the Bull of John XXII, of the indulgences granted by him, or of the Sabbatine privilege of the Carmelites. To learn the meaning and importance of the Sabbatine privilege, we may turn only to the above-mentioned Decree of the Holy Office. It was inserted in its entirety (except for the words forbidding the painting of the pictures) into the list of the indulgences and privileges of the Confraternity of the Scapular of Mount Carmel.

We reproduce here the whole passage dealing with the Sabbatine privilege, as it appears in the summary approved by the Congregation of Indulgences on 4 July, 1908. It is noteworthy that the Bull of John XXII, which was still mentioned in the previous summary approved on 1 December, 1866, is no longer referred to (cf. "Rescript. authent. S.C. Indulg.", Ratisbon, 1885, p. 475). Among the privileges, which are mentioned after the indulgences, the following occurs in the first place: "The privilege of Pope John XXII, commonly [vulgo] known as the Sabbatine, which was approved and confirmed by Clement VII ("Ex clementi", 12 August 1530), St. Pius V ("Superna dispositione", 18 Feb., 1566), Gregory XIII ("Ut laudes", 18 Sept., 1577), and others, and also by the Holy Roman General Inquisition under Paul V on 20 January, 1613, in a Decree to the following effect:


It is permitted to the Carmelite Fathers to preach that the Christian people may piously believe in the help which the souls of brothers and members, who have departed this life in charity, have worn in life the scapular, have ever observed chastity, have recited the Little Hours [of the Blessed Virgin], or, if they cannot read, have observed the fast days of the Church, and have abstained from flesh meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays (except when Christmas falls on such days), may derive after death — especially on Saturdays, the day consecrated by the Church to the Blessed Virgin — through the unceasing intercession of Mary, her pious petitions, her merits, and her special protection.

With this explanation and interpretation, the Sabbatine privilege no longer presents any difficulties, and Benedict XIV adds his desire that the faithful should rely on it (Opera omnia, IX, Venice, 1767, pp. 197 sqq.). Even apart from the Bull and the tradition or legend concerning the apparition and promise of the Mother of God the interpretation of the Decree cannot be contested.

The Sabbatine privilege thus consists essentially in the early liberation from purgatory, through the special intercession and petition of Mary, which she graciously exercises in favour of her devoted servants preferentially — as we may assume — on the day consecrated to her, Saturday. Furthermore, the conditions for the gaining of the privilege are of such a kind as justify a special trust in the assistance of Mary. It is especially required of all who wish to share in the privilege that they faithfully preserve their chastity, and recite devoutly each day the Little Hours of the Blessed Virgin. However, all those who are bound to read their Breviary, fulfil the obligation of reciting the Little Hours by reading their Office. Persons who cannot read must (instead of reciting the Little Hours) observe all the fasts prescribed by the Church as they are kept in their home diocese or place of residence, and must in addition abstain from flesh meat on all Wednesdays and Saturdays of the year, except when Christmas falls on one of these days. The obligation to read the Little Hours and to abstain from flesh meat on Wednesday and Saturday may on important grounds be changed for other pious works; the faculty to sanction this change was granted to all confessors by Leo XIII in the Decree of the Congregation of Indulgences of 11 (14) June, 1901.

For the text of the Bull see Bullarium Carmelit., I (Rome, 1715), 61 sq.; for its defense cf. Carmelite authors, e.g. BROCARD, Receueil d'instructions (4th ed., Ghent, 1875); RAYNAUD, Scapulare Partheno-Carmeliticum (Cologne, 1658). For the explanation of the privilege, consult BERINGER, Die Ablasse (13th ed.), 659 sqq.

JOSEPH HILGERS