Featured Image Photo Credit: Kristin McCarthy, 2016, Ermitage Saint-Antoine de Lac-Bouchette, Lac Bouchette, Quebec, Canada
In this Jubilee year, the Holy Year of Mercy (2015-2016), Pope Francis invites us to enter through the ‘door of mercy’. He has instructed every Cathedral or church designated by the Diocesan Bishop, the four Papal Basilicas in Rome and Shrines around the world to open a holy door. He tells us, “mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.” (Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus Bull of Indiction of the Extrordinary Jubliee of Mercy 10) So I give thought to the meaning of such a door. First, it is a physical door whereby the Church opens herself to those seeking God’s mercy. She welcomes all who embrace forgiveness and presents us with the message, ‘The Lord is waiting for you’. Second, the ‘door’ is a symbol: As we cross the threshold of the Holy Door in churches throughout the world, we are saying ‘yes’ to God’s request to be with Him. We leave our life behind and enter into life with Christ. Visiting a holy door is an invitation and an opportunity to spend some time with God.
The holy door or Porta Sancta has been used by the Catholic Church for almost 600 years and is opened every Jubilee Year. In 1423, Pope Martin V opened the first Holy Door at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran. At the time, Holy Years were celebrated every 33 years. In 1499, Pope Alexander VI opened not only the Holy Door at the Vatican Basilica, but also St. Peter’s, St. Mary Major and St. Paul’s. A ceremony was created, in particular, the rite of opening and closing the Holy Door. (Resources for the Year of Mercy, Part II: The Holy Door. Prepared by Rita A. Thiron, M.A. Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions. Washington, DC www.fdlc.org)
From 1500 to 1975, the opening and closing ceremony remained the same. The Holy Door was closed by the building of a wall. (And opening the ‘door’ meant a wall was taken down). The Pope, using a hammer, struck the wall that covered the Holy Door, three times. A trowel and bricks were used in this ceremony, coins were placed in the wall, and then later, placed in a small metal box. (This custom still exists today.) Holy Water is used in both the opening and closing of the Holy Door. The Door itself was a simple wooden door until Pope Pius XII in 1949 replaced it with a bronze door. In 1975, the Pope at that time no longer used the trowel and bricks to close the Holy Door. Instead, the 1950 Bronze door was closed rather than the building of a wall. The box holding the coins, and the parchment document for the closing of the Holy Door was sealed inside. This change encouraged us to focus on the door – the door having deep biblical significance. The hammer is no longer in use since 2000. (Resources for the Year of Mercy, Part II: The Holy Door. Prepared by Rita A. Thiron, M.A. Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions. Washington, DC www.fdlc.org)
Going through a doorway is simple enough. We do it everyday without much thought. Symbolically though, a doorway holds deeper meaning. It is in John 10:7 that Jesus proclaims “I am the door”. In our faith, passing through a door can be a symbolic act, a ritual that you are leaving the past and entering the door of your future with Jesus Christ. From darkness to light, from sinfulness to grace, from slavery to freedom. We are given the freedom to choose whether we cross this threshold and receive God’s graces that await us on the other side. It is here that you will meet the mercy of God. You are passing through this world into the world of God. We come to the Father through Jesus (the Door). (On the Symbolism of Holy Doors”, by Dom Albert Hammenstede, O.S.B. www.catholicculture.org)
Pope Francis has opened Holy Doors throughout the world during this Holy Year, offering mercy to all those who suffer, who seek forgiveness, compassion and love. I must admit that I didn’t give too much thought to this at first, but upon entering a holy door, I found Jesus waiting for me on the other side. And it occurs to me that all around the world, brothers and sisters in Christ are doing the same, reminding me that we are all connected together.
Take a step and cross the threshold of the Holy Door nearest you because on 20th of November 2016, on the Solemnity of Christ the King, the door will be closed until the next Jubilee Year.