Holy Door of Mercy – My Pilgrimage Part 2

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.


Holy Year of Mercy – My Pilgrimage Part 1

Featured Image Photo Credit: Kristin McCarthy, 2016, Sanctuaire Saint-Annne-de-Beaupré, Beaupré, Quebec, Canada

Pope Francis declares this the Holy Year of Mercy beginning December 8th 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, which will close on November 20th, 2016, on the Solemnity of Christ the King. In many ways, I have benefited from this Jubilee year, but I feel there is so much more to gain. This summer I set out for Quebec, thinking I was going on a 10 day sight seeing camping trip. To my surprise, this holy year led me on a grace filled pilgrimage to five of Quebec’s shrines: St. Francis Xavier Mission in Kahnawake, where St. Kateri is buried, the Canadian National Shrines of St. Joseph’s Oratory (L’Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal) , Saint Anthony’s Hermitage (Ermitage Saint-Antoine de Lac-Bouchette), Sainte Anne de Beaupré (Sanctuaire Saint-Annne-de-Beaupré), Our Lady of the Cape (Sanctuaire Notre-Dame-du-Cap) and the Quebec Provincial Shrine of Notre Dame Cathedral (La Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Québec) in Quebec City. Each destination was extremely different than the last, yet each has a Holy Door of Mercy, “…through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instils hope.” (Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus Bull of Induction 3) I crossed the threshold of 5 Holy Doors of Mercy this summer, each having their own unique characteristics. I invite you to follow my posts as I take you on my Quebec Shrine Tour during this Holy Year of Mercy. I also encourage you, my readers, to take advantage of those Holy Doors that are near you before they close.

As I travelled from shrine to shrine, I began to ask myself, what is mercy? And, what am I being asked to do during this Holy year? The most straightforward answer I can come up with is this: Mercy is forgiveness. It is compassion. I am being asked to open my  heart and pardon those who have hurt or wronged me. But, thankfully, I am not to do this alone for Jesus is with me.

In Misericordiae Vultus, Pope Francis uses several parables to illustrate God the Father’s love for His children, never giving up on us and always forgiving us—mercy everlasting.  

In reply to Peter’s question about how many times it is necessary to forgive, Jesus says: ‘I do not say seven times, but seventy times seventy times’ (Mt 18:22). He then goes on to tell the parable of the ‘ruthless servant’, who, called by his master to return a huge amount, begs him on his knees for mercy. His master cancels his debt. But he then meets a fellow servant who owes him a few cents and who in turn begs on his knees for mercy, but the first servant refuses his request and throws him into jail. When the master hears of the matter, he becomes infuriated and, summoning the first servant back to him, says, ‘Should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ (Mt 18:33). Jesus concludes, ‘So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart’ (Mt 18:35)”. (Mis. Vultus 9)

Jesus tells us mercy is not only an action of His Father, but of us as well.

Thus, Merciful like the Father, is the “motto” of this Holy Year. God wants each of us to be with him. We only need to look to Him and He will come to our aid. Open yourself to the goodness that God can bring you. Ask for His mercy and offer His mercy to those around you.

Pope Francis goes on to say,

“In mercy, we find proof of how God loves us. He gives his entire self, always, freely, asking nothing in return. He comes to our aid whenever we call upon him. What a beautiful thing that the Church begins her daily prayer with the words, “O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me” (Ps 70:2)! The assistance we ask for is already the first step of God’s mercy toward us. He comes to assist us in our weakness. And his help consists in helping us accept his presence and closeness to us. Day after day, touched by his compassion, we also can become compassionate towards others.”  (Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus 14)

When you stare mercy in the face, who do you see? Perhaps this is an invitation from Jesus to walk the road of forgiveness. He will either walk right along side you, or carry you if your burden is too great.