In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus states, “I am the gate. Whoever enter by me will be saved and will come in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:9)
This image of Jesus being the gate is foundational to the Church’s understanding of the Holy Year Door. The tradition of the Holy Door dates back to 1499 when Pope Alexander opened a special door to mark the Holy Year 1500. The pope strikes this special door three times with a silver hammer while saying, “Open unto me the gates of justice”.
Each of the four papal basilicas in Rome has a Holy Door (St. Peter, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, St. Paul Outside the Walls). These doors are sealed with bricks from the inside and are only opened for a special Holy Year. Pilgrims who pass through these doors are granted special graces and can gain a plenary indulgence (removal of the residue left by the consequence of our sins) if they fulfill certain spiritual requirements.
The Holy Door of the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria. Those who pass through it in this holy year will receive special graces.
Pope Francis has asked that a Holy Year Door of Mercy be created in every diocese throughout the world. We opened our own diocesan Holy Door on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8). During this Jubilee Year you are invited to make a pilgrimage to the Cathedral dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria and pass through the Holy Door. This Door faces Church Street and will be marked with yellow and white bunting and the bishop’s coat of arms over the entrance.
It has already been stated that the Holy Door represents Christ. He is the door of salvation and is always willing to receive us with love and mercy. Jesus is always open to us and calls us to come to Him. This is the welcome that we all need to hear. When we walk through the door, we indicate our desire to enter into a deeper relationship with Jesus and allow Him to change our lives.
In many ways sin is like a closed door. When we go through Christ, the door is opened and we receive His love and mercy. We enter and celebrate the sacraments that offer us an encounter with our merciful God. Tradition teaches us that in the early Church a public penance was required before a penitent could be given absolution. After that penance was completed, the person would walk through a specific door to enter the church to receive absolution and be reunited with the Church. This ‘Holy Door’ was then associated with repentance and a desire to be reconciled.
Over the centuries it also became a symbol of a desire to renew and strengthen one’s faith. Pope Francis has granted a plenary indulgence for those who fulfill certain spiritual conditions. When pilgrims enter the Cathedral through the Holy Door they must also receive God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, attend Mass, make a profession of faith and spend some time reflecting upon the great gift of God’s mercy.
Having received God’s mercy we then leave the Cathedral and bring mercy to others by performing both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Once we are home or at the work place we should continue to reflect upon the pilgrimage and our journey through the Holy Door. This should lead us to a strong desire to keep open the doors of our hearts to God and the doors of our homes to works of charity and those most in need. In this way the fruits of this Jubilee Year of Mercy will continue to bear fruit in our diocese for many years to come. Let us open the doors to Christ and to one another.