The Year of Mercy will begin on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th with the opening of the “holy door of mercy” at St. Peter’s Basilica by Pope Francis.
Open Wide the Holy Doors of Mercy
A Holy Year begins with the opening of a Holy Door. Since the Fifteenth Century, a “Holy Door” has been set aside for the celebration of Jubilee Years. The solemn ritual opening of the Holy Door evokes for Catholics the passageway from sin to grace, and calls us to live more deeply a life in Christ Jesus.
In his papal bull Misericordiae Vultus (MV), announcing the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis decreed that a solemn opening of the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican on Tuesday, Dec. 8 will mark the beginning of this special Holy Year. Similarly, all other Cathedrals in the world are to open their Holy Doors on Sunday, Dec. 13, and remain open for the duration of the Holy Year.
The symbolism of “holy doors” is quite rich in the Catholic tradition, even when that term is not used. Many Catholic rituals begin at the main doors of the church – such as the Rite of Baptism for Children, the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens (RCIA), and the Funeral Mass, to name a few. The act of crossing over the threshold of these doors symbolizes for Catholics our conversion to Christ, our leaving behind one way of living so that we might find new life in Christ Jesus.
The Holy Door symbolizes Christ, the door to salvation. John’s Gospel evokes this strong image: “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” (John 10:7-9) For Pope Francis, the solemn opening of the Holy Door for the Jubilee Year of Mercy is particularly significant. He writes, “On that day, the Holy Door will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope” (MV 4).
The Holy Father invites all parishes to open wide their doors so that those who cross through them might find “an oasis of mercy” (MV 12).
In preparation for the ritual opening of the Holy Door of Mercy at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral in Cincinnati, the main front doors were sealed on Nov. 1. They will not be opened again until Archbishop Schnurr opens them on Dec. 13th at the 11:00 a.m. Mass. Other parishes and pilgrimage sites designated by the Archbishop will also open their “Door of Mercy” either on that day or another day thereafter.
As we await the solemn opening of the Holy Door launching the Jubilee Year of Mercy, may we prepare our hearts and minds to enter into a Holy Year marked by conversion of heart and by being the face of mercy to others through our concrete actions. May all who enter through these Holy Doors find within them Christ’s mercy and compassion.