Praised Be Jesus Christ!
This past Tuesday, December 8th, Pope Francis preformed the Rite of opening the Porta Sancta (Latin for Holy Door) of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. These doors, as well as the special door on three other major basilicas in Rome, are generally sealed with bricks and mortar from the inside, and are only opened once every 25 years for what is known as a Jubilee Year. A Jubilee Year is a special year where the Pope grants extra indulgences and graces to all the faithful; and those who make a pilgrimage to physically pass through the Holy Door are granted a plenary indulgence. Every so often, a Pope will decree that the Holy Door be opened at a time other than the regularly-scheduled 25 year jubilee, the rare occasions for the extra opening of the doors are called an Extraordinary Jubilee Year.
With the Rite of the Opening of the Door, Pope Francis has officially begun the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, and as the name suggests, the theme and focus of this extraordinary year is mercy. As Pope Francis said in his homily during the Mass of the opening Rite: “To pass through the Holy Door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them.”
Of course, there is tremendous significance to what Pope Francis is trying to accomplish through this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy and to unpack that significance will be the work of an entire year. Today I would just like to offer a couple of points for reflection on the significance and symbolism of the opening of the door.
In Sacred Scripture, doors hold a meaning of transition. In the Old Temple in Jerusalem, only once a year on the Feast of Yom Kippur, the high priest would pass through the veil covering the doorway of the Holy of Holies to enter into the presence of God to offer the sacrifice of atonement. The priest would go from the mundane things of this world, to the most holy presence of God; just so, when we pass through the Holy Door we recognize that there is something other-worldly that we are entering. Traditionally, in the Rite for opening the door, the Pope would knock on the door three times with a silver hammer, which symbolically represents the time Moses struck the rock in the desert so that water would come out to quench the thirst of the people (Numbers 20:6). The Jubilee Year is a time when God pours forth abundant graces to quench the thirst of our souls, and especially during this Extraordinary Jubilee Year to pour forth His Mercy.
As I mentioned, there is a plenary indulgence that is offered to anyone who passes through the Holy Door, but the good news is that you do not have to travel to Rome to get it. Pope Francis has decreed that every Diocese is to have its own set of “Holy Doors,” which will carry the same indulgence as the doors of St. Peter’s. Our diocese has assigned the main doors of the Cathedral to be our Porta Sancta until November 20th 2016, which is the end of the year of mercy. This Year of Mercy is a great time to take advantage of the extra grace that is being offered, to ponder and implore God’s mercy and perhaps take a short trip down to the Cathedral to enter the Porta Sancta.
In Christ through Mary,
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