by Louise Campbell
The gesture that marks the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy is the opening of the Holy Door of the Basilica of St Peter’s in Rome.
On that day, the holy door will become a door of mercy, open to anyone who seeks “the love of a God who consoles, pardons and instils hope” (Misericordiae Vultus, The Face of Mercy).
Pope Francis chose December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to open this door of mercy.
This feast day recalls God’s creative and tender response to human sin and suffering, through the new hope and possibilities embodied in Mary.
This date also recalls the 50th anniversary of the closing of Vatican Council II, a council that “breathed new life into the Church”, calling it to be a “living sign of the Father’s love to the world”.
Pope Francis has invited all local churches to open their own doors of mercy on the third Sunday of Advent, December 13. Cathedrals in each New Zealand diocese, as well as St Mary’s, Motuti, and possibly churches at other sacred sites, will open doors of mercy to serve as foci for pilgrimage throughout the year.
Why open a holy door?
For centuries the act of passing through a holy door has been a ritual expression of conversion. Pilgrims and penitents have passed through such doors, seeking to cross a threshold; moving from slavery to freedom, from sin to grace, from darkness to light. Can you hear the echoes of salvation history?
The thresholds of the door to all our churches mark countless moments of pilgrimage. On any day, people pass through to make a visit, attend a liturgy, seek help or simply enter to look around. Many sacramental rituals begin at the door.
The door is where the priest welcomes parents who bring their child for baptism; catechumens to the rite of acceptance and the bride and groom to their wedding liturgy. The door is where the priest will receive our coffin before the funeral liturgy begins.
The door of the church finds its ultimate meaning in its association with Christ. Jesus is the Door to new life. Pope Francis makes this clear: There is only one way that opens wide the entrance into the life of communion with God: this is Jesus. To him alone can the words of the psalmist be applied in full truth: “This is the door of the Lord where the just may enter.”
As we prepare to create holy doors in our cathedrals and other significant places of mercy, let us pause and reflect that every time we “go to Church” we are making a little pilgrimage, and every act of passing through the door offers a moment of grace and remembrance. Jesus is the Door through which we enter and are so warmly welcomed in. The challenge is to embody the mercy we receive through God’s grace within the Church and take it out to others when we leave.
Louise Campbell is the director of the National Liturgy Office.
by Louise Campbell