On September 13, 2015 we ended Mass by processing to the most western doors of the Basilica’s façade. Covering that door was an image of the Divine Mercy. We paused and prayed for God’s mercy on all of us and declared the doors closed until December 13, 2015 when we opened these Holy Doors in celebration of the Holy Year of Mercy.
The opening of the Holy Doors was a beautiful celebration. After reading from the Proclamation of the Holy Year of Jubilee by Pope Francis we processed to the Holy Doors while singing the Veni Creator Spiritus. Fr. Bauer pronounced the prescribed Psalm verses and opened the Holy Doors. Immediately the Te Deum was sung and nearly everyone in attendance entered The Basilica through our Holy Doors.
At least since the mid-15th C. the major Basilicas in Rome (St. Peter, St. John Lateran, St. Paul-outside-the-Walls and St. Mary Major) have had a designated Holy Door. In order to avail the spiritual benefits of a Holy Door to the entire church Pope Francis has extended this privilege to all Cathedral churches. Thus, for the first time in the history of The Basilica of Saint Mary we have been granted the privilege of a Holy Door.
Doors mark thresholds and provide entryways. Some doors lead to great beauty. I marvel at the faces of our guest who walk through the Basilica doors for the first time. Some doors lead to freedom. Just think of refugees who walk to freedom through the doors that lead into our country. Some doors lead to sanctuary. Illegal immigrants, e.g. walk through church doors in the hope of finding sanctuary.
Doors can also present barriers and blockades. The gates to our church sanctuaries were intended to keep the non-ordained out. The gates we have at our boarders are intended to keep unwanted people out of the country. And gated communities take their name from the gates that allow certain people in and keep others out.
It is this human experience of doors that inspired our Judeo-Christian experience of the gates to Paradise and the gates to Hell. Our hope and prayer is to enter the former which lead to eternal bliss and avoid the latter as those lead to eternal damnation.
The custom of Holy Doors grew out of our human and spiritual experience of doors. When closed, they symbolize our sinful human condition epitomized by the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. When opened, they symbolize how Jesus opened the gates to Paradise for us by virtue for his life, death and resurrection. In His own words: "I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture." (John 10:9)
There is nothing magic about passing through these doors rather it is a profoundly symbolic act which embodies our faith and our commitment to Christ. When we walk through these doors we acknowledge that Christ is indeed the door to paradise. At the same time we commit ourselves to living according to the Gospel and to open doors to others as Christ has opened the Doors to Paradise for us.
In a sense, the Jubilee Year of Mercy is all about opening doors. The Holy Doors in all the catehdrals thoughout the world are most important, however they are also symbolic of many other doors which need to be opened. As Pope Francis opened the Holy Doors of Mercy he asked that in response all of us open the doors to our hearts, the doors to our homes, the doors to our country, the doors to our churches. Only when we are willing to do so will his great wish for the Year of Jubilee be realized: a Revolution of Tenderness.