Louise Campbell, Director, National Liturgy Office, NZ Catholic Bishops Conference
The specific 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, usually bricked up, 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, MV 3.
Pope Francis chose the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 8 December 2015, as the day to open this Door of Mercy. The day recalls God’s creative and tender response to human sin and suffering through new hope and possibilities embodied in Mary.
This date also recalls the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, a council that ‘breathed new life into the Church’ calling it to be a ‘living sign of the Father’s love to the world’ (MV 4).
Pope Francis has invited local churches around the world to open their own Door of Mercy, on the third Sunday of Advent, 13 December 2015. Cathedrals in each diocese of Aotearoa-New Zealand, St Mary’s Church Motuti in the Hokianga, and churches in other sacred sites in our country, will open a particular Door of Mercy to serve as a focus for pilgrimage throughout the whole Year of Mercy.
For centuries, the act of passing through a holy door has been used as a ritual expression of conversion. Pilgrims and penitents have passed through such doors, to cross a threshold in their lives; moving from slavery to freedom, from sin to grace, from darkness to light.
People pass through the door to make a visit, attend a liturgy, seek help or simply enter to look around. Many sacramental rituals begin at the door – baptism, marriage, rite of acceptance.
The Church door finds ultimate meaning in its association with Christ. Jesus is the Door to new life, through which we are warmly welcomed. Pope Francis says, 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’ (Ps 118:20).
As we prepare to create Holy Doors in Aotearoa New Zealand, let us reflect every time we ‘go to Church’ we are making a pilgrimage. Every act of passing through the door offers a moment of grace and remembrance. 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.