GREEN BAY — After opening the Holy Door of Mercy at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral Dec. 13, Bishop David Ricken said it is now time “to walk across the threshold from selfishness and to claim our freedom in Christ.”
This message came during his homily on the Third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday, which marks the joyful anticipation of Christmas and is often symbolized by rose-colored vestments worn by clergy at Mass.
Joyful expectation filled the Bishop Wycislo Center, where a large crowd gathered prior to Mass, for the Rite of Opening of the Door of Mercy. The rite inaugurated the Year of Mercy in the Diocese of Green Bay, an extraordinary holy year proclaimed by Pope Francis from Dec. 8 through Nov. 20, 2016. The pope asked that Holy Doors be opened at cathedrals and shrines of special significance around the world as a sign of God’s mercy.
Two other Holy Doors designated by Bishop Ricken were blessed and opened in the diocese Dec. 13. The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion and the National Shrine of St. Joseph, located at Old St. Joseph’s Church on the campus of St. Norbert College, held rites of opening for their Holy Doors.
Before walking in procession from the Bishop Wycislo Center to the cathedral entrance, Bishop Ricken offered words of prayer.
“With eyes fixed on Jesus and his merciful face, the Holy Father, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8), inaugurated an Extraordinary Jubilee, thus opening to us and to all men and women the door of God’s mercy,” said Bishop Ricken. “In communion with the universal church, this celebration marks the solemn beginning of the Holy Year in our diocesan church; a prelude to the profound experience of grace and reconciliation that awaits us this year.”
The ceremony also included a reading from Luke’s Gospel, followed by a reading of the Bull of Indiction, written by Pope Francis to introduce the Jubilee of Mercy.
A brief, solemn procession to the Holy Door followed. Led by the diocesan choir, the assembly chanted the Litany of Saints while everyone surrounded the cathedral doors that were draped with tan and white linens and crowned by a sign above the doors identifying them, in Latin, as the Holy Door: Porta Sancta.
Following the litany, Bishop Ricken approached the door and untied a golden rope wrapped around the door handles. “Open the gates of justice. We shall enter and give thanks to the Lord,” he chanted.
While slowly opening the door, Bishop Ricken again chanted. “This is the Lord’s gate. Let us enter through it and obtain mercy and forgiveness.”
Taking the Book of Gospels from Deacon Tom Mahoney, Bishop Ricken paused at the door’s threshold with the book raised above his head and began a solemn procession into the cathedral. He stopped near the holy water font and waited for the altar servers carrying the cross and candles to process into the church. The bishop then rejoined the procession, followed by Deacon Mahoney and Fr. Joseph Dorner, cathedral rector.
After everyone passed through the Holy Door and into the cathedral, Bishop Ricken led a renewal of baptismal promises. Blessing a basin of water, he said, “… grant that we your faithful, sprinkled from this purifying font, may receive the forgiveness of sins, deliverance from all evil, and the grace of your protection.” He then blessed himself and the other ministers before walking up and down the main aisle, blessing everyone with holy water.
The Jubilee Year of Mercy is a time of “jubilation and celebration of the fact that we are receiving the mercy and the forgiveness of our savior Jesus Christ,” Bishop Ricken said in his homily. He noted that Pope Francis expects this to be a “year of great surprises.”
“The reason he can say that is because he knows that the Holy Spirit will take him up on his offer to open the gates of Jerusalem, to open the doors of justice and mercy,” said Bishop Ricken. “He has upped the game and he is calling the entire church by demanding that every bishop and every diocese open a holy door, symbolizing that this diocese is open to receive the mercy of forgiveness, the grace of forgiveness and … to claim our freedom in Christ.”
Bishop Ricken said God promises to everyone who seeks mercy and forgiveness “an ocean, a tsunami of mercy and grace during this year, especially in proportion to all who are asking for that grace.”
By walking across the threshold of the cathedral’s Holy Door, Bishop Ricken told the congregation, “You were saying, ‘Here I am Lord. I am open to receiving your grace. I want to leave the sinner within me behind. Help me to do so.” While everyone might not be worthy, “God has chosen you and he has chosen me to say yes to him at the seat of mercy.”
Following Communion, Bishop Ricken bestowed an apostolic blessing on all in attendance. The blessing included a plenary indulgence, not only for those attending the Mass but for those listening to the Mass on Relevant Radio. It was also announced that plenary indulgences could also be obtained by visiting the two shrines where doors of mercy were designated and passing through the doors.