GREEN BAY — Pope Francis launched the Holy Year of Mercy Dec. 8 by opening the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica. When he announced the Holy Year observance last April, he described the significance of commencing a Holy Year by opening a holy door.
“I will have the joy of opening the Holy Door on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception,” he wrote in a document titled Misericordiae Vultus (The Face of Mercy). “On that day, the Holy Door will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope.”
According to the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, the use of holy doors dates back to the 15th century.
“A holy door, or porta sancta, has been used … as a ritual expression of conversion,” the federation stated in a document prepared for the Year of Mercy. “Pilgrims and penitents pass through it as a gesture of leaving the past behind and crossing the threshold from sin to grace, from slavery to freedom, and from darkness to light. Often these rituals are associated with prayer, pilgrimage, sacrifice, confession and indulgences.”
The federation noted that sacramental rituals often begin at the church door.
“Here, the priest or deacon welcomes the parents as they bring their child for baptism; here, he greets the bride and groom as they begin the wedding liturgy; here, he greets the catechumens at the Rite of Acceptance; and, finally, the priest greets the casket at the beginning of the funeral liturgy,” the federation explained.
During a general audience in November, Pope Francis dedicated his teaching period to the symbol of the holy door.
“If the door of God’s mercy is always open, the doors of our churches, our love, our communities, our parishes, our institutions, our dioceses also must be open so that we all can go out to bring God’s mercy” to others, he said.
Pope Francis invited dioceses around the world to designate at least one holy door for local faithful to enter.
“… in every local church, at the cathedral — the mother church of the faithful in any particular area — or, alternatively, at the co-cathedral or another church of special significance, a Door of Mercy will be opened for the duration of the Holy Year,” Pope Francis announced in Misericordiae Vultus. “Thus the jubilee will be celebrated both in Rome and in the particular churches as a visible sign of the church’s universal communion.”
The pope said that holy doors could also be added to local shrines frequented by pilgrims, “since visits to these holy sites are so often grace-filled moments.”
In the Diocese of Green Bay, Bishop David Ricken will inaugurate the Holy Year at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral on Dec. 13 by opening the designated holy door, which is located at the entrance to the Bishop Wycislo Center. The ceremony will take place before the 9 a.m. Mass.
Bishop Ricken has also designated two shrines as sites to visit for the Holy Year: the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion and the Shrine of St. Joseph, located at St. Norbert College Parish in De Pere.
The shrine in Champion had two doors constructed by Frontier Custom Cabinets of Luxemburg. The doors, made of elder wood, were installed on Dec. 5. They will be blessed and opened during a celebratory rite Dec. 13 before the 11 a.m. Mass by Father of Mercy Peter Stryker, shrine rector.
The holy door at Old St. Joseph Church will also be blessed and opened on Dec. 13.