This Jubilee marks the first in the history of the Catholic Church in which cathedrals and select churches and shrines in dioceses across the world were invited to designate Holy Doors outside of Rome. Pope Francis celebrated this historic gesture by opening the Holy Door at Bangui’s Notre-Dame Cathedral in the Central African Republic. On December 13th, the Third Sunday of Advent, congregations celebrated the Rite of Opening of Holy Doors in local churches.
To promote the visitation of these Holy Doors around the world, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization has compiled a list of the registered Doors of Mercy worldwide. The Holy Doors are prophetic symbols of the mission of mercy of the universal Church embodied in every local parish. For example, even amidst the turmoil in the Middle East, every parish in the Iraqi archdiocese of Erbil will feature a Holy Door. There are Holy Doors covering the globe from the Island of Fiji to a frigid shrine in Alaska.
In 1300, Pope Boniface VIII is inaugurated the first Holy Year in the Catholic Church. Since then, the Catholic Church ordinarily celebrates a Jubilee every 25 years. The last Jubilee Year was in 2000 under the pontificate of Pope Saint John Paul II. Because a full 25 years have not passed, this Jubilee Year of Mercy is considered an “extraordinary” year.
The Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica consists of 16 panels by the Italian sculptor Vico Consorti telling the history of salvation—which is the story of God’s mercy. Cardinal Virgilio Noe, the Master of Ceremony for Pope Blessed Paul VI, likened the Holy Door to “verses of a hymn, which sing of God’s infinite mercy… They enlighten every moment of any situation with the certainty of divine forgiveness.”
The Church’s celebration of the Jubilee and the opening of Holy Doors has developed over time, but the tradition and symbolism find their roots in the Old Testament. Following seven seven-year periods (the number seven representing God’s rest and the Sabbath), the fiftieth was a Year of Jubilee for the Israelites (Lev 25:8-10). This was a time specifically devoted to practicing mercy: debts were forgiven, slaves were set free, and the land was given rest by letting it lay fallow. Another symbol of mercy from the Old Testament includes Moses producing water by striking a rock (Numbers 20:11). We too receive abundant grace through our pursuit of mercy.
Crossing the “threshold” of the door has also featured prominently in the theology of the holy door. In crossing the threshold, we pass over from one state in life to another. As Pope Saint John Paul II encouraged the world to “cross the threshold of hope,” Pope Francis similarly enjoins Christians to cross the threshold of mercy. Liturgists and anthropologists call this transforming experience “liminality,” (limina meaning “threshold”). The same symbolism shapes the tradition of Bishops, who are required to make regular Ad Limina (literally “at the threshold”) visits to Rome to visit the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul and meet with the Pope so they may prayerfully renew their mission of mercy and love for the diocese they shepherd.
Mercy is a truly transformative. We are changed upon entering and exiting the church through the Holy Doors. We encounter mercy in the Body of Christ gathered in the sanctuary, as well as in the confessional, and are then sent out to show mercy. Our mission is mercy.
Jesus is the one who opens the door to all who seek mercy (Luke 11:9). The door testifies that the Church is always more than just a building; it is testimony that Jesus is “the gate,” (John 10:9), and those who enter find mercy and salvation.
For more resources on the Jubilee of Mercy, please visit our Jubilee of Mercy portal.