Holy Doors close November 20 as Year of Mercy draws to an end

By Becky Aubut
Anchor Staff

EAST SANDWICH, Mass. — Pope Francis directed cathedrals around the world to open their Holy Doors so that symbolic pilgrimages could be experienced by the faithful without needing to go to Rome. When he opened the Holy Door at Rome’s Basilica of St. John Lateran last December, the pope said, “It begins a time of great forgiveness. It is the Jubilee of Mercy.” He added, “God does not love rigidity. He is tender.”

These doors are symbolic of God’s mercy. The jubilee is “extraordinary” in the sense that it does not follow the usual Catholic practice of having jubilee years at 25-year intervals. This jubilee coincides with the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, which sought to proclaim God’s love to modern society.

Pope Francis granted bishops the discretion to designate other churches as having Holy Doors, for the sake of those who could not get to their cathedral. In additional to St. Mary’s Cathedral on Spring Street in Fall River, the other churches in the Fall River Diocese with designated Holy Doors are St. Mary’s Parish in Taunton; the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro; Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in New Bedford; Corpus Christi Parish in East Sandwich; and Holy Trinity Parish in West Harwich.

The pilgrims who enter these churches through the Holy Doors are making a gesture which represents a motion in their lives from sin to grace. In his decree for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, the pope said, “By crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us.” The Jubilee Indulgence is granted to those passing through a Holy Door or performing one of the Spiritual or Corporal Works of Mercy (subject to the normal conditions for indulgences).

From a letter written by Pope Francis with regards to the plenary indulgence to be gained during the Jubilee Year of Mercy: “My thought first of all goes to all the faithful who, whether in individual dioceses or as pilgrims to Rome, will experience the grace of the jubilee. I wish that the Jubilee Indulgence may reach each one as a genuine experience of God’s mercy, which comes to meet each person in the face of the Father Who welcomes and forgives, forgetting completely the sin committed.” To receive a plenary indulgence during the Year of Mercy, one must receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation; go through one of the Holy Doors; attend Mass with a reflection on mercy; make a profession of faith with a prayer for the pope and for the intentions that he bears in his heart for the good of the Church and of the entire world.

Father George Harrison, pastor of Corpus Christi Parish in East Sandwich, celebrated the opening of his Holy Door on the feast of the Christ the King last December when Bishop Emeritus George W. Coleman came to the Mass and officially opened the door.

“We have a beautifully framed door for the Year of Mercy. Two parishioners, two men of the parish, did a beautiful job,” said Father Harrison. Over the door are the words, “Porta Sancta,” meaning Holy Door, and a picture of the prodigal son is above that: “We just thought if we were going to have a Holy Door, it was going to be well designated as such, and look very special.” 

The parish offers perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, which means the church is open 24-hours day, seven days a week, making the Holy Door available regardless of anyone’s schedule.

“The Holy Door opens from the outside and into the hallway where you land in front of the adoration chapel on your left and the confessional on your right,” said Father Harrison. “We do have many, many Confessions here on Wednesday and Friday nights, Saturday afternoons and a half hour before every Mass. It makes it convenient for people to get the plenary indulgence.

“Our people have embraced it with great enthusiasm. They know they can gain a plenary indulgence for themselves or for a deceased person; one a day, every day, so I see people in the adoration chapel coming through that door, coming into the chapel and they pray the intentions of the Holy Father. People do come; they travel here.”

Having a radio spot play regularly every month offering an invitation to visit the parish and the Holy Door during the Year of Mercy helped keep the Holy Door fresh in people’s minds; “That did bring people along to the area to attend Mass and go through the Holy Door,” said Father Harrison.

This past March, when Pope Francis spoke of having parishes open their doors to have a weekend of Confessions, Father Harrison decided on his own twist: “We have so many Confessions here [already], we decided to do something a little different. We put an ad on the radio, and in the Cape Cod Times with picture of Pope Francis, and we said, ‘This Saturday and Sunday, no appointment necessary, come and chat with a priest.’ I was available for that whole weekend, and people did respond. It could be about anything they wanted to bring up, and I was truly moved by the grace of God and the people who did come. His mercy was evident.”

Holy Doors are Sacramental outward signs that point us to a larger Spiritual truth. In this case, the Holy Doors spread throughout the world are beacons to the faithful, beckoning us to come, to walk across the threshold into a new awareness, a metanoia — change in one’s way of life resulting from penitence or Spiritual conversion — and to create a commitment to giving and receiving mercy. 

Holy Doors are outward signs of God’s invitation, thresholds that beckon new life, and passages that point toward God’s promise that no one who comes to Him with a contrite heart and an open spirit will leave unforgiven, untouched or unloved. The fact that Pope Francis has made it possible for each diocese to have a Holy Door is a natural extension of the amazing grace God extends to His people: bountiful and accessible.

Father William Casey will be coming to Corpus Christi Parish October 8 for a parish mission where he will preach at all the weekend Masses, be available for Confessions and speak on God’s mercy. When the Year of Mercy ends November 20, the feast of Christ the King, Bishop Emeritus Coleman will be coming to officially give his blessing to wrap up the Year of Mercy, and to close the Holy Door. 

“I’ve been very moved tremendously by the people who have come and really wanted to go to Confession. I’ve been really touched by people who for many years have been carrying burdens of one kind or another, and the response was just tremendous,” said Father Harrison. 

He added, “We have to remember that God’s love is unconditional, but His mercy is conditional because you have to receive it. You have to turn away from your past and you have to repent, accept, and then get up and follow. The grace of God, it’s been extraordinary this whole year long.”

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