In his first General Audience during the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis explained why he has called for this extraordinary jubilee year. “Yesterday, I opened here, in Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Holy Door of the Jubilee of Mercy, after having opened it already in the Cathedral of Bangui in the Central African Republic,” during his recent trip to Africa, the pope recalled.
When he opened the especially designated “holy door” at St. Peter’s, Pope Francis invoked the customary prayer from the Book of Psalms, “Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the Lord.” (Psalm 118:19.) Similar “holy doors” will be dedicated and ritually cast open in cathedrals and basilicas all over the world—including your diocese.
Each of these holy doors presents us with an opening into the immensity of God’s mercy. Indeed, every church door bears that promise—some of them are inscribed with the phrase, “Domus Dei et Porta Coeli” (“The house of God and the Gateway to Heaven”), an assurance that if we cross that threshold, it will be a portal to the Transcendent.
So what is different during the Jubilee Year? “This year,” Pope Francis told his audience, “we must open our hearts so that this love, this joy of God fills all of us with this mercy.”
The “gates of righteousness” prayer from Psalm 118 intoned in opening the holy door is from the thanksgiving liturgy in ancient Israel when the king and the people filed in procession into the Temple precincts. The language derives specifically from the dialogue with the priests at the Temple gates as one enters to offer the thanksgiving sacrifice.
The emphasis on God’s infinite mercy is unmistakable:
O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: because his mercy endureth forever.
Let Israel now say, that his mercy endureth forever.
Let the house of Aaron now say, that his mercy endureth forever.
Let them now that fear the Lord say, that his mercy endureth forever.
(Psalm 118:1-4. Also, 118:29.)
The nation, the royal family, the faithful people of God must all open their hearts to God’s mercy, says the psalmist, in words echoed by Pope Francis: “Especially in these our times, in which forgiveness is a rare guest in the ambits of human life, the call to mercy is more urgent, and this in every place: in society, in institutions, in work and also in the family.”
The icon of the holy door is a challenge and an invitation for us to open a door to God, if we have shut him out of our lives. It is a challenge and an invitation to praise God for his mercy: “for thou hast heard me, and art become my salvation.” (Psalm 119:21.)
For many, it will be a challenge and an invitation to come in from the cold, like the Prodigal Son into the embrace of the father: “It is necessary to recognize ourselves sinners, to reinforce in us the certainty of Divine Mercy. ‘Lord, I am a sinner; come with your mercy’,” says Pope Francis.
The holy door beckons: “This gate of the Lord, into which the righteous shall enter.” (Psalm 119:20.) Let us not pass over the threshold of mercy. Let us enter.