THE HOLY DOOR

The sign of the Holy Door, so outstanding a sign of the Jubilee, evokes the passage from sin to grace which every Christian is called to accomplish. More…

VIRTUAL JUBILEE 2016

Editorial

Certificate of Participation

People from all around the world can also participate to the Jubilee 2016 virtually and they will be given a Virtual Participation Certificate. We understand that some pilgrims will be unable to make the trip to Rome to participate to the Jubilee, for this reason The-Jubilee2016.com has therefore instituted a Virtual Participation Certificate to allow people from all around the world similar opportunities as regular pilgrims. More…

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THE HOLY DOOR

A SIGN OF JUBILEE

The passage from sin to grace which every Christian is called to accomplish

 

THE RITE OF THE OPENING OF THE DOOR IN TRADITION
According to the description given in 1450 by Giovanni Ruccellai of Viterbo, it was Pope Martin V who in 1423, at the Basilica of Saint John in the Lateran, opened the Holy Door for the first time in the history of the Jubilee. In those days, Holy Years were celebrated every 33 years. In the Vatican Basilica the opening of the Holy Door is first mentioned at Christmas 1499. On that occasion Pope Alexander VI desired the Holy Door to be opened not only at Saint John in the Lateran but also in the other Roman Basilicas: Saint Peter, Saint Mary Major, and Saint Paul outside the Walls. A small door, probably a service door in the left part of the facade of Saint Peter’s Basilica, was then enlarged and turned into a Holy Door, in the same location where it is found today.


Pope Alexander VI also desired the norms of the Ceremoniale of the Holy Year, left vague by his predecessors, to be more clearly defined, particularly the rite of the opening and closing of the Holy Door. The drawing up of the rites was entrusted by the Pope to the bishop Johannes Burckardt, Master of Papal Ceremonies. The Holy Door of the Jubilee of 1500 was opened on Christmas Eve 1499 and was closed on the Solemnity of Epiphany in 1501. The Ritual prepared by Burckardt and approved by the Pope, apart from a few slight changes introduced in 1525 by the Master of Ceremonies Biagio da Cesena, has been substantially followed in all subsequent Jubilees.


RITUAL SEQUENCES IN THE SIXTEENTH-CENTURY CEREMONIES
Opening: the Pope vests in a room of the Apostolic Palace and then, together with the Cardinals, proceeds to the Sistine Chapel, there the sending of the Cardinal Legates for the opening of the other Doors and the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament takes place; the procession makes its way to the Holy Door accompanied by the chanting of the Iubilate Deo or the Veni Creator Spiritus; the Pope says the prayer Deus qui per Moysem; he then takes the hammer, recites the verses Aperite mihi portas iustitiae and strikes the wall covering the Holy Door three times; the Pope returns to his seat and says the prayer Actiones nostras; the masons continue the work of opening the Door to the chanting of Iubilate Deo omnis terra; the Pope genuflects at the threshold of the door; the Pope is the first to pass through the Holy Door as the choir chants the Te Deum laudamus; the procession moves towards the altar for the celebration of Vespers.


Closing: the Pope processes into the Basilica through the Holy Door and presides at Vespers in the Basilica; he then sends the Cardinal Legates charged with closing the Doors of the other Basilicas; a procession follows, first to the relics and then to the Holy Door, accompanied by the singing of appropriate hymns; the relics of the Veronica and the Lance are publicly shown and venerated; the Pope is the last to leave by the Holy Door; he then blesses the stones and the bricks; with the trowel he applies cement to the threshold of the Holy Door and sets in place three bricks and a few gold and silver coins; other bricks are added and then the masons, outside and inside the Basilica, finish the work of closing the Door while the choir chants the hymn Caelestis Urbs Ierusalem; the Pope says the prayer Deus qui in omni loco and ascends to the Loggia of the Basilica where he solemnly imparts the Apostolic Blessing.


THE TRADITIONAL CEREMONIES

In the Jubilees from 1500 to 1950 the rites involving the Holy Door remained practically identical. These rites had certain characteristic elements:


The wall. Fom 1500 to 1975 the Holy Door of the four Roman Basilicas was closed on the outside by a wall, not by a door. Consequently, at the moment of the opening, rather than a door being opened, a wall was taken down: the Pope took down a part of the wall and masons then completed the work demolishing it. There are still vivid memories of the sense of anxiety felt when cement fragments fell just a few inches from Pope Paul VI during the opening of the Holy Door on Christmas Eve 1974.


The hammer. At Christmas 1499 the Pope used a hammer to strike three times the wall covering the Holy Door. Initially the hammer of the masons was used and the strikes were not entirely symbolic. Almost immediately however the hammer become a precious work of art. In 1525 it was made of gold and in 1575 it was of gilded silver with an ivory handle.


The trowel. It was used by the Pope for the rite of closing the Door. The first evidence of its use dates from Christmas 1525. The last Pope to use the trowel was Pius XII, during the closing rite of the Holy Year 1950.


The bricks. The use of bricks in the rite of the closing of the Holy Door is first mentioned in the Jubilee of 1500. The chronicler of the Jubilee of 1423 writes that people show such devotion to the bricks and cement fragments that as soon as the door is uncovered they are carried away by a general frenzy; the pilgrims take them home as holy relics. The rite of the closing the Door composed by Burckardt for Epiphany 1501 calls for two Cardinals to set two small bricks, one of gold and the other of silver, into the wall.


The coins. The custom of placing some coins into the wall of the Holy Door is also recorded from the time of the Jubilee of 1500. Initially the coins were simply set into the cement. From 1575 on they were placed in a small metal box. This custom is still observed.


The Holy water. The use of Holy water was already mentioned in the 1525 Ritual for blessing the rubble and bricks used in the closing of the Holy Door. Later, the Holy water was also used for the opening of the Door: the Pententiaries of the Basilica, once the wall was removed, cleaned both the door-jambs and the threshold with cloths soaked in holy water.


The wooden door. Outside the Basilica the Holy Door was covered by a wall, while inside the wall was covered by a simple wooden door. The door was taken away prior to the removal of the wall and replaced immediately afterwards, since it served as a barrier at night, when visits by pilgrims were not permitted. The simple and unadorned wooden doors, still seen today on the outside of the Holy Doors of Saint John in the Lateran, Saint Mary Major and Saint Paul, were the older doors which until the Jubilee of 1975 were placed in front of the Holy Door inside the Basilica. In the Basilica of Saint Peter, on the other hand, the last wooden door, installed by Pope Benedict XIV in 1748, was replaced on 24 December 1949 by a bronze door blessed by Pope Pius XII immediately after the opening of the Holy Door.


THE CHANGES OF 1975
At Christmas 1975 modifications were made to the rite of closing of the Holy Door. The Pope no longer used the trowel and the bricks to begin the rebuilding of the wall, but simply closed the two sides of the 1950 bronze door. The door, which until that time had been inside the Basilica, thus faced outside, as we still see it today. The wall which once covered the door outside was later built inside the Basilica and on 27 February 1975 the traditional box with coins and the parchment document attesting the closing of the Holy Door was sealed inside it.


THE RITUAL FOR THE GREAT JUBILEE OF 2000

The recognitio of the doors. The opening of the Holy Door is traditionally preceded by the rite of the "Recognitio". This involves making the necessary preparations for the Holy Door to be opened by the Pope. Specifically, the wall of bricks covering the Holy Door inside the Basilica is taken down and the box which had been sealed inside is removed. Taking part in the rite, under the guidance of the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, are the Archpriest of the Basilica, representatives of the Chapter and a Papal Master of Ceremonies. The rite takes place as follows: a moment of prayer in front of the wall covering the Holy Door inside the Basilica; the removal of the box inserted within the Door at the conclusion of the last Jubilee Year, followed by the demolition of the wall itself and the removal of the bricks; a prayer in front of the Altar of the Confession; an examination of the contents of the box and the drawing up of the official report in the Sacristy of the Basilica.


The rite of opening. For the Great Jubilee of 2000 the Holy Father opened the Holy Door at all four Roman Basilicas: on Christmas Eve the Holy Door of Saint Peter’s Basilica; on Christmas Day that of Saint John in the Lateran, the Cathedral of Rome; on 1st January, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, that of Saint Mary Major; and on 18th January, the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, that of Saint Paul’s outside the Walls. Two of the Holy Doors were opened at the beginning of a celebration of the Eucharist (Saint Peter and Saint Mary Major), one (Saint John in the Lateran) at the beginning of a solemn celebration of Vespers, and the last (Saint Paul) at the beginning of the celebration of an Hour of the Liturgy of the Hours.


SIGNIFICANCE AND SPECIAL ELEMENTS

The changes introduced in the closing rite have drawn attention away from the wall and towards the door. The Holy Door has thus been enriched by the profound biblical, theological, liturgical and pastoral significance attached to the door in salvation history and in the history of the Church; it thus becomes one of the most powerful signs of the Jubilee. The words of Pope John Paul II in the Bull Incarnationis Mysterium help us to understand the importance of the Holy Door, so outstanding a sign of the Jubilee, that "evokes the passage from sin to grace which every Christian is called to accomplish."


Jesus said: "I am the door," in order to make it clear that no one can come to the Father except through him. This designation which Jesus applies to himself testifies to the fact that he alone is the Saviour sent by the Father. There is only one way that opens wide the entrance into the life of communion with God: this is Jesus, the one and absolute way to salvation. To him alone can the words of the Psalmist be applied in full truth: "This is the door of the Lord where the just may enter."


To focus on the door is to recall the responsibility of every believer to cross its threshold. To pass through that door means to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; it is to strengthen faith in him in order to live the new life which he has given us. It is a decision which presumes freedom to choose and also the courage to leave something behind, in the knowledge that what is gained is divine life. It is in this spirit that the Pope is the first to pass through the Holy Door. In this way, we see how rich in meaning are the words of the Apostle Peter when he writes that, united to Christ, we too are built, like living stones, into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God.