Cathedral Holy Doors


On December 8, Bishop Strickland officially opened the Holy Door at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Tyler. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, passing through a Holy Door is part of the pilgrimage that all Catholics are encouraged to make, whether during a trip to Rome or a trip to the Cathedral their own dioceses. These pilgrimages come with special graces, and they allow each of us to share in the many blessings of the Holy Year.

A pilgrimage is not just a trip to see a church or other holy place.  It is intended to be a spiritual journey.  When Jesus and his family made their regular journey from Nazareth up to Jerusalem to celebrate the religious festivals, they would sing the Psalms as they walked along the way.  In our highly mobile society, travel becomes less a journey and more simply a short span of time from here to there.  Some preparation for a pilgrimage is very important, if it is to be a real spiritual journey.

Traveling in a spirit of prayer fosters this sense of the journey to the Cathedral to be different than just another trip to Tyler.  For parishes or missions making the pilgrimage together, some time of community prayer beyond just individual prayer is desirable.  Perhaps a prayer vigil the evening before the pilgrimage or a Holy Hour in the parish or mission.  It would be good to include the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel as well of the Psalms of Mercy (25, 41, 42, 43, 51,57,92, 103, 119 and 136).

One needs to be in a state of grace to gain an indulgence.  To gain an indulgence one also needs to go to confession and receive Holy Communion within about 20 days before or after the event.  So, the opportunity for Confession prior to the journey is a very helpful part of the Spiritual preparation for a pilgrimage.  This could be done in connection with the prayer vigil, or by some other time for people that will be making the pilgrimage. Learn more about the Jubilee Indulgence here.

En route on the journey, praying a Rosary or a Chaplet of Divine Mercy would likely be helpful to the pilgrims.  Perhaps one could be done on the journey there and one on the journey home.  It also could be helpful to have either some spiritual music or a recording of a spiritual talk to help differentiate the journey from ‘just another trip’.

Generally pilgrims should time their travel for arrival at the holy place.  It is better to stop and eat after visiting the holy place then stopping to eat (or shop) beforehand.  The journey home can either be planned to be reflective, or more of a trip.  (In the Mass, the Entrance procession is a major procession, but leaving is simply utilitarian.)  This should be considered by those planning the pilgrimage so people will know what to expect.

If the pilgrimage is to the Cathedral, entering into the Cathedral through the Holy Door is an act symbolizing entering into the mercy of God that is Jesus Christ offered to us through his bride the Church in the sacraments.  “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord” comes to mind as one climbs the steps to the noble doors.

The Significance of the Holy Door

Since the year 1300 when Pope Boniface VIII declared the first Holy Year, the Catholic Church has regularly celebrated “Holy Years,” usually every twenty-five years (at least since 1470), except for special circumstances, like in 1983 when a Holy Year was declared to mark the 1950th anniversary of the death and resurrection of our Lord.  A major aspect of the Holy Year has been that of pilgrimage to Rome to make reparation for sin and to renew the conversion of one’s life.

A very important symbolic act performed by each pilgrim has been to pass through the Holy Door.  Christ identified Himself as “the door.”  In his bull Incarnationis Mysterium proclaiming this Holy Year, Pope John Paul II stated that the Holy Door “…evokes the passage from sin to grace which every Christian is called to accomplish.  Jesus said, ‘I am the door’ (John 10:7) 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 Savior sent by the Father.  There is only one way that opens wide the entrance into this 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’ (Psalm 118:20).”

Therefore to pass through the door from the outside of St. Peter’s into the basilica is to pass from this world into the presence of God, just as in the old Temple of Jerusalem, the High Priest on the Feast of Yom Kippur passed through the veil covering the doorway of the Holy of Holies to enter into the presence of God to offer the sacrifice of atonement.   Moreover, to pass through the door is to confess with firm conviction that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Lord, and the Savior who suffered, died, and rose for our salvation.  With great courage, a person freely decides to cross the threshold leaving behind the kingdom of this world so as to enter the new life of grace of the Kingdom of God.

In Misericordiae Vultus, the bull announcing the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis offers something new: a bishop has permission to designate a door in his diocese as a Holy Door.

“Every local church,” Pope Francis declares, “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. At the discretion of the local ordinary, a similar door may be opened at any shrine frequented by large groups of pilgrims, since visits to these holy sites are so often grace-filled moments, as people discover a path to conversion. Every Particular Church, therefore, will be directly involved in living out this Holy Year as an extraordinary moment of grace and spiritual renewal. Thus the Jubilee will be celebrated both in Rome and in the Particular Churches as a visible sign of the Church’s universal communion.”

In opening the door, the Holy Father has traditionally struck the door three times with a silver hammer (although this year Pope John Paul II pushed three times on the door).  The striking of the door also has symbolic meaning:  Moses struck the rock so that water would pour out miraculously to quench the thirst of the people (Numbers 20:6ff); the Holy Year is a time when God pours forth abundant graces to quench the thirst of our souls.  God struck the earth to free St. Paul and Silas from prison, which resulted in the jailer and his family asking for baptism (Acts 16:25ff); God has struck our hearts opening them to His graces, beginning with the saving grace of Baptism.  As our Lord hung upon the cross, the soldier struck His most Sacred Heart, and out flowed blood and water, symbols of the Holy Eucharist and Baptism (John 19:31f) which nourish each of our souls.  In all, the striking of the door symbolizes the release of graces, flowing abundantly to the faithful.

Moreover, when the door opens, the obstacles of passage to our Lord are removed.  During the Holy Year, we hope and pray that the obstacles of personal weakness, temptation, and sin will be removed so that we will have a holy union with our Lord.

As we consider the holy door and particularly the recent Holy Year, our Lord stands at the door of our hearts knocking.  We must open our hearts to Him and cross the threshold of hope, striving for holiness.

– Courtesy of