Cathedral basilica doors sealed in anticipation of Year of Mercy

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

Consider this fair warning to anyone visiting the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis: Don't try to enter through the center narthex doors between now and mid-December.

They've been sealed shut -- with a thick burgundy-colored rope -- in preparation for the upcoming Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Rice sealed the doors in a ceremony before the 12:05 p.m. Mass Sept. 8, the Blessed Mother's birthday. They will be opened Dec. 13, right after the beginning of the Year of Mercy.

"The most difficult door to open is the door to the human heart," Bishop Rice said in his homily. "We can lock the back door, but we have the key to open it, too. How difficult is it for us to open the door of our hearts to mercy? Let the doors of this cathedral be symbolic of our hearts."

The sealing of the door is a symbolic reminder for Catholics as they prepare for the Year of Mercy that Pope Francis declared earlier this year. The special Holy Year begins with the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, and will conclude Nov. 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

Over the past several weeks, the pope has expanded on the theme of mercy by giving greater capacity to priests worldwide in absolving the sin of abortion, granting confessions by priests of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X as valid, and simplifying the annulment process for divorced Catholics.

Among the traditions of a Jubilee Year is the ceremonial opening of the Holy Door at the four major basilicas in Rome. While most Catholics won't make pilgrimage to Rome in the Year of Mercy, they can visit local pilgrimage sites, including the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. (Visit www.archstl.org/mercy for pilgrimage sites and other resources.) Catholics who visit the pilgrimage sites may obtain the plenary indulgence of the Jubilee Year.

The Holy Doors of pilgrimage sites are significant because they're the signs and instruments of real things unseen -- the graces of the Jubilee Year, said Ed Hogan, director of the pontifical Paul VI Institute and associate professor of systematic theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.

Normally, a door would represent Christ. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, "I am the gate (the door). Whoever enters through me will be safe" (John 10:9). But Hogan stressed that in this case, the sealed doors aren't symbolic of Christ.

"After all, we would never seal shut the door to salvation," Hogan said.

Rather, the sealed doors represent the graces of the plenary indulgence associated with the Year of Mercy. To earn the plenary indulgence, Catholics must have the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin; sacramentally confess their sins; receive the Eucharist; and pray for the intentions of the Holy Father. (To learn more about indulgences, read www.stlouisreview.com/T8H.)

"These graces are not available at every time, in every place, in the same way," Hogan said. "These specific graces, like the door, are only open during a Jubilee Year."

Among those who witnessed the door sealing Sept. 8 at the cathedral basilica was Dutchie Caray, widow of Cubs' broadcaster Harry Caray. In town from Chicago visiting her sister, Rose Marie Turner, Dutchie Caray is a 1947 graduate of Rosati-Kain High School and often visited the cathedral basilica when she was younger.

The Year of Mercy is "absolutely a fantastic year," Caray said. "Our cathedral (in Chicago) also has a closed door -- I go to church all the time up there. It's a really lovely time for Christians."

For a list of pilgrimage sites and more information and resources about the Jubilee Year of Mercy, visit www.archstl.org/mercy.

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