November 22, 2015

When I started working with Deacon Ed Petak to advance the large  diocesan ceremonies we host here at the Cathedral, I had to learn a whole new language.  Many of the vestments and vessels and other items that are used have Latin names.  Six years into it, I am pretty well versed on the appropriate names for most of these special items.  (Though I am a bit shaky on the singulars vs. the plural.  There is a reason I only lasted one year in Latin at SFA.)

Deacon Ed has been and continues to be a patient teacher.  He always tells me the back story on the items so it makes sense what they are used for and why.  The episcopal  ordination of Bishop Joseph Siegel was a crash course in Church language and practices.  Then-Father Siegel made a great effort to explain the symbolism behind all of the rituals and actions in the ordination liturgy.  All of this edification generously shared by Deacon Ed and Bishop Siegel has greatly enriched my understanding of our liturgies and the deeper meaning behind each action.  I thought I’d pay their kindness forward by providing you some information on the Holy Door.

A few months ago when the concept of opening the Holy Door came up in connection with the Jubilee Year of Mercy, I was unclear on the whole concept.  As per usual, my  approach was to Google it, and the first document I found was Pope Francis’ Papal Bull announcing the Year of Mercy.

A Papal Bull is a document that comes directly from the Holy  Father.  When the Diocese of Joliet was formed in 1948, Pope Pius sent a Bull detailing the whole process--what counties would be combined to form the Diocese, when it would happen and what parish would become the Mother Church of the Diocese.  An artistic rendering of that Papal Bull is in the Heritage of Faith hallway.  (My two favorite parts are how specific it is and the Pope’s title--Servant of the Servants of God.)

In April of this year, Pope Francis wrote a Papal Bull (much of it is in the first person) declaring the Jubilee Year of Mercy and stipulating that it will begin December 8. 2015 with the opening of the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica.

Now if you are like me, you just assumed that all of the doors at the Vatican are holy.  It turns out four different doors in Roman churches have been designated as Holy Doors, or Porta Sancta.  The doors are kept locked and only opened in Jubilee years so that they can be used as a ritual expression of conversion. 

The symbolism is clear--”by crossing the threshold into the Church you move from sin to grace, from slavery to freedom and from darkness to light.”

As the Bull decrees, the other Roman Porta Sancta will be opened on the third Sunday of Advent along with the Holy Doors in all of the Cathedrals of the world—including us!

As a Cathedral, we have been asked to designate a Holy Door.  But before we can open the Holy Door, we must first close it.  For the next three weeks, the center door on  Raynor Avenue will be sealed until Bishop Conlon opens it on December 12 at 5:00 p.m. Mass.  As Pope Francis writes in the Papal Bull, “Thus the Jubilee will be celebrated both in Rome and in the Particular Churches as a visible sign of the Church’s universal communion.”

As I was doing my research, I found a comment from the last opening of the Holy Door in 1999 that struck a chord.  It said: “It is fitting that a Holy Door be situated within a church building.  The door of the Church is the ianua ecclesia--the “silent witness to all of the moments of our lives.”

This week as I was trying to figure out the practicalities around closing our Holy Door, I thought about all of my moments that door has been a silent witness to—our wedding, our childrens’ baptisms, my parents funerals and so many more touchstones.  And I think how often I come to that door overwhelmed, hurrying and with a jumbled mind.  Passing through that door is a crossing.  Ianua ecclesia indeed.

Eileen Hooks Gutierrez

815-722-6653, extension 242















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