Imagine an entire year in which the fields were to rest, though you could eat whatever grew wild in them. The harvest of the year before would miraculously expand to provide for your needs until the next harvest after the year of rest had been planted and reaped. If someone had sold an inheritance item or property due to hard times, it was to return to his ownership during this year. If debts were owed, they were to be forgiven. If someone had indentured himself as a servant, he was to go free during this year. During this year one was also expected to show abundant mercy and kindness to kinsman and strangers alike. Opening your home and giving of your wealth to those in need without expecting repayment or personal gain for doing so was the rule rather than the exception.
Sounds a bit surreal doesn’t it?
The Jubilee Year of Mercy
What I have just described is the Jubilee Year from Leviticus chapter 25 in the Bible. The Jubilee Year happened every 50 years (once in a lifetime perhaps) and was a year of mercy, forgiveness and grace. A year of rest and preparation for the work, projects, and prosperity that lay ahead.
In the 1500s, it is said that Jubilee Years were celebrated every 33 years, in honor of the years of Jesus’ earthly life. In modern day history, however, many Catholic cathedrals celebrate a Jubilee every 25 years, And in March of 2015, Pope Francis declared a special Year of Mercy, a Jubilee Year, and decided that all the holy doors in the world should be opened from December 12, 2015 through November 20, 2016. He asked his council to organize this
in order that it may come to life as a new step on the Church’s journey in her mission to bring the Gospel of mercy to each person.
The Holy Doors
The 2016 Jubilee Year of Mercy and the opening of the Holy Doors first came to my attention when I was invited to be the guest of Québec Region for the opening of the Holy Door at Notre-Dame de Québec. This particular Holy Door was made by the bronze artist Jules Lasalle, and is the only one of the seven existing Holy Doors that is located outside of Europe.
I fell in love with Québec City almost immediately, and though I was excited to be part of such a historical event, pleased to accept the prestigious media badge, and eager to learn whatever symbolic lessons my Lord had prepared for me through this experience, I was a bit unsure about attending my very first mass.
The Holy Door Ceremony
On December 12, 2015, I stood with the other members of the press as Cardinal Gerald C. Lacroix greeted the waiting crowds outside of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec. After a short speech he led the procession up to the side chapel where the Holy Door had been installed. The side chapel was both a practical and symbolic location, we had been told during our private tour earlier that day, symbolizing the straight and narrow path to Christ, rather than the large broad open entrance of the cathedral. Once at the door, the Cardinal knocked symbolizing the Lord’s knocking at our own heart’s doors.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:19-20
And the door was opened by a priest from the inside. The Cardinal knelt, prayed, and crossed the threshold, symbolizing as my friend Kelly put it “passing through the door to new life in Christ.”
Next followed the service and, since it was in French, I sat down to enjoy the organ’s 5,432 pipes and the choir’s singing from somewhere up above and observe what I could the ritual of the mass, looking for what I might learn. The cathedral holds approximately 800 and I daresay there were over 1,000 in attendance.
Three things stood out to me about the service:
- The incense lamp symbolizing the prayers of the saint – I had read about this in the Old Testament, but never seen it in real life. Interestingly enough the Sanctuary Lamp (see photo below) is the oldest piece in this Cathedral. It was given to the first Bishop Laval as a gift from King Louis XIV of France, and is the only original piece not destroyed in the various attacks and fires of the building’s nearly 400 year old history.
- The Baldachin above the main altar is the gold plated and gold painted work of Jean Baillarge, and is an ornate and glorious representation of the victorious risen Christ, standing triumphant as King of all the World with the cross of death in his hand, supported not from the ground by pillars, but from the air by angels – where a crucifix is typically the decoration of choice for this space, this was a splendid and unusual site. It made my heart want to sing!
- At the end of the service, the Cardinal broke tradition by doing something that had not been done to date at the opening of a Holy Door. He closed the service by exiting out through the Holy Door, symbolic of the Lord going out to find the lost sheep and bring them back in to the fold, and of us as Christians going out to take the Lord’s mercy to those who need it and show them the path to come back to him, the Door of Life.
Christ said in John 10:7-9
Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
So, What What Did the Holy Door Experience Teach Me?
While the Holy Door at Notre-Dame de Québec is certainly lovely, it is holy not in what it is, or what it is made of, but rather in what it represents. I’ve mentioned several symbolic lessons already, but the experience made me want to research more about the open doors mentioned in the Scriptures. Here I have listed a few and underlined the result or resulting action of the open door…
They arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life. Acts 5:18-20 ESV
And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:27
But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. 1 Corinthians 16:8-10
At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison. Colossians 4:3
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Revelation 3:7-8
As an adopted child of God, the experience of witnessing the ceremony in all of it’s ritual and finery, and the experience of walking through the Holy Door, for me personally, meant accepting God’s mercy and his plan for my future. Accepting his mercy for the task that he has given to act justly, love (and show) mercy and walk humbly with him on the journey. Accepting his bountiful blessings as he expands my influence. Accepting his direction for the future, letting him drive.
What does the Jubilee Year of Mercy mean for you?
- Do you need to come to Christ as the Door of Life?
- Do you need to break out of the prison that has kept your tongue from sharing his Words of Life and declaring his goodness to those he wants you to tell?
- Do you need to boldly walk through the door of opportunity for the work of ministry that he has laid out for you?
- Do you have an open door of influence through which to proclaim his name?
In this year of Mercy and celebration, the God of Mercy is holding before YOU an Open Door. I don’t know what your door is. But I have a feeling you do. You must choose whether you will walk through it and embrace the Jubilee that awaits.
And the wonderful ending of the story is that God’s mercy will not end when the Jubilee Year of Mercy ends or when the Holy Doors are sealed again on November 30, 2016. His mercy does not come only once every 25 years. His mercy endures for ever!
O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever. Psalm 118:1
Over 2,000 people passed through the Holy Door at the Basilica Notre-Dame de Québec in Québec City, Canada during the first 24 hours after the opening ceremony. The Holy Door will be open Monday to Friday: 8:45 AM to 3:45 PM and Saturday and Sunday: 8:45 AM to 4:45 PM through November 30, 2016. Find out more at www.notre-dame-de-quebec.org