I recently visited the Cathedral of St. Paul and was able to walk through the “Porta Sancta”, the “Holy Door”. Even though I am already utterly convinced of God’s amazing love and mercy for me, it was a great experience to actually walk through the door as a physical reminder of God’s mercy.
As human beings we have bodies and souls, and the two are very closely connected. And just as we “experience” the world with our bodies, so too we can experience God with our bodies. This is what the sacraments do: they give invisible grace through a physical reality—like water, oil, or bread and wine. So also the experience of walking through the holy door at the cathedral is a “sacramental” experience, i.e. the physical helps make present, or experiential, the spiritual reality of God’s mercy.
In other words, the door is a symbol of entering into and receiving God’s mercy. I can certainly pray to receive this, and indeed do receive God’s mercy through prayer, but the physical walking through an actual door helps a person experience God in a physical way, and the physical draws us deeper into the spiritual.
I encourage everyone to make a pilgrimage to the Cathedral or Basilica during this Year of Mercy.
There is a special Plenary Indulgence that may be obtained when an individual makes a pilgrimage to one of these holy doors. In order to obtain the indulgence, the following conditions must be fulfilled:
- Go to confession (should be done before walking through the Holy Door)
- Receive Holy Communion (may be within several days before or after receiving the indulgence)
- Pray for the Pope’s intentions (such as an Our Father)
- Have the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin
- Walk through the Holy Door
This is how an indulgence is defined in the Code of Canon Law (can. 992) and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 1471): “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the actions of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints”.
An indulgence can always be applied either to oneself or to the souls of the deceased, but they cannot be applied to other persons living on earth.
May God abundantly bless you during this Year of Mercy!
-Fr. Nick VanDenBroeke
Fr. VanDenBroeke is Associate Pastor of Divine Mercy Catholic Church in Faribault, MN.