By Mark Zimmermann
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Opening a special Holy Door at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl began the commemoration of the Catholic Church’s Year of Mercy in the Archdiocese of Washington Dec. 7 with a vigil Mass for the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
"This is the Lord’s gate: Let us enter through it and obtain mercy and forgiveness," the cardinal said after opening the cathedral’s Holy Door.
The next day, Cardinal Wuerl also opened a Holy Door at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception during a Mass marking the basilica’s patronal feast day, a holy day of obligation for Catholics that commemorates Mary as being conceived without sin.
Pope Francis declared an extraordinary Year of Mercy, from Dec. 8 through Nov. 20, 2016, and asked that Holy Doors be opened at cathedrals and churches of special significance around the world, as a sign of God’s mercy.
Holy Doors also are a symbol of Jesus, whose example of love offers people the gateway to eternal life. The act of walking through the Holy Door is meant to represent leaving behind past sins and entering into a new way of living inspired by God’s mercy and Christ’s love.
In his homily at the Cathedral of St. Matthew, Cardinal Wuerl said the Holy Door offers a symbol of God’s invitation to receive his mercy and share it with others.
"Receiving this gift of God’s loving compassion can renew in each one of us that transformation of our hearts, and then sharing of this gift with others can bring Christ’s peace and hope to our families, our communities and our world," the cardinal said.
Cardinal Wuerl noted that Pope Francis has encouraged Catholics to make a pilgrimage through a Holy Door during the Year of Mercy. "By crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others, as the Father has been with us," the pope said.
The cardinal added, "What a magnificent world it would be if all of us were as merciful to others as God is to us. We’re invited to see in that door an entrance to God’s grace."
The cardinal said it was appropriate to begin the Year of Mercy on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, because Mary offers a "sign of hope and a beacon of light" to the world, and a witness of goodness and holiness for people of faith in the jubilee year.
"May the example of Mary’s faith in her Son and in God’s loving mercy be an example for you and me," he said.
In his homily, Cardinal Wuerl said the Year of Mercy offers Catholics a special opportunity to receive God’s gift of mercy through the sacrament of
reconciliation. God is ready to forgive us "over and over again. All we have to do is ask," the cardinal said.
"Once we have experienced that mercy, that forgiveness, that love, (we are) prepared to share it with others," Cardinal Wuerl said. He concluded his homily by saying, "…May our love of Jesus be deepened by our experience of God’s loving and forgiving embrace. And may we, as missionary disciples, try to share that mercy with everyone around us."
After the cardinal’s homily, the prayers offered at the Mass included an intention that "in this Year of Mercy, many will devote their lives in loving service to the poor, the marginalized, the sick and the elderly."
Pope Francis has encouraged Catholics to participate in the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy during the Holy Year, and that is a key focus of the Archdiocese of Washington’s special website at mercy.adw.org, which along with its #EncounterMercy social media campaign also encourages Catholics to receive God’s mercy and share it with others.
At the conclusion of the cathedral Mass, Cardinal Wuerl encouraged people to turn their thoughts to Mary, the Mother of Mercy during the Holy Year, and the congregation sang the Marian anthem, "Salve Regina."
A flier distributed after the Mass noted that to receive a plenary indulgence for passing through a Holy Door during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Catholics must prepare their hearts in prayer; receive the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation within 20 days of passing through the Holy Door, either before or after; pray for the intentions of the pope — perhaps with an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be; and make a profession of faith such as the Apostles Creed or Nicene Creed.
After the cathedral Mass, Sara Blauvelt, director of catechesis for the Archdiocese of Washington, said a variety of catechetical efforts will be offered for children and adults during the Year of Mercy, and they will be promoted at parishes and on the archdiocese’s special website.
"I hope it (the Year of Mercy) opens our eyes and our hearts to the countless gifts of mercy we receive every day," she told the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper.
The year also offers Catholics a special time to "appreciate the beauty of grace of the sacrament of reconciliation, because it helps us be agents of mercy in the world," Blauvelt added.
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Zimmermann is editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.