THE HOLY DOOR CLOSES, BUT THE YEAR OF GRACE CONTINUES
I. The date of the closing (1)
In the Bull of Indiction of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 Incarnationis Mysterium (IM) the Holy Father fixed the dates for the beginning and the closing of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. "I therefore decree that the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 will begin on Christmas Eve 1999, with the opening of the Holy Door in Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican ..." (IM 6).
In view of the importance of the Jubilee marking the two thousandth anniversary of the Birth of the Saviour, it was the Holy Father’s wish that, for the first time in the history of the Jubilee, the Pope should personally open not only the Holy Door of the Vatican Basilica but also those of the other three Patriarchal Basilicas of Rome.
In the Bull Incarnationis Mysterium the Pope also fixed the closing date of the Great Jubilee. The Jubilee experience of grace and mercy is to continue "until the closing of the Holy Year on the day of the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ, 6 January 2001" (IM 6).
The conclusion of the Great Jubilee will thus be marked by the closing of the Holy Door of the Vatican Basilica by the Holy Father on 6 January 2001. This closing will be preceded, on the vigil of the Epiphany, by the closing of the Holy Doors of the other three Roman Basilicas: Saint John Lateran, Saint Paul Outside the Walls and Saint Mary Major.
The Holy Door of the Vatican Basilica, as the first to be opened, signaled the beginning of the Great Jubilee. As the last to be closed, it will mark the end of the Jubilee.
In the Particular Churches too, the Holy Year will conclude on the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, in accordance with the directives issued by the Central Committee for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. (2)
II. the ritual to be used
As was the case last year for the rite of the opening of the Holy Door, the Office for Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff has updated the rite of its closing.
In the work of revision certain basic elements were kept in
mind: the traditional ritual, the noble simplicity of the rites and the
participation of the faithful as called for by the Second Vatican Council, and
the symbol of the door which will remain closed until the next Holy Year.
1. The traditional rite of closing
The first closing of a Holy Door for which historical and ritual documentation exists is that of the Basilica of Saint Peter at the end of the Holy Year of 1500. No sure information is extant from earlier celebrations.
We know from the famous Master of Papal Ceremonies, John Burckard, that the rite of closing of the Holy Door of the Vatican Basilica was celebrated on 6 January 1501.
The ritual, prepared by Burckard and approved by the Pope, was, save for the subsequent introduction of a few minor changes, substantially followed in all later Jubilees.
The following were the ritual sequences at which the Pope presided according to the Cerimoniale of the sixteenth century:
- an entrance procession through the Holy Door and the celebration of Vespers in the Vatican Basilica;
- the sending forth of the Cardinal Legates to close the Holy Doors in the other Basilicas;
- a procession towards the Holy Door with a pause for the exposition and the veneration of relics;
- the departure of the procession from the Basilica. The Pope was the last to pass through the Holy Door;
- the blessing and the sprinkling with holy water of the stones and the bricks in the atrium;
- the use of a trowel to spread the mortar at three points of the sill of the Holy Door and the setting of three bricks together with some gold and silver coins. From 1575 on, the gold and silver coins were placed in an urn set into the door;
- the setting of other bricks by the Major Penitentiary and the other Penitentiaries and the conclusion of the work of closing by the masons, both outside and inside the Basilica, as the choir chanted the hymn Cœlestis Urbs Ierusalem;
- Following the prayer Deus qui in omni loco, the
Pope concluded the rite by intoning the hymn Te Deum and then ascended
to the Loggia of the Blessing, where he imparted the solemn Apostolic
2. The changes of 1975
The sixteenth century ritual, as mentioned above, continued to be used in its essential elements for all the Jubilees until 1975.
At Christmas 1975, the rite of closing the Holy Door was modified. Pope Paul VI no longer commenced the rebuilding of the brick and masonry wall but simply closed the two sides of the bronze door. The door, which until that time had been inside the Basilica, was now placed on the outside, as we see it today. Two months later, the brick and masonry wall, which had until then sealed the door on the outside, was erected on the inside of the Basilica; in it was inserted the traditional box containing coins and the parchment document attesting the closure.
The 1975 changes not only rendered obsolete some typical elements of the traditional Cerimoniale such as the trowel, the mortar, the bricks and the holy water, but also altered the underlying symbolism of the Holy Door: henceforth there was no longer a wall to tear down or rebuild, but a door to open and close. The symbolism of the wall was replaced by that of the door, which was more significant from a social, historical and biblical point of view.
On Christmas Eve 1975, the rite of closing the Holy Door was celebrated in three segments: in the Basilica, in the atrium and in the Square. The rite took place according to the following plan:
- Entrance into the Basilica through the Saint Martha Door and a pause for prayer in front of the Confession of Saint Peter;
- Procession through the Basilica and departure from the Holy Door to the chanting of the Laudes Regiæ. The Holy Father was the last to walk through the Holy Door;
- Opening rites in the atrium: the liturgical greeting; an introduction; invocations addressed to Christ and concluding with the Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison; a collect prayer;
- Silent prayer by the Holy Father kneeling at the threshold of the Holy Door;
- the chant of the antiphon O Clavis David as the Holy Father went from his chair to the Holy Door;
- The Holy Father closed the two sides of the door while reciting the words: Christus heri et hodie, principium et finis; Ipse aperit et nemo claudit; claudit et nemo aperit. Ipsi gloria et imperium per infinita sæcula sæculorum;
- The Pope then intoned the hymn Gloria in excelsis Deo and processed to Saint Peter’s Square for the celebration of Holy Mass.
In 1984 the closing of the Holy Door took place on Easter
Day after the celebration of Mass in Saint Peter’s Square and the
Blessing "urbi et orbi". The rite, from the initial prayer until the
closing of the sides of the door, faithfully followed the 1975 rite.
3. The rite to be used in 2001
The rite of closing the Holy Door will take place in two distinct stages: the actual rite of closing, which will take place on the Solemnity of the Epiphany, and the walling up of the Holy Door on the inside of the four Basilicas, which will take place several weeks later.
1. The rite of closing on the Solemnity of the Epiphany
As mentioned above, on the afternoon of 5 January, the Vigil of the Epiphany, the Holy Doors of the three Patriarchal Basilicas will be closed by Cardinal Legates: Cardinal Camillo Ruini will close the door of Saint John Lateran; Cardinal Roger Etchegaray will close the door of Saint Paul Outside the Walls; and Cardinal Carlo Furno will close the door of Saint Mary Major. The rite of closing will be followed by the celebration of First Vespers of the Epiphany.
The next day, the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, the Holy Father will close the Holy Door of Saint Peter’s Basilica; the ceremony will begin at 9:30 a.m. This closing will mark the conclusion of the Jubilee Year 2000.
The rite of closing the door, while preserving the nobility proper to the Roman rite, differs from the rite of opening celebrated last year by the marked simplicity which characterizes its texts and ritual sequences. The gesture of closing a door does not, of itself, have the same rich significance as that of opening a door.
a) The stages of the rite
The following rites will characterize the closing of the Holy Door in Saint Peter’s Basilica:
The Holy Father vests as usual in the nearby sacristy of the Basilica. The servers, a group of laypersons from the various continents, the deacons and the Cardinal concelebrants gather in the Braccio di Costantino, from which the procession to the Holy Door commences at 9:30 a.m. The Holy Father enters the procession from his own sacristy. During the entrance procession the choir sings Psalm 95 with the antiphon Venite, adoremus eum, quia ipse est Dominus Deus noster. All take their places in the seats arranged in the atrium of the Basilica, in front of the Holy Door.
The Holy Father, after taking his place at the chair, begins the celebration with the sign of the cross, a trinitarian invocation, the liturgical greeting and an introduction. A prayer follows.
He then goes to the Holy Door as the choir sings the antiphon O Clavis David.
The Holy Father ascends the steps, kneels at the threshold and prays in silence. He then rises and silently closes the two sides of the door. Descending, he stands in front of the closed door while the choir and the assembly sing the acclamation: Christus heri et hodie, Finis et Principium; Christus Alpha et Omega. Ipsi gloria in sæcula! The choir and the assembly continue the singing of the hymn as the procession moves to the altar.
Once the procession has reached the front of the altar, the Book of Gospels is enthroned: the deacon places the Book on its throne, the laity from the different continents set their lamps and flowers before the Book of Gospel and the Holy Father incenses the Book.
The choir and the assembly then chant the hymn Gloria in excelsis Deo.
After chanting the Gospel, the deacon chants the proclamation of the date of Easter.
Following the prayer after Communion, the Holy Father briefly introduces the Te Deum, which is chanted by the choir and the assembly.
The celebration of Holy Mass then concludes with the usual solemn Apostolic Blessing.
b) Particular features of the rite and their significance
The following are the most expressive ritual moments in the rite of closing of the Holy Door of the Vatican Basilica, which marks the conclusion of the Jubilee.
The rite begins by giving glory to the Blessed Trinity
- The Holy Father, standing in front of the door, recites a trinitarian invocation, in which he worships and gives thanks to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit for their many gifts. The assembly intervenes each time with the acclamation "Blessed be the Lord for ever". This highlights the fact that the celebration of the Jubilee was meant "to give glory to the Trinity, from whom everything in the world and in history comes and to whom everything returns" (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 55).
Christ the one door to salvation
- The antiphon chanted just before the closing of the door, O Clavis David et sceptrum domus Israel: qui aperis et nemo claudit; claudis et nemo aperit: veni et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris et umbra mortis, an antiphon typical of the Advent season, emphasizes that Christ is the key, the centre and the goal of each human being and of all history. He is the Lord of time, its beginning and its fulfilment, the One who was, who is and who constantly comes to save us (cf. Rev 4:8).
- The acclamation Christus heri et hodie, Finis et principium; Christus Alpha et Omega. Ipsi gloria in sæcula!, sung already at the time of its opening, will be sung once again in front of the closed door. These are the words which the Holy Father has proposed as a synthesis of the Jubilee. They point to the door as the symbol of Christ, the Lord of history, present in his Church until the end of time (cf. Heb 13:8).
- The hymn to Christ, the Lord of the Millennia, composed
for the occasion, will be sung after the closing of the Holy Door, as the
procession makes its way towards the altar. The refrain is the same as that
sung in the rite of opening. The entire hymn emphasizes the eschatological
significance of the door; it is an invitation to await with good works the
time when each of us, at the end of our earthly pilgrimage, will arrive at the
gates of heaven.
The year of grace continues in the Church
- The proclamation of the date of Easter and the holy days which flow from it, chanted after the chanting of the Gospel, takes on a special meaning in the celebration of conclusion of the Holy Year. The Holy Year, the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, draws to a close, but the year of grace proclaimed by the Lord Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth continues in the yearly cycle by which the Church celebrates in the Liturgy the saving work of her Lord, as she waits in joyful hope for his return in glory.
- The various intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful are
meant to call to mind the great events of grace which the Church has
celebrated and experienced during the Jubilee, so that the Jubilee experience
can continue to enrich her journey towards the Kingdom.
The rite ends by praising God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
- The ancient hymn Te Deum, traditionally a part of
the closing rite of the Jubilee in Rome, is chanted by the choir and the
assembly as a summation of the countless moments of grace and prayer,
thanksgiving and praise, which the Church throughout the world constantly
offered to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit, during the course
of the Holy Year.
2) The walling up of the Holy Door
At Christmas 1975, when the Holy Year concluded by the closing of the two sides of the Holy Door rather than the building of the brick and masonry wall, there was a desire not to eliminate completely the traditional rite involving the construction of the brick wall and the setting therein of the urn which contained a number of coins and a parchment document. As mentioned above, this wall was raised two months later on the inside of the Basilica; the Holy Door was thus closed from the outside by the two bronze panels and from the inside by the traditional brick and masonry wall. The center of the wall was marked by the traditional sign of the cross indicating the place where the bronze urn had been placed.
This 1975 rite, replicated exactly in 1984, will again be celebrated in 2001. The rite is scheduled to be carried out by the end of January, 2001.
The stages of the rite
Traditionally, the rite contained the following elements: the reading of the parchment document; the placement in the urn containing the coins and the document; the setting of the box in the wall of the Holy Door, the reading of the "Rogito" attesting the event. In 2001 the rite, together with these elements, will be enriched by an initial prayer to the patron saint of the Basilica, by some songs, the Our Father and a concluding Blessing. The Office for Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff has prepared the rite to be celebrated in the four Basilicas.
The bricks to be walled in the doorway bear an inscription in Latin containing the name of the Pope or the Cardinal Legate who opened and closed the door, as well as the date of the Holy Year. (3)
The urn and its contents
In 1975 four different urns were prepared, one for each of the Holy Doors of the four Basilicas.(4) In 1984, however, the urn, created by Tommaso Gismondi, was the same for each Basilica. For 2001 four different urns have been cast, one for each Basilica. The urns were made by: MATTHIAS MARIA HEIERMANN (Germany) for the Basilica of Saint Peter; KYOSI NAGATANI (Japan) for the Basilica of Saint John Lateran; OTELLO SCATOLINI (Italy) for the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls; and MARIA ANTONIETTA DE MITRIO (Italy) for the Basilica of Saint Mary Major.
Each urn will also contain:
a number of medals: a gold medal of the twenty-third year of the Pontificate of His Holiness Pope John Paul II (2000-2001); twenty three silver medals, corresponding to the twenty three years of the Papacy (1978-2001); and seventeen bronze medals, commemorating the seventeen years which have elapsed since the last Holy Year (1984-2001);(5)
a parchment document, attesting the opening and
closing of the Holy Door and bearing the signatures of those present at the
III. The Holy Door, a memorial of the Jubilee
As Jesus proclaimed "a year of grace from the Lord" in the synagogue of Nazareth, "the eyes of all where fixed on him" (Lk 4:20).
Since Christmas Eve 1999, our eyes too have been fixed on the Pope and on the Holy Door. So too were the eyes of thousands of pilgrims who came to Rome from every part of the world, who with devotion and recollection came forward each day to pass through the Holy Door in order to hear the Word of the Lord and to celebrate the mysteries of salvation in union with the Successor of Peter.
Thanks to the images transmitted by television, the eyes of the Church and the world continue to be fixed on the great experience of the Jubilee.
On 6 January 2001 the Holy Year will conclude and our eyes, the eyes of the pilgrims, and the television cameras will all be fixed on the closed Holy Door. What message will that closed door have for the Church and for us?
The door should be a memorial which accompanies us and precedes us in the pilgrimage of our lives.
The Jubilee indeed is drawing to a close, but the year of grace proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth continues in the life of the Church and in the personal life of each believer.
After the closing, the images sculpted on the sixteen panels of the Holy Door of the Vatican Basilica, now once more clearly visible to all, will testify to the Jubilee experience. They speak of the history of salvation and in particular of a gracious God filled with love for mankind. Man, after his expulsion from Paradise, is a pilgrim in constant pilgrimage in search of a meaning and a goal for his life. But we do not journey alone; the scenes represented on the door remind us that, in Christ who is like us in all things except sin, God has become our traveling companion, to make our pilgrimage a journey of conversion and of return home to the Father.
To look at the door, then, means to look beyond it, to look for a different space and time, another dimension, a goal which lies beyond the limits of this world: it means in other words to seek God, until our pilgrimage leads us to the door of heaven, which Lord himself will open and invite us to enter the wedding feast in his company.
"The eyes of all were fixed on him". After the conclusion of the Holy Year, may we continue to keep our eyes fixed on the door which is Christ and may we deepen communion with the Successor of Peter, lest we be diverted from the journey which leads to heaven’s door.
Vatican City, 20 December 2000
+ Piero Marini
(1) Detailed information on the history and significance of the ritual sequences of the opening and the closing of the Holy Door may be found in the article, "Apertura della Porta Santa. Indicazioni rituali", in L’Osservatore Romano, Wednesday, 15 December 1999, pp. 5-6.
(2) "Rito di chiusura del Grande Giubileo dell’Anno 2000 nelle Chiese particolari", in Benedetto nei secoli il Signore, Edizioni S. Paolo, 1999, pp. 295-321.
(3) The following inscriptions appear on the bricks to be used in 2001:
Basilica of Saint Peter: Ioannes Paulus PP. II Portam Sanctam Patr. Vaticanæ Basilicæ aperuit et clausit, Anno Magni Iubilæi MM;
Basilica of Saint John Lateran: Ioannes Paulus PP. II Portam Sanctam Patr. Lateranensis Bas. aperuit, Camillus Card. Ruini Archipresbyter a latere Legatus clausit, Anni Magni Iubilæi MM;
Basilica of Saint Paul: Ioannes Paulus PP. II Portam Sanctam Patr. S. Paul Bas. aperuit; Rogerus Card. Etchegaray a latere Legatus clausit, Anno Magni Iubilæi MM;
Basilica of Saint Mary Major: Ioannes Paulus PP. II Portam Sanctam Patr. Liberianæ Bas. aperuit, Carolus Card. Furno Archipresbyter a latere Legatus clausit, Anno Magni Iubilæi MM.
(4) Cf. Artisti per l’Anno Santo 1975, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1976, pp.5-8.
(5) In addition to the aforementioned medals and the parchment document, the box of the Holy Door of Saint Peter’s Basilica, in accordance with an ancient custom, will also contain a commemorative medal of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and three gilded bricks bearing the coat of arms of Pope John Paul II.