December 8 marked a historic moment for Catholics in Alaska and around the world. In addition to observing the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the day when Catholics celebrate Mary’s preservation from original sin before her birth, Catholics around the globe gathered to mark the launch of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Called for by Pope Francis, the year began Dec. 8 when the pontiff opened the Holy Doors of St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time during his pontificate. Bishops throughout the world acted likewise, designating and opening Holy Doors in their respective dioceses to ring in the Year of Mercy.
Over the course of the year, the faithful are invited to enter through designated doors to seek God’s mercy, and to become more merciful. When individuals enter a church through established Holy Doors, they may receive a plenary indulgence, provided they fulfill the ordinary requirements of receiving sacramental confession, praying for the Holy Father’s intentions, receiving the Eucharist and being detached from all sin.
In Anchorage, Archbishop Roger Schwietz has made this opportunity available at two parishes: Holy Family Cathedral and Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral. He celebrated the Opening the Holy Doors on Dec. 8 at Holy Family, and on Dec. 13 at Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The unique ceremonies, which took place before the start of Mass, began with a hymn composed for the Year of Mercy that was sung around the world, exclaiming, “Merciful like the Father!” This was followed by singing of God’s enduring mercy. The Gospel parable of the lost sheep was proclaimed, followed by a public reading of Pope Francis’s announcement for the Year of Mercy.
“We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy,” the pope wrote. “It is a wellspring of joy, serenity and peace. Our salvation depends on it… At times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives.” Throughout this year, Christians around the world are called upon to be more effective witnesses to the rich mercy of God.
Following these proclamations on Dec. 8, Archbishop Schwietz and local clergy processed through the entrance of Holy Family Cathedral as the congregation chanted the litany of the saints. The archbishop stood in the doorway saying, “Open the Gates of Justice, we shall enter and give thanks to the Lord.” With that, he opened the doors fully, saying, “This is the Lord’s Gate: Let us enter through it and obtain mercy and forgiveness.” To this, the choir responded, “I am the gate, says the Lord. Whoever enters through me will be saved: he will enter and go out and find pasture.”
After ceremoniously opening the doors, Archbishop Schwietz led the faithful in renewing their baptismal promises, and the Mass began.
Archbishop Schwietz’s Dec. 8 homily focused on the importance of the Year of Mercy in the lives of Catholics. He began by reflecting upon the Feast of the Immaculate Conception 50 years ago — Dec. 8, 1965. It is a date he remembers well. As a seminarian studying in Rome, it was the day Pope Paul VI closed the final session of the Second Vatican Council.
“It was certainly a tremendous occasion of great joy, in which the church looked ahead toward the living out the documents of the Council… and a new fervor of living out our discipleship of the Lord,” Archbishop Schwietz said, adding that it is fitting that Pope Francis inaugurated the Jubilee Year of Mercy 50 years later.
Archbishop Schwietz noted that Pope Francis sees the church as looking forward – much as it did after Vatican II – “toward a new impulse of mercy, [and] of bringing God’s mercy and tenderness to all peoples.”
After reminding those present that God wishes to bring reconciliation and healing, Archbishop Schwietz urged the faithful to heed the pope’s call to extend mercy this year.
“We are called to have a sense of God’s tenderness and then to share that tenderness with one another,” Archbishop Schwietz said. “So let’s pray that this impetus of God’s mercy, forgiveness, tenderness can enlighten the hearts of all of us, can help us to grow in our compassion for each other, and help us to find the peace that God wants for all of us. Let us live this year in God’s peace.”
The Holy Doors at Holy Family and Our Lady of Guadalupe will remain open until Nov. 20.