The Year of Mercy began on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception with Pope Francis opening the Holy Door at St Peter’s Basilica. This gesture will be repeated in dioceses across England and Wales, and the world on the 3rd Sunday of Advent.

An open door is a potent symbol.A place where we feel welcome or we make people welcome. It can open when do not expect it to; of some it may appear shut for years. For catechumens their faith story will be a series of coming through doors, turns their life has taken when God has opened the door for them and renewed their pathway. Sometimes when we pass through a doorway the way ahead is clear, other times we may encounter further door ways and uncertainty.

Standing on the threshold, waiting to come through the doorway is a key image in the Rite of Acceptance. Reflecting on what we offer people who come to us it strikes that in the Rite we ask a simple question of the candidates but offer them in response an abundance: someone to walk alongside them, the sign of the cross by which Christ strengthens them and shows his love for them, the invitation to listen with us to God’s word.

It is so important following the Rite of Acceptance to offer some mystagogical catechesis – reflection on their experience of celebrating the Rite and where they Christ in that experience. From times in formation when we have celebrated a form of the rite I am aware that waiting outside can be a very odd mix of emotions – anticipation yes, but also those school memories of standing outside the headmaster’s office… It reminds me that my first experience of the rite in a parish 30 years ago was the group knocking on the closed door of the church. Sometimes in our desire to dramatise we miss the point – in the Rite the doors are open – a sign of how the Church should be. The candidates wait outside because their place is special, today they begin a new stage in their relationship and we desire to fulfil our role in that relationship.

For the team

  • How many doorways, real or metaphorical, does a person need to cross before they reach the RCIA group. What sort of doors are they: automatic or well-oiled, attractive or dusty, only open at times that suit us, slightly creaky and needing a good push, open with a warm smile on the other side.

For groups

  • As we begin this year of Luke try to note all the times that thresholds are crossed. Who welcomes whom – and what happens. It begins with the angel Gabriel and the welcome of both Zechariah and Mary is apprehensive – but great things happen. Near the end two disciples invite Jesus to share a meal with them and they recognise him in the breaking of bread.

From Pope Francis

This Extraordinary Year is itself a gift of grace.  To pass through the Holy Door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them.  It is he who seeks us!  It is he who comes to encounter us!  This will be a year in which we grow ever more convinced of God’s mercy.  How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy.  But that is the truth.  We have to put mercy before judgment, and in any event God’s judgement will always be in the light of his mercy.  In passing through the Holy Door, then, may we feel that we ourselves are part of this mystery of loveof tenderness.  Let us set aside all fear and dread, for these do not befit men and women who are loved.  Instead, let us experience the joy of encountering that grace which transforms all things. [From Homily, 8 December]