Bishop Mark opened the Holy Door for the Jubilee of Mercy

Bishop Mark opened the Holy Door for the Jubilee of Mercy in the Cathedral on Guadete Sunday, 13th December, before a packed congregation from many parishes. The door had been beautifully prepared by Adrian Wardle and Cathedral parishioners and decorated with pink carnations. After an opening liturgy and Gospel reading, Bishop Mark pushed open the Holy Door. (image 1)

He was the first to cross the threshold and after a moment for quiet prayer and reflection, held the Gospel Book aloft as a fanfare was sounded on the organ (image 2)

The procession then followed to the strains of much-loved hymn, All people that on earth do dwell, with the whole congregation crossing the threshold and processing into the Cathedral where Mass began with a remembrance of our baptism and the sprinkling of the people with blessed water.

Before the final blessing, an image of Divine Mercy was blessed to go into the homes of the sick and housebound so that they too can share in the graces of this Jubilee Year. (image 3)

Finally, a rousing Salve Regina was sung, to invoke the prayers of Mary, Mother of Mercy, on these graced months.

It was lovely after Mass to see so many families going to the special Shrine of Mercy which has been erected at the west end of the Cathedral, to pray with their children. (image 4) Later in the day, pilgrims still came to pray and gain the special plenary indulgence granted by the Holy Father.


Homily - 3rd Sunday of Advent –
Opening of the Holy Door, Plymouth Cathedral

I do not know if any of you got a chance to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis opening the Holy Door this past week? There were two gestures which have moved me very much. I saw them in watching Pope Francis, firstly, when he opened the Holy Door in Bangui Cathedral in the Central African Republic last week, and then this past Tuesday when he opened the Holy Door in St Peter's in Rome.

The first of these gestures, is that in pushing the doors open, the Holy Father stretched his arms wide, forming the image of the cross with his whole body. The second gesture was that, having stepped across the threshold of the Cathedral, his hands came together and he bowed his head, in an intimate gesture of prayer. His whole body became a silent prayer before God.

It was lovely for me to mirror these gestures, in opening the Holy Door of our Cathedral here in Plymouth, at the beginning of our mass today. It's important for us to be mindful of what these gestures say to us, as we enter into this Holy Year. For they speak to us of the mystery of love. The first, is to open our arms wide. Being a person of faith does not close life down. It is not a limiting thing, but a freeing thing. Faith opens us to our neighbour, to the person in need. We bear in our very bodies the suffering of Christ, the image of His cross, and it is this which we offer as hope and mercy to others. The second gesture - that of joining our hands and bowing our head in prayer - reminds us that our lives are God-directed and God centred. It is especially in looking upon, and encountering Jesus, that we experience the mercy of the Father. The mystery of love, we see is not simply something human, but the reality of God’s love poured out for us.

The Gospel today helps us to see this more clearly. St John the Baptist points us in the right direction. He gives a straight forward outline of what the religious person seeks to do. “If you're a tax collector, then don't cheat people; if you're a soldier don't intimidate others”; this is what he reminds us. We know tax collectors were despised in Jesus' time, not only because they colluded with the occupying Romans, but also because they overcharged people, and then pocketed the money. We know this because of figures like Zaccaheus in the Gospel. John says, "Don't do this... It's fine that you have to collect money for taxes, but don't charge more than the going rate." So, too, for soldiers. We can imagine what it was like to experience them - maybe the Roman soldiers or perhaps the guards who looked after the Temple. You can guess what it’s like is when you give a bunch of young men, arms and a bit of authority. It can easily go to their head. They bullied people, and extorted them. Again, John says, "Don't bully people, don't intimidate them, be content with what you get paid".

In this Year of Mercy, this Sunday reminds us to keep our arms wide open to others. Not to be hard hearted or mean spirited, but open handed, and open hearted. To mirror Jesus experience on the Cross. To be a bridge for them to Jesus, rather than a stumbling block.

Alongside this, we are invited to join our hands and to bow our heads in prayer. Christianity isn't just ethics. We are not simply about doing good. John the Baptist points beyond good moral behaviour. When they point at him and say, "This might be the Christ", he disavows it. He is categorical - "There is One coming greater than I.... I am not fit to undo his sandal strap." We know that was the task of the slave - to undo the straps of his masters sandals. John is saying, "Look, I’m not even worthy to be His slave.

This is the extraordinary tenderness and humility of our God, whom we remember comes as a little baby. None of us could imagine this. It goes beyond morals codes and doing good. None of us are worthy of this reaching down to us, which is the very gift of God. As Pope Francis reminded us when he opened the Holy Door, “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......we have to put mercy before judgment, and in any event God’s judgment will always be in the light of his mercy." (Homily, St Peter’s 8th December 2015)

This morning, you came in through the Holy Door, much like you've come other mornings to this Cathedral. At some point in this Year, come back when it's quieter, maybe with a friend or with some members of the family. Pass through the Holy Door once more. Be mindful of the great gift of your faith, in which you enter into the mystery of love. This is a love which has arms wide open to the world, and a love which brings us the gift of prayer because the Spirit of Jesus has been poured into our hearts.

May His mercy bring each of us, His very deep joy.

+Mark O'Toole,
Bishop of Plymouth