When Pope Francis opens the holy doors of St. Peter's Basilica on Tuesday, he will be performing a ritual that has been part of the Catholic Church since the 1500s.
Holy Doors are only opened during a special year designated by a Pope, called a Jubilee Year. The last Jubilee Year was in 2000. Traditionally, there are holy doors only in the four Basilicas of Rome: St. Peter's, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls.
But Pope Francis has re-written the rules and said that every Catholic Cathedral in the world may designate a holy door to be opened for a year, so that even those who can't come to Rome, can participate in the the church's Jubilee Year of Mercy by walking through the doors
Until 1975 the Holy Doors in Rome were enclosed by a cement wall which the Pope broke down using a hammer. When cement fragments fell too close to Pope Paul VI during the opening of the Holy Door on Christmas Eve, 1974, this practice was abandoned and now bronze doors have replaced the wall.
Holy Doors symbolically represent Jesus, who said, "I am the door." (Jn 10:7)
What happens when Catholics walk through the holy doors?
Walking through the Holy Doors means that you receive an indulgence, which is a lessening of the consequences attached to sin.
According to the Catholic Church, when you sin, you must go to confession and you are forgiven. But forgiveness only applies to the guilt of your sin; there may still be consequences of your sin which you may have to pay for in this life or after you die. An indulgence is a way to lessen that penalty.
As an analogy, if someone commits a crime, they are sentenced to jail time as punishment. They may be sorry for their crime and apologize, but they still must serve their sentence and deal with the consequences of their crime.
To receive a full indulgence (called a plenary indulgence), you must:
1. Walk through the holy doors
2. Go to confession
3. Receive communion
4. Pray for the intentions of the Pope
In another first, Pope Francis will directly appoint special missionaries from all over the world who will receive from the pontiff the power to forgive sins usually reserved to the Holy See. Those sins are:
1. Desecration of the Eucharist
2. Absolution of accomplice in a sin against the sixth commandment (If a priest is in a sexual relationship, he cannot absolve the sin of the person with whom he is in a relationship.)
3. Ordaining a bishop without the Pope's approval
4. Violation of the sacrament of confession (a priest divulging what he has been told in confession)
5. Physical violence against the Roman Pontiff