There is a “Holy Door” at St Meinrad Archabbey, in St. Meinrad, Indiana. These special doors are usually opened only once every 25 years and for a limited time. Pope Francis asked for these special doors (located in certain churches all over the world) to be open earlier than the normal interval to focus on the quality of mercy. You get a plenary indulgence for walking through and reciting a prayer in the church (along with a few other obligations). Each church that has a Holy Door should have information on what is required.
From reading the letter Pope Francis wrote about it, he wants this sacrament available to everyone. He did not indicate that this is just for Catholics.
Here is the sign at the door in St. Meinrad.
Here is the door from the outside.
Here is the doorknob.
Here is the door from the inside.
Normally these doors are locked or in some cases even bricked up. They are never doors that you would just happen to walk through – they are never the main doors. Not all Catholic churches have these special doors set aside for this sacrament.
What is a sacrament? It is “An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual gift.” These doors are reminders of the grace and mercy that God grants us – has granted us, will grant us. We, being forgetful beings by the very nature of our being human, forget that God loves us unconditionally, and constantly welcomes us back when we stray. We forget that God is the father that runs to greet us when we have wandered away, just like in the story of the Prodigal Son.
Going through a Holy Door doesn’t save you – you are already redeemed by Jesus. That bill has already been paid. But going through reminds you of that gift, reminds you that you are eternally loved.
A Plenary Indulgence is not a “get out of hell free card”, or a “get into heaven free card”. You’ll have to look it up to know what the Catholic Church means by that term. As for me, I don’t hold with the idea of indulgences or of penance, because they go against the message of Jesus. Indulgences say that the Church, in the person of the ordained ministers of the Catholic Church, is able to forgive you for your sins, which is not something any human can do. That is something God, and God alone, does. The idea of penance indicates that you have to pay for your sins yourself, which would mean that you are ignoring the price that Jesus paid for you on the cross. Yes, we are to constantly be on guard for our sin, our times of “missing the mark”, and turn away from it and turn towards the Light that is God. We are to make amends for our actions, certainly, but we can never buy our way into God’s love – that is something we already have.