Pilgrimages have always been a significant part of the life of the faithful, assuming
different cultural forms in different ages. A pilgrimage evokes the believer's personal
journey in the footsteps of the Redeemer: it is an exercise of practical asceticism, of
repentance for human weaknesses, of constant vigilance over one's own frailty, of interior
preparation for a change of heart. Through vigils, fasting and prayer, the pilgrim
progresses along the path of Christian perfection, striving to attain, with the support of
God's grace, "the state of the perfect man, to the measure of the full maturity of
Christ" (Eph 4:13).
8. In addition to pilgrimage, there is the sign of the holy door, opened for the first
time in the Basilica of the Most Holy Saviour at the Lateran during the Jubilee of 1423.
It evokes the passage from sin to grace which every Christian is called to accomplish.
Jesus said: "I am the door" (Jn 10:7), in order to make it clear that no one can
come to the Father except through him. This designation which Jesus applies to himself
testifies to the fact that he alone is the Saviour sent by the Father. There is only one
way that opens wide the entrance into the life of communion with God: this is Jesus, the
one and absolute way to salvation. To him alone can the words of the Psalmist be applied
in full truth: "This is the door of the Lord where the just may enter" (Ps
To focus upon the door is to recall the responsibility of every believer to cross its
threshold. To pass through that door means to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; it is to
strengthen faith in him in order to live the new life which he has given us. It is a
decision which presumes freedom to choose and also the courage to leave something behind,
in the knowledge that what is gained is divine life (cf. Mt 13:44-46). It is in this
spirit that the Pope will be the first to pass through the holy door on the night between
24 and 25 December 1999. Crossing its threshold, he will show to the Church and to the
world the Holy Gospel, the wellspring of life and hope for the coming Third Millennium.
Through the holy door, symbolically more spacious at the end of a millennium,(13) Christ
will lead us more deeply into the Church, his Body and his Bride. In this way we see how
rich in meaning are the words of the Apostle Peter when he writes that, united to Christ,
we too are built, like living stones, "into a spiritual house, to be a holy
priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God" (1 Pt 2:5).
9. Another distinctive sign, and one familiar to the faithful, is the indulgence, which
is one of the constitutive elements of the Jubilee. The indulgence discloses the fulness
of the Father's mercy, who offers everyone his love, expressed primarily in the
forgiveness of sins. Normally, God the Father grants his pardon through the Sacrament of
Penance and Reconciliation.(14) Free and conscious surrender to grave sin, in fact,
separates the believer from the life of grace with God and therefore excludes the believer
from the holiness to which he is called. Having received from Christ the power to forgive
in his name (cf. Mt 16:19; Jn 20:23), the Church is in the world as the living presence of
the love of God who leans down to every human weakness in order to gather it into the
embrace of his mercy. It is precisely through the ministry of the Church that God diffuses
his mercy in the world, by means of that precious gift which from very ancient times has
been called "indulgence".
The Sacrament of Penance offers the sinner "a new possibility to convert and to
recover the grace of justification"(15) won by the sacrifice of Christ. The sinner
thus enters the life of God anew and shares fully in the life of the Church. Confessing
his own sins, the believer truly receives pardon and can once more take part in the
Eucharist as the sign that he has again found communion with the Father and with his
Church. From the first centuries, however, the Church has always been profoundly convinced
that pardon, freely granted by God, implies in consequence a real change of life, the
gradual elimination of evil within, a renewal in our way of living. The sacramental action
had to be combined with an existential act, with a real cleansing from fault, precisely
what is called penance. Pardon does not imply that this existential process becomes
superfluous, but rather that it acquires a meaning, that it is accepted and welcomed.
Reconciliation with God does not mean that there are no enduring consequences of sin
from which we must be purified. It is precisely in this context that the indulgence
becomes important, since it is an expression of the "total gift of the mercy of
God".(16) With the indulgence, the repentant sinner receives a remission of the
temporal punishment due for the sins already forgiven as regards the fault.
10. Because it offends the holiness and justice of God and scorns God's personal
friendship with man, sin has a twofold consequence. In the first place, if it is grave, it
involves deprivation of communion with God and, in consequence, exclusion from a share in
eternal life. To the repentant sinner, however, God in his mercy grants pardon of grave
sin and remission of the"eternal punishment" which it would bring.
In the second place, "every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to
creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called
Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the "temporal
punishment" of sin",(17) and this expiation removes whatever impedes full
communion with God and with one's brothers and sisters.
Revelation also teaches that the Christian is not alone on the path of conversion. In
Christ and through Christ, his life is linked by a mysterious bond to the lives of all
other Christians in the supernatural union of the Mystical Body. This establishes among
the faithful a marvellous exchange of spiritual gifts, in virtue of which the holiness of
one benefits others in a way far exceeding the harm which the sin of one has inflicted
upon others. There are people who leave in their wake a surfeit of love, of suffering
borne well, of purity and truth, which involves and sustains others. This is the reality
of "vicariousness", upon which the entire mystery of Christ is founded. His
superabundant love saves us all. Yet it is part of the grandeur of Christ's love not to
leave us in the condition of passive recipients, but to draw us into his saving work and,
in particular, into his Passion. This is said in the famous passage of the Letter to the
Colossians: "In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the
sake of his Body, that is, the Church" (1:24).
This profound truth is also wonderfully expressed in a passage of the Book of
Revelation, where the Church is described as a bride dressed in a simple robe of white
linen, the finest linen, bright and pure. And Saint John says: "The fine linen is the
righteous deeds of the saints" (Rev 19:8). In fact, in the lives of the saints the
bright linen is woven to become the robe of eternal life.
Everything comes from Christ, but since we belong to him, whatever is ours also becomes
his and acquires a healing power. This is what is meant by "the treasures of the
Church", which are the good works of the saints. To pray in order to gain the
indulgence means to enter into this spiritual communion and therefore to open oneself
totally to others. In the spiritual realm, too, no one lives for himself alone. And
salutary concern for the salvation of one's own soul is freed from fear and selfishness
only when it becomes concern for the salvation of others as well. This is the reality of
the communion of saints, the mystery of "vicarious life", of prayer as the means
of union with Christ and his saints. He takes us with him in order that we may weave with
him the white robe of the new humanity, the robe of bright linen which clothes the Bride