Great Jubilee News

VATICAN  Dec. 2 ( -- When he opens the Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica on Christmas Eve, Pope John Paul II will not use the ceremonial hammer traditionally used for that purpose. Having determined that the hammer carries no particular symbolic value, he will simply push open the door with his hands. 

The opening of the Holy Door is a traditional rite, which began with a very practical intent. Originally, an extra door had been opened in the basilica during a holy year in order to accommodate the increased traffic caused by pilgrims visiting the Eternal City. 

 In past cases-- including 1983, when Pope John Paul declared a holy year to mark the 1950th anniversary of the Crucifixion-- the Pope has used a special ceremonial hammer to break the seal on the Holy Door. But liturgists could find no significance in that tradition, so the Holy Father decided to discard it. Prior to the midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, the Pope will arrive at the doors of St. Peter's for the ceremony. The rite begins with a reading from the Gospel according to St. Luke, in which Jesus recalls the words of the Prophet Isaiah: "proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." Then the Pope will open the door, and remain there in prayer for a few moments before entering the basilica. The ceremony will be a rich one, with different embellishments designed to recall the recent continental synods. Young women from Asia and Oceania will sprinkle the door with flowers and fragrances; Africans will blow horns made out of elephant tusks (recalling that the word "jubilee" derives from the Hebrew word for "horn"); Europeans and Americans will carry candles in the procession up to the altar of St. Peter's. Finally, just before the Mass begins, the Pope's special proclamation announcing the Holy Year will be intoned in chant. 

Today, the Holy Door is still hidden behind the linen cloth which has protected it during the restoration process at St. Peter's. From the inside, the door is walled in, and decorated with a large cross. Just 12 days before Christmas, Msgr. Piero Marini-- the master of ceremonies for papal liturgies- - will visit the spot accompanied by workmen, to begin tearing down the wall that was built outside the door in 1984, at the close of the last Holy Year. Msgr. Marini will retrieve a small purse of coins, dated 1983, and then leave the workmen to complete their task, so that the door will open readily on Christmas Eve.  

As of December 2, the Pontifical Household had already received 40,000 requests from people seeking a place in the basilica for the ceremony. Since St. Peter's can accommodate only 10,000 people, thousands of pilgrims will watch the ceremony on a giant screen in the Vatican's Paul VI auditorium.