Yesterday I was listening to the April 21, 2016 podcast of the “Calling All Catholics” talk radio show on The Station of the Cross, 101.7 FM out of Buffalo, New York with Catholic priest, Rick Poblocki, and moderator, Steve Quebral, taking questions from listeners.
During the show, Kim from Rochester, New York called in with a question regarding the Catholic church’s “Holy Doors.” Before I get to Kim’s question, I need to give my evangelical friends some background on the holy doors. This gets a little complicated so please fasten your seat belts and stay with me.
Generally speaking, the Catholic church has designated specific doors in eight churches – four of the churches are in Rome – as “Holy Doors.” During “jubilee” years, which normally occur every 25 or 50 years, Catholics may walk through the specially blessed holy doors and receive a “plenary indulgence” for their sins. What is a plenary indulgence you ask? Catholics confess their mortal and venial sins to a priest in the sacrament of reconciliation, but what many Catholics don’t even realize is that while the priest may forgive all of the sins in the confessional, not all of the punishment for the sins is remitted. Any remaining (temporal) punishment for sins will be meted out in purgatory after death. How long someone must suffer in purgatory is sketchy business but Catholic writers in the past spoke about the duration extending to even hundreds of years. But the church grants indulgences – remission of temporal punishment – if the Catholic performs certain acts. Partial indulgences remove some of the punishment while “plenary” (full) indulgences remove all of it. The church is able to issue indulgences from its “treasury of merit” consisting of the superabundant spiritual merit of Jesus, Mary, and the saints. By making a pilgrimage and walking through one of the eight holy doors, a Catholic is granted a full, plenary indulgence.
Please note that the vast majority of Catholics would have no idea what you were talking about if you asked them about “partial and plenary indulgences” for “temporal punishment.”
Pope Francis declared November 2015 to December 2016 to be an Extraordinary Year of Mercy for the faithful. As part of this special jubilee year, church doors in dioceses around the world were designated and blessed as holy doors. Pilgrims don’t have to make the distant trip to Rome or to one of the other four locations this year, they can receive their full indulgence by walking through holy doors in their own diocese. Pictured are some faithful Catholics walking through designated holy doors to receive their indulgence.
Is everyone still with me? Good, now let’s get back to Kim’s question. Regarding the holy doors, Kim asked Rick, “Are you only supposed to walk through the doors once to receive the indulgences?” Evidently, this holy door business is too complicated even for pious Catholics. Rick laughed off the question, commenting that of course you only need to walk through the holy doors once to receive the plenary indulgence. But, he added, a person could make pilgrimages to holy door sites several times throughout the year and thereby keep up with any additional temporal punishment that had accumulated in their spiritual in-basket.
Catholic friend, if the above seems outrageously complicated you would be right. God didn’t make salvation into this kind of religious calculus to be administered by ecclesiastical “experts.” Saving faith is trusting in Jesus with a child-like faith.
“And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:2-4
Purgatory, indulgences, temporal punishment, and holy doors are all man-made religious traditions. Walking through doors someone calls “holy” won’t do a silly thing. Jesus Christ made salvation as simple as the thief on the cross. God is holy and we are sinners. We deserve eternal punishment for our sins. But God loved us so much He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for our sins on the cross. But Jesus rose from the grave and offers the gift of salvation to all who repent of their sins and accept Him as their Savior by faith. Accept Jesus today. Religious rituals and traditions don’t save. You can’t merit your way to Heaven. No one is good enough to merit Heaven, that is why Jesus died for us. After you’ve accepted Christ, ask Him to lead you to an evangelical church in your area that teaches the Word of God without compromise.
Evangelical friend, when Catholics talk about Jesus and “faith,” we might get a warm fuzzy thinking we’re all on the same page, but when a Catholic talks about their “faith,” they’re talking about something entirely different from the Gospel we know. When a Catholic talks about faith they’re referring to their religious system which requires participation in church sacraments, obeying the Ten Commandments and church rules perfectly, along with a lot of extremely complicated ritualism such as this holy door process. That is not the Gospel. A faithful Catholic won’t say they’re saved because – lip service to grace aside – they believe their salvation depends on how well THEY “cooperate with grace” and merit their own salvation right up until the moment of their death. That is not the Gospel.
See below for an example of a brochure handed out to pilgrims to one diocese’s holy doors.