The doors at the entrance to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., will function as a Holy Door throughout the Jubilee Year of 2025 — but what does that mean for pilgrims who walk through them?

What is a Holy Door? 

Holy Doors are doors that are normally located at the entrance to a cathedral or basilica that have been officially sanctioned by the Vatican as a place of pilgrimage at which one can receive special graces during a year of jubilee.

The doors are sealed prior to the jubilee but are ceremoniously reopened by the pope or a bishop around the start of the jubilee for pilgrims to walk through. 

As St. John Paul II explained in his papal bull Incarnationis Mysterium ahead of the 2000 Jubilee Year, to pass through a Holy Door “means to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord [and] it is to strengthen faith in him in order to live the new life which he has given us.” 

“Through the Holy Door … Christ will lead us more deeply into the Church, his body and his bride,” St. John Paul II said. 

“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,’” he said, citing 1 Peter 2:5. 

Another function of entering through the Holy Door is to obtain a plenary indulgence if all other conditions for such an indulgence are met. 

How does one obtain a plenary indulgence?

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A plenary indulgence eliminates all temporal punishments for one’s sins but can only be obtained through true repentance and must be accompanied by confession and other conditions.

One can receive a plenary indulgence if one walks through the Holy Door during the jubilee when that person has an interior disposition of complete detachment from both mortal and venial sin.

The person must also obtain absolution through a sacramental confession, receive the holy Eucharist, and pray for the intentions of the pope within 20 days before or after engaging in a pilgrimage through a Holy Door.

A person can obtain a plenary indulgence for himself or herself, or for a soul in purgatory, but a person cannot obtain a plenary indulgence for another living person.

A person who is unable to complete a pilgrimage can obtain a plenary indulgence through other means, and a person who is unable to complete a work associated with an indulgence because of some impediment can have that requirement commuted by a confessor.

What is a jubilee?

A jubilee is a special year of grace and pilgrimage in the Catholic Church that is rooted in the Mosaic tradition of jubilee years, which were held every 50 years for the freeing of slaves and forgiveness of debts as manifestations of God’s mercy. 

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Pope Boniface VIII reintroduced the jubilee celebration in the 1300s. Under the current practice, jubilees recur every 25 years on a regular basis, but the pope can declare an extraordinary year of jubilee that occurs before the 25-year mark. The 2025 Jubilee Year, which is focused on the theological virtue of hope, is an ordinary jubilee year, but Pope Francis had previously declared an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, which was in 2016. 

Holy Door in Washington, D.C. 

Pilgrims will have the opportunity to walk through the Holy Door at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception during the 2025 Jubilee Year. The basilica is one of the locations designated by Pope Francis. 

On Sunday, Dec. 3, at the start of Advent, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, blessed and sealed two large doors at the entrance of the basilica. No one will be permitted to walk through the doors until the archbishop reopens them once the 2025 Jubilee Year has begun. 

The basilica had also received the designation for the use of Holy Doors during the 2000 and 2016 Jubilee Years. 

“To host the National Holy Year Door has been a great privilege for this National Shrine, first granted to us by St. John Paul II and again by Pope Francis,” Monsignor Walter R. Rossi, rector of the basilica, said in a statement

“While it may seem unremarkable on the surface, to walk through a Holy Door is a moment of grace, and the opportunity to do so while entering Mary’s house is a special spiritual experience.”

The 2025 Jubilee Year will begin on Dec. 24, 2024 (Christmas Eve), and conclude on Jan. 6, 2026, lasting slightly more than a year.