Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

Doors. A complete portal

It is an entrance to another world.

Just a door? It’s probably a sign whose meaning we have rarely though about. And yet . . .

What exactly is a door for? To prevent unwanted visitors from entering? It can be. Yet in many cases it’s sufficient just to push or pull, or maybe first turning a handle. Well, in fact, we have many doors that are always open, or at least ajar. Well then, what are they for?

When you think about it the answer to the question is obvious: to separate a space and at the same time allow entry into the space. And to get out again, of course. A door, even if not locked, signals to a person that they enter a reality different from the one they’d been in. He was on the street, is in the shop, was in the corridor, is in the office, was in the hall, is in the bedroom. Something changes. Not just the temperature, humidity, or the owner. And there’s also the purpose of the space.

And so, it is with the church doors. When entering through them, as you have to with other religions, first remove shoes, put on a head covering or some other activity. Passing through them, however, we enter another reality. What sort?

Entrances to churches have looked and do look different. Small doors and great gates, simple and decorated. The main and most important are portals totally decorated with rich mouldings (let’s leave aside the technical names for these elements). Embellished with various symbols, representation of figures, or even entire scenes.  Painted, mosaic, and carved. Everything carefully chosen and not accidental. Everything to make aware those who cross the threshold into what reality they are entering. Quite often in old, great churches, Christ is depicted sitting on the throne of judgement above the entrance. Surrounded by angels or other symbolic characters, e.g. the symbols for the four evangelists. . . . From the world of deals and puzzles you go to the world of justice.

For passing through the church doors a person enters into a reality seeped through by heaven, as if in heaven or at least its antechamber. In the interiors of these churches (at least most) there are many representations of God, even if only the Son of God, Jesus Christ, hanging on a cross; and many representations of the saints. In sculptures, statues, mosaics, murals and images, or even stained-glass windows sparkling in changing light. In many, especially the oldest churches, even the vault above is painted as heaven. With gilding of course, how could it be otherwise, because for us gold is a sign of abundance. And lots of lights. Candles, light bulbs, the sun’s rays shining through the windows. And all this so that a person, who enters and prays in the church, will feel as if surrounded by a little bit of the other reality, different from the one they came from; the reality of heaven.

The church doors . . . . Those great, richly decorated, are often closed. They are used on holy days or on the occasion of great solemnities. For every day use we go through the smaller doors. This is an opportunity to recall the warning of Jesus:

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Mt 7:13-14).

The narrow gate of the Gospel doesn’t catch the eye of the curious tourist. But walking through any door, whether small, a side door, situated somewhere at the back of the church, or the great front doors, may also be a reminder of other important words of Jesus:

 “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they [the sheep] may have life, and have it abundantly” (J 10:6-10).

He will find pasture . . . . Jesus is the one from whom the sheep find the food they need. It is similar in the Church: it is in her that the faithful find the food for eternal life. God’s word, liturgy, sacraments and especially the Eucharist. And it is thanks to this food a person is able to live in this world in a way befitting disciples of Christ. Entering through the Church doors, it is worth remembering not only why you are coming, but who it is I am seeking support from; thanks to which my faith, hope and love can grow.