VATICAN CITY – Pope John Paul II closed the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica on Jan. 6 at 9:53 a.m., only hours after the last pilgrims had crossed its threshold.

To accommodate the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who thronged to St. Peter's in the last days of the Holy Year, the Holy Father asked that the Holy Door be kept open on Jan. 5 until all those who wished to pass through it had done so. It was not until 3 a.m. Jan. 6 that the line of those waiting was finally exhausted.

The date of Jan. 6, 2001—the Epiphany—had been set as the closing date of the Great Jubilee by the Pope in 1998.

The ceremony of closing was simple and echoed the opening rites of Christmas Eve 1999. John Paul, wearing a gold cope—not the striking cope of many colors he wore for the opening—prayed before the Holy Door and knelt on its threshold. Before the Pope ascended the steps to the Holy Door, the choir sung the Advent chant O Clavis David (“O Key of David, scepter of the house of Israel, who opens and no one can close, who closes, and no one can open ...”). With help from an assistant the Holy Father then rose from his knees and maneuvered around the two panels of the door, closing them himself from the outside.

After the closing ceremony in the portico of St. Peter's, John Paul celebrated Mass in St. Peter's Square, joined by the cardinals resident in Rome and the bishop and priest members of the central committee for the Great Jubilee.

More than 125,000 people were on hand for the Mass, which many observers noted was one of the more exuberant of the Holy Year, with the Pope himself visibly happy. The Mass concluded with the singing of the Te Deum, the Church's ancient hymn of praise to the Holy Trinity, traditionally sung on occasions of great thanksgiving.

During the Mass, each of the prayers of the faithful was introduced by a short quotation from one of the Holy Year addresses of John Paul, thereby calling to mind the broad sweep of Jubilee events. The Holy Father himself alluded to those in his homily, but was insistent that the closing of the Holy Year was not a time for rest, but renewed zeal. This forward-looking aspect was highlighted by the signing of a new apostolic letter, Novo millennio ineunte.

“Of course, it is not a question of organizing, in the short term, other major initiatives,” the Pope said in his homily. “We return to our normal activities, but this is something quite different from taking a rest. Rather, we need to draw from the experience of the Jubilee useful lessons which can give inspiration and effective direction to our new commitment.”

John Paul did allow himself one backward glance. He preached again the exhortation he first preached in St. Peter's Square on Oct. 22, 1978: “At the very beginning of my pontificate, and countless times since, I have exclaimed to the sons and daughters of the Church and to the world: ‘Open wide the doors to Christ’. I wish to cry out again, at the end of this Jubilee, at the beginning of this new millennium: Open, indeed, throw wide open the doors to Christ!”