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Gate of Heaven

Across Catholic sanctuaries for centuries, one may find them - images of the Virgin as a monumental Gothic portal, the tympanum above her head richly carved with scenes from Scripture and radii of golden grace streaming outward as she stands robed, praying or welcoming with outstretched hands. 

For here she is depicted as the Porta Caeli, the enduring epithet for the Virgin Mary known well as the Gate of Heaven.

The foundations of this eloquent symbolism arise first from Genesis when the Garden gates closed against humanity’s sin. Protestant reformers would later incisively craft their rallied cry Sola scriptura! But two millennia before sola anything, the early Desert Fathers meditated on how the barred Edenic entrance was reopened by a woman and man’s salvation began through a virgin’s prayerful assent to admitting God anew into His creation.

The cornerstone reference for this enduring Marian title of Gate of Heaven comes from the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 44 appears a Divine pronouncement of an eastward temple gate that shall remain perpetually shut for use by only the God of Israel, yet notably this Prince Himself may enter and exit it at will. 

Early ecclesial writers linked Ezekiel poetically to Mary, who as perpetual virgin, remained herself shut off from the world as uniquely God’s consecrated vessel, yet she alone held license to admit Christ through as the Incarnate Lord.  Christ passed through her, the Gate mystically foreseen by Ezekiel, entering world history as the long-awaited Messiah and opening the way for humanity to follow after through Mary by God’s grace.

Later in the Middle Ages, Gothic cathedrals captured this Marian symbolism physically in monumental stone and stained glass with Porta Caeli entrances on western façades depicting Mary enshrined in stone, sanctifying the threshold where the faithful may pass through her sacred intercession from temporal streets into eternal sanctuaries. 

Crowning such architectural Gates, master masons carved heavenly welcoming committees of saints, angels and deceased souls in joyous reception above the transitional Mary portal- empty tombs prominently displayed below- vividly expressing hope of ressurection into God’s presence through the gateway Mary provides to eternal life. 

These splendid Marian-centric doors stand as enduring stone sermons still preached silently today to all who enter about Mary’s intercessory role. As Christ came through her holy flesh, so He yet comes through her to touch we pilgrims who venture beyond the mundane world through Mary, the Gate who stands open in ceaseless welcome. 

The invitation engraved into the stone proclaims - Here is the portal for reaching the Father, through Christ the Son, now poured forth by the Spirit. Come, for the Gate of Heaven is perpetually open to surrendering hearts who kneel before the Virgin Mother and seeking souls who call upon her name. Ave Maria! Grace still pours forth through Mary, Sancta Porta Caeli.

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