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The inferno of Notre-Dame Cathedral on Monday, April 15, 2019, overshadowed Holy Week services in Paris.

The following day, the Archbishop of Reims in Champagne country issued a statement on the fire:

He called Notre-Dame:

a symbol of the efforts for peace, beauty, hope and faith — even well beyond the Christian faith.

He deplored the loss of a house of worship for the many Parisians and visitors, particularly during the holiest week of the Christian year, beginning with the Chrism Mass on Wednesday and culminating in Easter Sunday.

Chrism Mass

The Chrism Mass, the first major Mass after Palm Sunday, is the one where the oils used in anointing the baptised, confirmands, ordinands as well as the sick and dying are blessed for use during the following year.

Notre-Dame’s Chrism Mass was held at Saint-Sulpice. The Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit officiated.

KTOTV, a French-language Catholic channel, said that the alternative arrangements had been made as the fire raged on Monday evening. Saint-Sulpice’s pastor, the Revd Jean-Loup Lecroix, said that church staff and clergy had worked hard to make sure all preparations were in place:

The church was full:

The archbishop gave a moving and powerful homily:

He also called on Our Lady to pray for everyone:

The following observation of his, which I mentioned yesterday, resonated the most. This was the opening to his homily:

What is the difference between a lump of stone and a cathedral? The same difference between a lump of cells and a human being.

Both have a sacred dimension.

The archbishop also spoke of chrism — the blessed oil — in terms of the cathedral. Unction refers to the anointing with that oil. The Sacrament of the Sick and Dying was referred to for centuries as Extreme Unction.

From the full homily transcript (in French):

The other thing that unites the cathedral with a human being is the unction that both can receive to show a transcendence, a divine presence that confers a sacred characteristic upon them.

He referred to the cathedral as the house of God — an expression I have not heard in years, but I learned as a small child. This passage also explains the importance of the altar:

Our cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris received that unction. During its consecration, the altar received chrism. The altar is the sign of the mysterious presence of God, like that which Jacob constructed after his vision of the angels who descended from and rose to Heaven. He called that place Bethel, which means ‘house of God’. The altar, essentially, represents the presence of God. The chrismation that we do on the altar signifies the presence of Christ. This is why priests venerate it and kiss it, because it is upon it that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is performed, recalling what Christ did through His love for us on the Cross. It is this Easter journey that we celebrate at each Eucharist: the death and resurrection of Lord Jesus.

The crosses on its walls also received this sacred oil, which we are now about to consecrate. This cathedral is inhabited by a people. But it is inhabited not only by those who pray in or visit it. It is the vessel of a Presence. St Paul recalled it when he said to Christians, ‘You are the Temple of God’.

He went on to speak about rebuilding Notre-Dame and the responsibility to the Church of every Catholic who has ever received chrism:

We are going to rebuild the cathedral. The worldwide emotion, the extraordinary élan of generosity that the fire engendered, will allow us to raise it up once again. We can speak during this Easter season of certain resurrection. But we must also raise the Church back up. May all who have been baptised, who have received the unction of Christ — Priest, Prophet and King — rediscover the fervour of that beginning, receiving that extraordinary grace in becoming children of God. Those who have received this unction at Confirmation must also manifest this whole gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the same expression of God’s love. This gift must fill them with joy in order for them to build a civilisation of love.

A fitting homily for such a special Mass.

Good Friday

On Good Friday, April 19, the Notre-Dame congregation gathered for the procession of the Way of the Cross:

The archbishop presided over the procession, praying for those who ‘acted with courage: firefighters, police and politicians’.

The prayers were even more intense than usual on Good Friday:

Holy Saturday

On April 20, French sailors serving on the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, currently on mission in the Indian Ocean, sent a special message via formation in the shape of Notre-Dame Cathedral:

Paris is their mother city, so it was a particularly poignant gesture.

Easter Sunday

Easter Masses were held at Saint-Eustache in Paris. The main Mass honoured the firefighters.

Questions, questions

This fire has raised many questions. The two main ones do not yet have a final answer.

Who and/or what started the fire?

How will Notre-Dame be rebuilt?

More to come.

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