Paris archbishop: Notre-Dame Cathedral repairs a symbol of Christian renewal

Courtney Mares   By Courtney Mares for CNA

Archbishop Michel Aupetit, center left, celebrates Mass at Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris, France, June 16, 2021. / Thomas Samson/ Pool/AFP via Getty Images.

Rome Newsroom, Jun 18, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Wearing a hard hat and boots, the archbishop of Paris offered Mass in a nearly empty Notre-Dame Cathedral this week as restoration of the fire-damaged interior of the Gothic cathedral kicks off.

Archbishop Michel Aupetit used the occasion of the feast of the dedication of Notre-Dame de Paris to reflect on the spiritual metaphor of restoring one of the most important cathedrals in France, which was once called the “eldest daughter of the Church.”

“This cathedral is also the symbol of the restoration of this Church founded 2,000 years ago by Christ himself,” the archbishop said in his homily on the evening of June 16.

“Some believe that it is in ruins and that it is on the verge of collapse. Yet Christ asserted that the gates of death would not prevail against her. We believe it deeply: like our cathedral, the Church of Christ will remain standing.”

Aupetit pointed out that St. Peter’s first letter in the Bible calls the members of the Church “living stones.”

“St. Augustine reminds us: ‘What we see here physically accomplished with walls must be spiritually accomplished with souls. What we see here accomplished with stones and wood must be accomplished in our bodies with the grace of God,’” he said, quoting Augustine’s Sermon 366 for the dedication of a church.

The archbishop continued: “The chief architect is the Father; the model is Christ; the director is the Holy Spirit. What will bring us together, shape us, and unify us to build a Church more beautiful than ever is the fulfillment of the great commandment of Christ: ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’”

Aupetit spoke beneath the large stained-glass windows of Notre Dame’s Saint-Georges chapel, which includes two 13th-century medallions.

The closed-door Mass, broadcast by the Catholic television station KTO, took place with only 12 people present, each wearing a hard hat for security reasons.

The Descent from the Cross, also known as Pieta, statue inside the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris before the fire. / Jeanne Emmel/Shutterstock.
The Descent from the Cross, also known as Pieta, statue inside the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris before the fire. / Jeanne Emmel/Shutterstock.

Aupetit has offered a private Mass inside the closed cathedral to mark the anniversary of its dedication each year since the devastating fire in April 2019.

While the French government is overseeing the cathedral’s structural restoration and conservation, the Catholic Church is responsible for its interior renewal.

Paris archdiocese launched an appeal on June 14 for this interior restoration, starting with the reliquary case of the Crown of Thorns, which was damaged on the night of the fire before it was rescued by Fr. Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Department.

The cathedral will reportedly reopen for worship with a Te Deum on April 16, 2024, five years after the blaze. Later that year, Paris will host the Summer Olympics.

“We are so happy now that our cathedral, which was in danger of ruin, is stabilized. We are now entering the restoration phase. It will be more beautiful than ever and this makes our hearts happy and fills us with hope,” Aupetit said.

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  1. Allan Temko, in his book “Notre Dame of Paris” (Time/Viking, 1952/55/62), mentions two previous fires and a bomb:

    “The roof of Paris—the most magnificent fore[s]t left in France—has twice caught fire. Each time the flames were extinguished by luck, faith, what you will; and the Cathedral stands.

    “On the eve of the Feast of the Assumption in 1218, fire broke out in the choir. A thief of British origin (“Anglicus natione”) had concealed himself for several days in the roofing of the tribunes; and when the Cathedral’s treasure was put on display for the fete of the Virgin, he tried to hook a valuable chandelier. The burning candles ignited a tapestry, and soon Notre Dame was blazing. The fire caused no permanent damage….”

    “Periodically, throughout the nineteenth century, the priests were chased out and readmitted to the sanctuary, the last expulsion taking place under the Commune. On May 26, 1871, chairs—a modern convenience medieval worshipers had done without—were stacked in the choir and set aflame. The fire was extinguished by the interns of the Hotel-Dieu, who broke in the doors which the communards had locked, and saved the monument.

    “Notre Dame has resisted all, including the German bomb that pierced its roof during the First World War. It withstood the Nazis, who marched onto the parvis in 1940. It merely rose upward before them, a serene and massive lesson in history, unconquerable and silent, profiling the soul of its city.”

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