June 17, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Two months after the fire that devastated the roof and ancient wooden framework of Notre-Dame de Paris, a Holy Mass was celebrated Saturday in the Cathedral by Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit along with a few other clergy wearing protective hard hats.
Only a small number of people assisted – mostly clergy, sacristans and others who used to be there every day, some “compagnons” (craftsmen who are working on the restoration), a handful of selected journalists, and the chaplain of the Paris firefighters, Fr. Jean-Marc Fournier. But the ceremony was transmitted live by the Catholic television station KTO and widely followed all over France. It was a reclaiming of the medieval building as a church and a place of worship first and foremost, and as such, it was also seen as a political gesture.
Archbishop Aupetit gave a remarkable homily. A fully translated transcription can be found below.
The timing of the event was probably no coincidence. The Archbishop had requested permission to celebrate a Mass soon after the April 15 fire in order to mark the anniversary of the dedication of Notre-Dame, the moment when a church is solemnly consecrated for the Holy Eucharist to be celebrated there.
Notre-Dame has been consecrated various times throughout its multi-secular history, in particular after the restoration by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc on May 31, 1864. On June 16, 1989, a special dedication of the new altar standing in the transept (the high altar is at the back of the choir) took place.
It is this Novus Ordo altar, the one that was damaged by the falling debris from the flaming roof, whose anniversary was celebrated by the “Mass of the dedication,” but it took place in the small chapel of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, in the back of the Cathedral. Setting aside debate over the new altar’s aesthetics and the Novus Ordo liturgy, it was certainly a fitting symbolic gesture that led to the choice of a “dedication” date and Mass. It was a liturgical reminder that a consecrated edifice is not like any other, even in secularized France.
The separation of state and church in 1905 led to complicated negotiations that would end up giving the property of a vast majority of churches to municipalities and that of the cathedrals to the French state, with the obligation to allocate them to the Catholic Church to be used as places of worship.
That is why France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, spoke about “reconstructing” Notre-Dame: the obligation lies with the state. But there is a double risk: the wish expressed by Macron that the restoration would include a “contemporary art gesture” – his words – and taking into consideration the fact that many of the donors who will help finance the operation will not be practicing Catholics and perhaps not even Catholics at all.
International agreements, if respected, should prevent Notre-Dame from being rebuilt any differently than it is today, especially since French craftsmen have the necessary expertise to restore the Cathedral to its ancient glory.
The destination of the building is another matter. In this regard, Archbishop Aupetit appears to have sought to make his mark, clearly reminding all those present but also, indirectly, the French government that Notre-Dame’s spiritual significance and religious purpose are more part of it that its very stones.
Hence the speed with which a Mass was organized in order to retake possession of the Cathedral as a church – or rather, to show that that possession has not been interrupted.
The nave of the Cathedral has yet to be cleared of burned wood and lead that crashed down through two still gaping holes in Notre-Dame’s high stone ceiling, so the small group of priests, lay Catholics and television technicians from KTO gathered in the small back chapel for an ad orientem Mass at the ancient altar facing the East, where the priest can only celebrate the Holy Sacrifice turned toward God together with the public.
Surely, Aupetit, a relatively young Archbishop, was not completely at his ease, being used to celebrate versus populo. But on the other hand, the traditional orientation of this Saturday evening Mass that, for once, was not the “anticipated liturgy” of the following Sunday, was considered by many to be a gentle reminder, however imperfect, of the greatness of the liturgy of the ages.
All of the participants were required to wear protective helmets, even in the relatively safe environment where the Mass took place. TV technicians wore full protective garments because of the lead particles present in the Cathedral’s atmosphere after the lead roof melted and dipped down into the nave while the fire roared in the building’s roof. But Archbishop Aupetit removed his helmet during the consecration and for communion out of respect for the Body of Christ.
He said during a press conference after the Mass that he was prepared to celebrate Mass again in the Cathedral when possible, hopefully for the feast of the dedication and also Marian feasts.
The film of the Mass is available on the website of KTO. It shows the present state of devastation of the Cathedral. Many of whose stained-glass windows have already been deposed for restoration and protection.
Rebuilding has not yet begun as the extent of the damage and the solidity of the structures need to be assessed, as well as the state of the building stones whose exposure to high temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees Centigrade may have led to fragilisation.
During the press conference, Archbishop Aupetit insisted that it is necessary to take time to pose a full and correct diagnosis on the Cathedral’s situation before deciding what must be done. To date, 3.6 million euros have already been spent on consolidating the existing structure.
Here is the full text of Archbishop Michel Aupetit's homily:
Dedication comes from dedicatio, which means consecration. The dedication is the consecration of a church to divine worship. When we celebrate the dedication, year after year, we celebrate the profound reason for which Notre-Dame Cathedral was built: to make visible man’s uplift towards God.
The cathedral was born of the faith of our ancestors. It manifests confidence in Christ’s goodness, in His love that is more powerful than hatred, in His life that is more powerful than death, as well as the tender love of our forbears for the Virgin Mary, His Mother, whom He entrusted to us as his most precious possession just before He died on the cross.
This cathedral was born of Christian hope whose perception goes well beyond a small self-centered personal life, so as to enter into a magnificent undertaking at the service of all, projecting itself far beyond a single generation.
This cathedral was also born of charity, since it is open to all, it is the refuge of the poor and the excluded who found their protection. Moreover, the Hôtel-Dieu, which was always associated with the cathedral, was a sign of this unconditional welcome for the poor and the sick.
Are we ashamed of the faith of our ancestors? Are we ashamed of Christ?
Yes, this cathedral is a place of worship, worship is its own and unique purpose. There are no tourists in Notre-Dame, because this term is often derogatory and does do justice to the mystery that drives humanity to come and seek a beyond that is beyond itself. This edifice meant for worship and this spiritual wealth cannot be reduced to a mere heritage asset. This cathedral, a project built in common for the service of all, is only a reflection of the living stones that all those who enter it truly are.
Can we really, out of ignorance or ideology, separate culture and the cultus (worship)? Etymology itself shows the strong link between the two. I say it forcefully: a culture without cultus becomes an “unculture.” We need only look at the abysmal religious ignorance of our contemporaries, born of the setting aside of the notion of the divine and of the very Name of God in the public square, invoked by a secularism that excludes any kind of visible spiritual dimension.
Like all buildings, the cathedral has a cornerstone that supports the entire building. This cornerstone is Christ. If we were to remove that stone, this cathedral would collapse. It would be an empty shell, a setting without a jewel, a lifeless skeleton, a body without a soul.
The cathedral is the fruit of human ingenuity, it is man’s masterpiece.
The human person is the fruit of divine genius. It is God’s masterpiece.
When the two meet in the person of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, then the covenant between the transcendent and the imminent is truly fulfilled (heaven and earth). It is here and now in this cathedral, in each Eucharist we celebrate, that this covenant is realized, when the flesh of Christ, shared by all, makes us open to eternal life.
It is an understatement to say that we are happy to celebrate this Mass in order to give back to God what belongs to God, and to man, his sublime vocation.