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April 9, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Archbishop Michel Aupetit gave a solemn benediction to the city of Paris from the heights of Montmartre with the Blessed Sacrament earlier this Holy Thursday, praying for the sick and those who take care of them and also for the salvation for those who have died because of the COVID-19 epidemic.
The archbishop of Paris has also announced that he will venerate the Holy Crown of Thorns in Notre Dame Cathedral on Good Friday at 11:30 A.M. local time. It will be the first time that the hallowed relic will return to the cathedral of Paris since a fire destroyed the roof and spire on the Monday of Holy Week in April 2019.
Both events underscore the extraordinary situation created by the lockdown due to the Chinese coronavirus. Excepting some rare churches in France where priests are celebrating Mass publicly, allowing no more than twenty faithful to participate, in most towns and villages, churches are closed during Mass — while supermarkets, shops, and some markets selling “basic necessities” remain open.
Many French faithful are struck by the symbolism of Notre Dame Cathedral, where no public Masses have been celebrated since the fire last year, a situation that has now extended to the whole country.
The blessing of Paris by Archbishop Aupetit was a semi-public event. It took place at the top of the steps in front of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre, built on a hill that had witnessed pagan worship before the Christianization of France, as the result of a “national pledge” while France was at war with Germany in 1870 and partially occupied. The pledge was to build a sanctuary in “reparation” for the many “infidelities and sins” of France: its initiators considered that the woes of France at the time were due to spiritual causes, not political ones. Public offerings financed the construction of the basilica that would finally be consecrated after World War I, 1919. Since then, there is perpetual adoration in the basilica — it continued even during World War II bombardments, day and night.
Montmartre is also the “mount of the martyrs”: Saint Denis, in particular, first bishop of Paris, was beheaded there in the 5th century.
Surrounded by several auxiliary bishops and priests of the diocese all wearing masks, Archbishop Aupetit led the half-hour ceremony that included silent prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament, the litanies of the Sacred Heart and a special prayer of “confidence in times of epidemics” for the occasion.
“In our anxieties, augment our faith. Grant us that we may firmly believe and that You love us with infinite love. In these times of epidemic, in which we cannot receive You sacramentally, come and visit us to make us stronger in this trial[.] … Weak and sinners, we confidently rely on your immense mercy,” prayed Aupetit: “We want today especially to confide Paris to You, here from this basilica where day and night, your mercy shines on the city, on France and on the whole world in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.”
“Give health to the sick, strength to medical personnel, comfort to families and salvation to all those who have died,” he prayed. He also mentioned those who are lonely or homeless.
A litany of adoration of the Heart of Christ followed. Bishop Aupetit sung the Tantum ergo sacramentum after which he moved down the steps of the basilica and silently blessed Paris with the monstrance, while many passers-by strolling in the glorious spring weather could watch and adore from the steps farther down, leading to the monumental balcony, which offers a splendid panorama of the town.
The choir of the nuns of Montmartre sang canticles to accompany the event, including the touching “Anima Christi.”
On Good Friday, the veneration of the Crown of Thorns in Notre Dame will be in the presence of only seven people, including the cathedral’s rector, Msgr. Patrick Chauvet. Aupetit called the event a “message of hope” during a press conference on Wednesday: “It is a cathedral that has fallen apart but it still lives, it sends a positive message to our land, we’ll get through this.”
The veneration will be accompanied by meditations and readings from French poets such as Paul Claudel, Marie Noël and Charles Péguy, and from the writings of Mother Teresa.
All the other Holy Week ceremonies and Easter celebrations with the Archbishop will take place in the nearby ancient church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois.
The disruption caused by the lockdown will also affect the 400 adult baptisms that were to have taken place on Easter night in 96 Parisian parishes. They have all been postponed. Archbishop Aupetit has said he hopes they will be able to take place at Pentecost. All these catechumens are being obliged to wait for the grace of baptism.
Aupetit, who was a general physician before becoming a priest, was personally infected with the coronavirus and suffered a light form of the infection. He told the press that at present, several priests of his diocese are ill, some of whom are quite badly affected, while two are under “heavy reanimation.”
In the diocese, 55 priests have volunteered to visit residents of nursing homes for the dependent elderly, who are getting no treatment when ill with COVID-19, and where family visits are not allowed, to the “despair” of their families. These priests also try to bring comfort and assistance to these families.
The Archdiocese of Paris has set up a special phone line for Catholics wanting to speak to a priest in the present situation. Archbishop Aupetit has also arranged for a special phone line for families who have lost a loved one and who want a priest to be present at the funeral.