During Saturday’s Mass in a side chapel of Notre-Dame de Paris, the cathedral’s first since its April fire, Archbishop Michel Aupetit emphasized that the church is no mere cultural heritage of France, but is meant for the worship of God.
The June 15 Mass anticipated the June 16 feast of the dedication of Notre-Dame.
“Dedication comes from dedicatio which means consecration. The dedication is the consecration of a church to divine worship. What we celebrate by the dedication each year, is the profound reason why Notre-Dame cathedral was built: to manifest man’s inner impulse toward God,” Archbishop Aupetit said during his homily June 15.
About 30 people assisted in the Mass, including canons of the cathedral and other priests, wearing hard hats for safety. The Mass was said Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs, a side chapel that housed the crown of thorns.
“The cathedral was born of the faith of our ancestors,” the archbishop said. “It shows trust in the goodness of Christ, his love greater than hate, his life stronger than death as well as the tenderness of our forebears for the Virgin Mary, his mother, whom he entrusted to us as his most precious good just before dying on the cross.”
“This cathedral was born of the Christian hope which perceives well beyond a small, self-centered personal life to enter into a magnificent project at the service of all, in projecting itself well beyond a single generation.”
“It was also born of charity, since open to all, it is the refuge of the poor and excluded who find their protection there,” he added.
Alluding to reactions to the cathedral’s fire, Aupetit asked: “Are we ashamed of the faith of our ancestors? Are we ashamed of Christ?”
He affirmed that Notre-Dame “is a place of worship, this is its sole and proper end. There are no tourists at Notre Dame, because this term is often pejorative and doesn’t do right to the mystery which impels humanity to come to search for something beyond itself. This cultural good, this spiritual wealth, cannot be reduced to a patrimonial good. This cathedral, a communal work in the service of all, is but a reflection of the living stones that are all those who enter it.”
“Can one truly by ignorance or by ideology separate culture and cult? The etymology itself shows the strong link that exists between the two. I strongly emphasize: a culture without cult becomes a non-culture,” he stated.
“You only have to look at the abysmal religious ignorance of our contemporaries because of the exclusion of the divine notion of the very Name of God in the public sphere by invoking a laïcité which excludes any visible spiritual dimension.”
Notre-Dame’s cornerstone is Christ, he emphasized. “If we were to remove this stone, this cathedral would collapse. It would be an empty shell, a case without jewels, a skeleton without life, a body without a soul.”
While the cathedral, as “the fruit of human genius,” is “man’s masterpiece,” he said that “the human person is the fruit of the divine genius. It is God’s masterpiece.”
“When the two are joined together in the person of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, the Covenant between the transcendent and the immanent (Heaven and earth) is truly accomplished. It is here and now in this cathedral at each one of the Eucharists that we celebrate, that this Covenant is realized, when the body of Christ shared by all, opens us to eternal life.”
Aupetit concluded: “We can’t say enough that we are happy to celebrate this Mass to render to God what is God’s and to Man his sublime vocation.”
A fire broke out in Notre-Dame April 15. The roof and the spire, which dated to the 19th century, were destroyed. The major religious and artistic treasures of the cathedral were removed as the fire began, including a relic of the crown of thorns.
Originally built between the twelfth through fourteenth centuries, the landmark cathedral in the French capital is one of the most recognizable churches in the world.
The cathedral was undergoing some restorative work at the time the fire broke out, though it is unknown if the fire originated in the area of the work.
Last month the French Senate passed a bill mandating that Notre-Dame be rebuilt as it was before the fire. President Emmanuel Macron had called for “an inventive reconstruction” of the cathedral.
Since the adoption of the 1905 law on separation of church and state, which formalized laïcité (a strict form of public secularism), religious buildings in France have been property of the state.