Holy Week Services Go on in Paris Despite Notre Dame Fire

An aerial shot of the fire damage to Notre Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 16. Pledges totaling more than $1 billion have already poured in from ordinary worshippers and high-powered magnates around the world to restore Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris after it was damaged in a massive fire on Monday. (Gigarama.ru via AP)

Holy Week and Easter are the busiest time in the Christian calendar, and losing a cathedral just as it begins would be the biggest logistical nightmare a bishop could imagine. Where to hold all those liturgies, how to accommodate all those people?

Michel Aupetit, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Paris, faced the first challenge on Monday (April 15) when the historic Notre Dame Cathedral suddenly went up in flames. With its roof burned off, walls possibly weakened and rubble strewn all over, the building will be closed for worship for years to come.

Finding other premises in Paris was less of a problem. Liturgies for Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil on Saturday were promptly transferred to St. Sulpice, a church almost as big as the cathedral and located only four metro stops away.

St. Eustache in Paris will host the Notre Dame Easter
Mass. Photo by Pavel Krok/Creative Commons

Sunday morning’s Easter Mass will be at St. Eustache, another imposing church only a short stroll from the cathedral. The famous organ there is even bigger than that at Notre Dame.

While Holy Week plans were smoothly revised, the challenge of restoring and reopening the 850-year-old cathedral has dominated public attention in the French capital. Pledges of funds have poured in from around the world while politicians and experts debate the best way to repair the Gothic monument.

“Our cathedral is on its knees,” Aupetit said on Wednesday evening in St. Sulpice at the Chrism Mass, when priests join their bishop as he blesses holy oils for the year. That same evening, cathedrals around the country rang their bells in honor of Notre Dame.

Aupetit said that the cathedral would rise from the ashes. He also said that the Catholic Church itself, now more a cultural influence than a spiritual model, needs to be restored.

“We will rebuild our cathedral,” Aupetit said. “We also have to put our church back on its feet.”

The Notre Dame fire dramatically upset President Emmanuel Macron’s schedule as well. On hearing the news on Monday, he canceled a long-awaited speech about planned reforms that had just been taped for broadcast and rushed to the burning building.

“We will rebuild the cathedral, even more beautiful than before, and I want it to be completed in five years,” he said on Tuesday evening. Paris is due to host the Summer Olympics in 2024.

Wednesday’s weekly Cabinet meeting was devoted solely to the Notre Dame issue. Afterward, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced a 75% tax break for donations to the cathedral’s restoration.

There would also be an international competition, he said, to see “whether, as is often the case during the evolution of heritage, we should endow Notre Dame with a new spire that reflects the techniques and challenges of our era.”

Pledges of funds for the reconstruction have risen rapidly and now total over a billion euros ($1.125 billion). When critics charged big donors did it for tax breaks, the wealthy Pinault family announced it would not claim fiscal relief for its 100 million euro contribution.

Expert assessments and follow-up statements from police and firefighters have revealed how much of Notre Dame’s treasures were saved, but also how close the whole monument came to collapsing into smoldering rubble.

Led by the fire brigade’s Catholic chaplain, the Rev. Jean-Marc Fournier, first responders were able to find and save the cathedral’s most valuable relics, such as a ring of branches said to be the crown of thorns that Jesus wore, and consecrated Communion hosts from a tabernacle.

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Source: Religion News Service