PARIS – Amidst both pain and hope, Parisian faithful found a new home in the Basilica of Saint-Sulpice for the chrism Mass yesterday evening, after a blaze nearly destroyed the famed Cathedral of Notre Dame on Monday.
“It’s the first gathering of all believers with our bishop, it’s not the usual place, which is Notre Dame, but we attempt to find hope and joy in our hearts once again as we approach the three days of Holy Week, which are the most important for us,” said Parisian Father Michaud in an interview with Crux April 17.
Michaud was among the thousands of Catholics and non-Catholics who came to Saint-Sulpice beckoned by the bells that tolled in the city of Paris and all of France at 6:50 pm on Wednesday.
The Holy Chrism Mass sees the bishop consecrate the oil for the sick and adults receiving baptism and it’s an important moment for Catholic clergy to renew their faith and commitment.
On Monday evening a fire destroyed the vault and spire of the Notre Dame Cathedral, tearing down wood, melting lead and almost eliminating its more than 800-year-old history. The fire was extinguished and most of the relics and artwork were saved, but the damage and cause of the blaze remain unknown.
“It’s sad, it’s sad what happened,” Brother Federico told Crux, “but we go forward.”
“The essential is Jesus and not a cathedral,” he said, adding that “our life is not based on a building but on Christ.”
The anguish of watching the cathedral in flames was shared by onlookers and viewers worldwide. While Notre Dame is an important monument in the Catholic community, its beauty, history and majesty make it an important reference point for the city of France and the world, regardless of religious affiliation.
“I had tears falling down my face when I saw it on television,” said Odile Michard, an elderly woman attending Mass outside, “then I wept.”
“I cannot believe that in my lifetime I would see Notre Dame go up in flames.”
Michard told Crux that she was moved by the kindness and generosity of people everywhere, adding that the tragic event “created a strong sense of community not just with Catholics, but everyone.”
Among the non-believers attending the Mass was Bahman Alaj, who lives in France but is originally from Iran. He was among those who witnessed the cathedral engulfed by fire first hand.
“When I saw it, immediately my heart felt the same way the cathedral was feeling. It crumbled,” he told Crux.
He added that while watching so many cry or watch the sad spectacle in total silence, he was also reminded “that people still want beauty, still want life, still want deep emotions.”
Through the pain of seeing history nearly destroyed, most of the attendees who spoke to Crux at the Mass at Saint-Sulpice found a message of hope and renewal, reinforced by the Easter promise of Christ’s resurrection.
“People were really touched by what happened at Notre Dame, so they came to the chrism Mass as they never did before,” said 27-year-old Edouard Quennec, a practicing Catholic.
“It’s sad, but we have to move on and we can’t regret Notre Dame,” he added.
Quennec expressed optimism for the rebuilding of the historic cathedral in the heart of Paris, especially in light of the numerous generous donations that have come from all over the world for the reconstruction.
“Because we are Christian, we have hope!” he said. “Easter is coming so Christ will be reborn, and it’s something we can add to the way we can rebuild Notre Dame.”
This mixture of passion and hope for the future was present in the homily given by the Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit at the Mass.
“Our cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris has been anointed,” he said, before describing how its walls and altar were coated with Holy Chrism during its construction.
“The crosses of its walls were also coated with this sacred oil, this oil that we will now bless,” he added. “This cathedral is inhabited by a people. But it is not only inhabited by those who pray or visit it. She is the vessel of a presence. She is the house of God and that is why she is the home of all.”
Aupetit launched a fervent appeal that priests and faithful take this experience as an opportunity to renew the Church and to think about what it means to be Catholics.
“We will rebuild the cathedral,” he said, “we could speak in these Easter times of a certain resurrection.”
“But we must also raise the Church. May all the baptized who have received the anointing of Christ, priest, prophet and king, rediscover the fervor of their beginning, relive the extraordinary grace they once received by becoming children of God,” Aupetit said.
His final words encouraged Catholics together to “rebuild our Church,” and entrusted his intentions “to Our Lady who is still standing,” the Virgin Mary.