Before Notre-Dame burned into flames

On this date last year, Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris was ablaze in a serious fire.

Three months prior to the fire, my friend Jacqueline and I were visiting the church. Here are my reflections from then:

On Monday, January 14th, we went to morning mass at Notre Dame. This usually seems like an entirely different experience than a Sunday mass in the the packed cathedral. By contrast, the weekday masses are very intimate with only about a dozen congregants who gather before the high altar with the kneeling statues of Louis XIII and Louis XIV, a crucifix, pieta, and the company of angelic statues each holding a different instrument of the Passion.

The mass reading that day was from the Letter to the Hebrews:

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son;
today I have begotten you”?

Or again,

“I will be his Father,
and he will be my Son”?

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”

And the psalm proclaimed, “The Lord is King!”

Of course I delighted in the consonance between world and representation.

Jacqueline and I then took some time to prayerfully visit the various side chapels. When I visited the chapel of Our Lady of Częstochowa as well as the Holy Land chapel with the Crown of Thorns, these made me realize the immense affection and attachment I’d cultivated in my soul for both Poland and Israel.


I was also struck by the chapel of the Chinese martyrs and Our Lady of China. It made me think of political work in which I’ve been involved advocating for political prisoners and minorities there, combating organ harvesting, and fighting for religious freedom, democracy, and human rights.

St. Paul Chen, a Chinese martyr

I was also impressed by an imaginative depiction of Our Lady of China in which a Chinese Mary is surrounded by three little children, looking at Mary’s child with interest and wonder. It’s the opposite of “Rachel is weeping for her children”, I thought.

Of course I visited the plaque commenmorating Jean Marie Cardinal Lustiger – the Jewish cardinal – with the epitaph that he himself had written about always remaining Jewish and ending with the exhortation for passers by to pray for him.

Finally, I was also sure to behold the provocative Ecclesia and Synagoga sculptures on the façade of the church. I’d first hear about this controversial motif in medieval European art where female figures depicting Church and Synagogue are placed in juxtaposition to one another from a talk on Jewish-Christian relations during a visit to the Galilee.

After this, Jacqueline and I walked along the river praying the Joyful Mysteries together on the way to the Louvre.

I’m very thankful we visited Notre-Dame Cathedral and paid such close attention to it before the fire!

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