Out of great tragedies come great lessons. Six days before Easter the Cathedral of Notre Dame, “Our Lady” as the French think of it, almost completely burned to the ground. The roof and its steeple entirely burned to ash, along with almost the entire inside of the cathedral. However, the front towers and the exterior walls with their beautiful stained glass windows were saved by some very brave firefighters. In his Easter homily, Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris praised those firefighters and their priest chaplain, Father Jean-Marc Fournier, who rushed into the blazing cathedral to save its relics and the Eucharist.

In Crux Now, a daily newsletter published by John Allen, a long-time Catholic correspondent in Rome, Archbishop Aupetit recalled in his Easter homily how he was most worried about the Eucharist, would it be saved? The Scripture passage from Easter morning where Mary Magdalene reports to the apostles, “The Lord is taken from his tomb and we do not know where he was laid,” came to his mind.

His homily continued, “Where is the body of the Lord?” This is the question that arose on Monday evening at the height of the Notre-Dame de Paris fire: “Where is the body of the Lord?” It was necessary to save the cathedral, the treasure, made up of the pieces of silversmiths’ work accumulated over the centuries. It was also necessary to save, for the believers, this infinitely precious relic: the crown of thorns of Jesus brought back by King Saint-Louis.

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However those treasures, and even the relic of the thorns, were not the reason the cathedral was built. It was built to house the body of Christ. “It is for this body, veiled under the appearance of a piece of bread ( “une miette” a crumb or piece) that this cathedral was built,” the archbishop said. He asked what was more important, the cathedral or the treasure of the piece of bread? Certainly Notre Dame must be rebuilt, he said, but these efforts must not overshadow the reason for its existence.

The archbishop’s homily was a very insightful spiritual and theological meditation on the Eucharist and its connection to the Easter celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. He praised Father Fournier for the risks he took to save a piece of bread because it was “the risen body of our Lord that we celebrate today, as we celebrate every Sunday, which has become the central day of our week because it is the day of his resurrection.”

I think that many times we emphasize that during Mass the bread becomes the body of Christ and the wine becomes the blood of Christ as if they remain separated as they were in the dead Christ on the cross after the Roman soldier punctured his side with a spear. The bread and wine are separate sacramental signs which Jesus used at the Last Supper to signify the death he would suffer for our salvation. But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Archbishop Aupetit beautifully explained the way Jesus used earthly elements to bestow sacramental powers. “This bread … is the life of God that is communicated. This bread … gives those who receive it eternal life, it opens the gates of heaven to us. It makes us participate in the resurrection of Christ, that resurrection which we celebrate today and which we call our own resurrection in the flesh at the return of the Lord, which we expect at the end of time.”

The archbishop concluded with, “The apostles rushed to Christ’s tomb, they did not find his body, they believed. We found (and rescued) the resurrected body of the Lord. We too believe.”

Father Carville is a retired priest in the Diocese of Baton Rouge and writes on current topics for The Catholic
Commentator. He can be reached at johnnycarville@gmail.com.