Saturday, 30 March 2013

Pilgrimage to the Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Paris

It is a jubilee-year celebration at the Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Paris, in commemoration of the laying of its foundation stone 850 years ago. It officially started last December 12, 2012 and will end on November 24, 2013. For this grand occasion, the church is especially decorated, and some relics are part of the "pilgrim's steps" to enhance the pilgrim's religious and spiritual experience.  

I have been to the Notre Dame several times - on my own and, sometimes, joining guided tours. This time, I joined a pilgrimage several weeks ago, that was organized by the Anglophone Ministry of St. Joseph parish in Paris. May I invite you to join us on a virtual pilgrimage now, as we did on February 23, 2013.

In a "feels-like" - 8°C temperature, the pilgrims - about half of the original 80 (out of close to 300 registrants) who indicated that they would walk the one hour and twenty-five minute trek from the church to the cathedral, were on their way at about 7:05 a.m. I left the apartment when it seemed like dawn was about to break, and caught up with the group at 7:35, at the foot of Pont de Alma, all covered from head to toe with just my eyes showing. Just like the pilgrims in the olden days, we walked with a penitential spirit.
St. Augustine set the tone for this pilgrimage - Via Viatores Quaerit 
(I am the way which seeks travelers.) 
We arrived ahead of schedule. We had time for a coffee break in one of the tents to the left, reserved for the parishioners, and had some time to browse around. 
 At the cathedral square, the grandstand is about three meters behind Point Zero.
 Atop the grandstand, we had a vantage point to see details not too obvious at ground level.
Upon entering the church, we had a good look at the new bells that were lined up on the knave. The bells tolling from the Notre Dame were once considered sweetly harmonic. The present four bells that were at the north tower of the Notre Dame - which were just placed there in the 19th century, have become out of tune, except for the Bourdon Emmanuelle bell in the south tower. 

The original bells were melted during the French revolution. As part of this anniversary celebration, a project to recapture the original, magnificent sound of bells tolling at the Notre Dame, once again, was put into motion. A total of nine new bells have  replaced the four old ones and five new ones have taken their places at the bell towers. 

The bells were on public display here for a short period, up to the end of February. On March 23, 2013, they were heard for the first time. In a coverage of that historic occasion, this is how they sounded like in concert for about ten minutes, beginning at frame 12:35.
As the church filled up - with a special section reserved for the parishioners of St. Joseph church, Fr. Aidan Troy - parish priest of St. Joseph, gave his welcome spiel. With special arrangements made with the Notre Dame church staff months before, the St. Joseph parishioners had their special day of celebration at the cathedral.
Lectors and cantors did their part. As for me, I read one of the petitions.
The church lay ministers brought up the offertory gifts.
 Fr. Sean Maher from the Irish College and our priests - Fr. Melvin Shorter, Fr. Aidan Troy, and Fr. Francis Finnigan - concelebrated the mass.
The choir performed their beautiful church music under the baton of Mark
After mass, we met the three English-speaking tour guides from CASA at the cathedral square.

This pilgrimage is an invitation for the pilgrims and guests to discover or rediscover Jesus Christ, by walking the 850 years of devotion to the Virgin Mary in eight steps. At each step, there is a theme, a bible verse reading, and an invitation for the pilgrim to take a step, followed by the guides' explanation.

STEP 1 The Jubilee doors
Theme: Holiness
Bible verse: "I am the way, the truth, and the light." John 14:6
Invitation: Set out and step forward onto the Way of Faith and Holiness.

When the doors are thrown wide open, one feels welcomed. Entering through the Jubilee doors was the start of our pilgrimage, symbolic of the welcome being given by Our Lady of Notre Dame, for us to get to know her son. 

STEP 2  Western Façade
 and the three portals
Theme: Hope
Bible verse: "Whoever believes in the SON has eternal life." John 3:36
Invitation: Make an act of trust.

The central portal - portal of the Last Judgment
Portal to the right (or south) - Portal of St. Anne
Portal to the left (or north) - Portal of the Virgin

The portals above the heavy, wooden doors of the cathedral were first designed during the Middle Ages. It was painted - including the statues, and gave the onlooker stories from the Bible. This was a means of teaching "Sacred History and the lives of saints to those who could not read." After undergoing years of major cleaning, the façade is now in natural, stone color.
Above the portals is the  gallery of the Virgin and Child, between two angels, which is centrally located on the façade and with the western rose window right behind it like a halo. 

Below the gallery of the Virgin and Child is the gallery of kings, was a row of twenty-eight statues originally representing the twenty-eight generations of the kings of Judah - the descendants of Jesse, who were the ancestors of Mary and Jesus. This is an illustration of Mary as a mortal, born of the human race, who gave birth to Jesus who was both Man and God. 

However, in the 13th century, the gallery of kings was seen as the gallery of the kings of France. It is because of this that they were decapitated and mutilated during the French revolution as they symbolized royal despotism. In 1843, after the revolution, Viollet-le-Duc and Lassus were the architects given the task to restore the cathedral. This became one of the main projects - to restore the statues of the kings from fragments, with the help of Geoffroi-Dechaume who had a workshop.
STEP 3  Baptismal Font
Theme: Christian Faith
Bible verse: "You follow me." John 21:22
Invitation: Profess one's faith

Receiving the sacrament of baptism initiates us into a relationship with God as we are reborn in the Spirit. A new baptismal font, made of stone, has been installed at the cathedral. 

STEP 4  The Rose Windows
Theme: Light of the World
Bible verse: "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me
will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John 8:12
Invitation: Allow one's self to be guided by Christ, the Light of the world.

A "rose window" is circular in shape and mainly found in churches designed in Gothic architecture style. It is divided in segments by mullions (support elements) and tracery (design patterns). The name rose window got popular in the 17th century when the window designs became more rose-like, in comparison to the "wheel window" which were divided by spokes radiating from the center.

The installation of rose windows in churches and Gothic cathedrals in Northern France was in vogue during the Medieval period. With the Gothic revival during the 19th century, it found its way into Christian churches all over the world.
The North Rose Window
The Blessed Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus are at the center of the window, 
surrounded by the prophets and saints. 

A distinguishing feature of this rose window is that it does not have a spoke that rest perpendicularly on the bay. It almost feels like it will turn anytime.
Received as a gift from King Saint Louis, it was originally designed by Jean de Chelles and Pierre de Montreuill.   It was constructed in 1260. Reaching 12.90 meters in diameter and almost 19 meters in height - including the bay, it is a depiction of the connection between the Old and New Testament. However, this window had been damaged several times in the past. 
Today, it symbolises "Christ triumphant, reigning over heaven."
STEP 5  The Altar and the Choir

Theme: Self-sacrifice
Bible verse: "Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life." John 6:54
Invitation: Bow down before the altar

The altar is a table of some sort with five crosses engraved on it, to signify the five wounds of Jesus Christ. The altar symbolizes the table of the Lord as in the Last Supper, and in practice this is where the Eucharistic sacrifice is offered during mass. 
STEP 6 The Virgin of the Pillar
Theme: Obedience to the Faith
Bible verse: "Behold your mother." John 19:27
Invitation: Become a son/daughter of the Holy Church

This statue of Our Lady of Notre Dame (the Virgin of the Pillar) was sculpted in the mid 14th century and brought to the Notre Dame in 1818. It was originally at the Chapel of Saint Aignan , an ancient cloister of the Canons that was located in the Ile de la Cité.

A story of conversion took place here in 1886. An eighteen-year old boy, Paul Claudel - who became a poet, writer and diplomat, was attending the Vespers on Christmas eve. The choir members, in their white robes, were singing the "Magnificat." While standing in the crowd in the choir section, something mystical happened  - he called it 'the event.' He had received a revelation and it moved and touched him. It was life-changing for him. After that time, he studied for four years to become a Catholic. 

Of the thirty-seven images of Our Lady, this sculpture has become the most popular. Our Lady of Notre Dame hears the prayerful petitions of millions of pilgrims each year, as the faithful lift up their prayers to Our Blessed Mother, the Queen of Heaven.
STEP 7 The Crown of Thorns at the Sacrament Chapel
Theme: Charity
Bible verse: "Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great n heaven." Matthew 5:12
Invitation: Become aware of the love of Christ

The relics of the Passion of Christ at the Notre Dame de Paris include a piece of the cross, two nails and the Holy Crown of Thorns. Some writers of the the first six centuries A.D. made mention of a relic that was in existence and was being venerated. After the year 409, St. Paulinus of Nola referred to the main relic as "the thorns with which Our Savior was crowned" and venerated in Jerusalem since the fifth century for several hundred years. Antonius of Piacienza (6th C.) indicated that it was in the church on Mt. Zion.

It is said that parts of the original Crown of Thorns were in the possession of several powerful people. For instance, Justinian the Great, the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) emperor who died in 565, had given a thorn to st. Germain - Bishop of Paris. The whole Crown was transferred to Byzantium around 1063. 

In a political move, Baldwin II, the Latin emperor of Constantinople, offered the Crown of Thorns to King Louis IX of France in 1238, to gain support for his weakened empire. It was redeemed from the Venetians who had it as collateral for a loan of 13,134 gold pieces and sent to Paris and was received by King Louis. He had the Sainte Chapelle built, which was completed in 1248,  to house the holy relic and other religious relics in the possession of King Louis IX. The chapel's use came to an end during the French Revolution, at which time it suffered much destruction. The relics were dispersed and the relics of the Passion of our Lord were transferred to the Notre Dame.
 A close-up of the Reliquary of the Crown of Thorns

This is a safe that is used as a reliquary for the Crown of Thorns. It is a bit transparent and it allows for a view of the outline of the crown. The. relics of the Passion of Christ are presented to the public for veneration every first Friday of each month and every Friday during the season of Lent, at 3:00 p.m., and on Good Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 
STEP 8 Relic of Saint Genevieve  
Theme: Mission
Bible verse: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the
 name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Matthew 28:19
Invitation: Experience and bear witness to the Love of Christ

Saint Genevieve was legendary. A widely told story about her is that she was able to save Paris in 451 from the attack of the Huns under Attila, by leading a marathon of prayers and fasting. For no comprehensible reason, Attila decided to move away from the city. She is the patron saint of Paris.

There are other events scheduled as part of the jubilee celebration . The closing celebration will be on November 24th, and a closing concert will be held on December 10th.

This jubilee year also coincides with the Year of Faith - as declared by, then, Pope Benedict XVI in his apostolic letter of October 11, 2012, Porta Fidei (Door of Faith). It's a call to rediscover our journey with Jesus Christ and to be the evangelizers to others. It will conclude on November 24, 2013. The pope emeritus' prayer intention for this Year of Faith is for the faith of Christians, that "Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him."

Also being  recalled at this same time is the outcome of the Second Vatican Council, which was convened under the leadership of Pope John XXIII. Here's a brief look at what the council was about. It was fifty years ago when changes were introduced to the Catholic Church, after an assessment was made regarding the church's role in the changing world. Among the changes brought about were the change in the mass format - to be said in the vernacular, with the altar and celebrant facing the people. This was a signal for the worshippers  to take a more active part during the celebration of mass.  Nuns` habits became more typical, Mary-like, practical  clothes, replacing their multi-layer, long garbs. Men and women in religious orders began to openly take on causes related to human rights and human dignity.  There was a shift in the attitude of the Catholic Church towards other religions. This put the church in conversation with the world.

We are on a pilgrimage on this earth.For whatever inspirations lead us to take the paths we are on, may they lead us to live a purposeful and meaningful life.

Contact information to organize a pilgrimage:
Tel. +33(0)1 44 32 16 72



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