This week, we witnessed the fire at Notre-Dame de Paris, one of the most recognizable, and beloved, Roman Catholic cathedrals in the world. There is now talk of its restoration; which is all lovely and quite good, as long as it is remembered what Notre-Dame is: it is a Roman Catholic church.
It is not an inter-denominational history museum.
It is a living Catholic church.
Which leads us to ask: what is a Catholic church? And, what is Christian culture, from whence such a beautiful church was birthed?
The Catholic professor and scholar, John Senior (b. 1923- d. 1999), answered these questions when he wrote:
Whatever we do in the political or social order, the indispensable foundation is prayer, the heart of which is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the perfect prayer of Christ Himself, Priest and Victim, recreating in an unbloody manner the bloody, selfsame Sacrifice of Calvary.
What is Christian culture? It is essentially the Mass. That is not my or anyone’s opinion or theory or wish but the central fact of 2,000 years of history. Christendom, what secularists call Western Civilization, is the Mass and the paraphernalia which protect and facilitate it. All architecture, art, political and social forms, economics, the way people live and feel and think, music, literature ― all these things, when they are right, are ways of fostering and protecting the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
To enact a sacrifice, there must be an altar, an altar has to have a roof over it in case it rains; to reserve the Blessed Sacrament, we build a little House of Gold and over it a Tower of Ivory with a bell and a garden round it with the roses and lilies of purity, emblems of the Virgin Mary ― Rosa Mystica, Turris Davidica, Turris Eburnea, Domus Aurea, who carried His Body and His Blood in her womb, Body of her body, Blood of her blood. And around the church and garden, where we bury the faithful dead, the caretakers live, the priests and religious whose work is prayer, who keep the Mystery of Faith in its tabernacle of music and words in the Office of the Church; and around them, the faithful who gather to worship and divide the other work that must be done in order to make the perpetuation of the Sacrifice possible — to raise the food and make the clothes and build and keep the peace so that generations to come may live for Him, so that the Sacrifice goes on even until the consummation of the world.
Senior would say today: re-build Notre-Dame with the same intentions of its original builders.
And, lest we forget the beauty of Christian culture, let us hear from G.K Chesterton:
“…the view that priests darken and embitter the world. I look at the world and simply discover that they don’t. Those countries in Europe which are still influenced by priests, are exactly the countries where there is still singing and dancing and coloured dresses and art in the open-air. Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground.”
Notre-Dame, the work of Catholic hands; beautiful!
May you continue to have a good Holy Week.
~Image: the beautiful Notre-Dame, pre-fire.