Wearing a hard hat and boots, the archbishop of Paris offered Mass in a nearly empty Notre-Dame Cathedral this week as restoration of the fire-damaged interior of the Gothic cathedral kicks off.

Archbishop Michel Aupetit used the occasion of the feast of the dedication of Notre-Dame de Paris to reflect on the spiritual metaphor of restoring one of the most important cathedrals in France, which was once called the “eldest daughter of the Church.”

“This cathedral is also the symbol of the restoration of this Church founded 2,000 years ago by Christ himself,” the archbishop said in his homily on the evening of June 16.

“Some believe that it is in ruins and that it is on the verge of collapse. Yet Christ asserted that the gates of death would not prevail against her. We believe it deeply: like our cathedral, the Church of Christ will remain standing.”

Aupetit pointed out that St. Peter’s first letter in the Bible calls the members of the Church “living stones.”

“St. Augustine reminds us: ‘What we see here physically accomplished with walls must be spiritually accomplished with souls. What we see here accomplished with stones and wood must be accomplished in our bodies with the grace of God,’” he said, quoting Augustine’s Sermon 366 for the dedication of a church.

The archbishop continued: “The chief architect is the Father; the model is Christ; the director is the Holy Spirit. What will bring us together, shape us, and unify us to build a Church more beautiful than ever is the fulfillment of the great commandment of Christ: ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’”

Aupetit spoke beneath the large stained-glass windows of Notre Dame’s Saint-Georges chapel, which includes two 13th-century medallions.

The closed-door Mass, broadcast by the Catholic television station KTO, took place with only 12 people present, each wearing a hard hat for security reasons.

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The Descent from the Cross, also known as Pieta, statue inside the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris before the fire. / Jeanne Emmel/Shutterstock.
The Descent from the Cross, also known as Pieta, statue inside the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris before the fire. / Jeanne Emmel/Shutterstock.

Aupetit has offered a private Mass inside the closed cathedral to mark the anniversary of its dedication each year since the devastating fire in April 2019.

While the French government is overseeing the cathedral’s structural restoration and conservation, the Catholic Church is responsible for its interior renewal.

Paris archdiocese launched an appeal on June 14 for this interior restoration, starting with the reliquary case of the Crown of Thorns, which was damaged on the night of the fire before it was rescued by Fr. Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Department.

The cathedral will reportedly reopen for worship with a Te Deum on April 16, 2024, five years after the blaze. Later that year, Paris will host the Summer Olympics.

“We are so happy now that our cathedral, which was in danger of ruin, is stabilized. We are now entering the restoration phase. It will be more beautiful than ever and this makes our hearts happy and fills us with hope,” Aupetit said.