The Corner

Religion

A Tragic Loss for the Church and the World

Smoke billows as fire engulfs the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, April 15, 2019. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters )

I never got to see the Cathedral of Notre Dame. And now I never will. Although they’re already saying it’ll be rebuilt someday — and it’s hard to imagine that such a beautiful place could be left forever in ruins — it can never be rebuilt to what it was just this morning. It’s nearly unbearable to think about how much has been lost. A cathedral that withstood the bloodshed of revolution and the ravages of two world wars, tumbling in clouds of dark smoke, seemingly impossible to stop.

This is a disaster for Paris and for France, for French history, and for French Catholics. It is a grave loss for the history of Western civilization, and for future generations who, like me, will never see the cathedral’s glorious rose windows or the grandeur of her magnificent spires.

But first and foremost, it is a tragedy for the Catholic Church, whose members are already suffering in so many places. To many Catholics, it feels as if the Church is on fire in a sense already. And now we are watching it blaze. Though Notre Dame de Paris is a testament to world history, to art, to architecture, and to centuries of civilization, above all she is — was — a place of inestimable beauty dedicated to God. The cathedral’s Gothic arches pointed heavenward not for their own sake, not to glorify their creator, but to direct the eye to Him. It was a house of worship, a home for His Presence. That is the loss Catholics mourn this afternoon.

Watching this holy place slowly collapse at the start of Holy Week — which will culminate in the commemoration of Jesus’s passion, death, and resurrection — is of undeniable significance. Notre Dame has fallen, the way everything in the earthly city must. She will not rise from these ashes as she was. Catholics take comfort in the belief that our Church will stand firm.

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