Notre Dame kept Christmas going even during two world wars – a beacon of hope amid the bloodshed.
Yet an accidental fire in peacetime finally stopped the Paris cathedral from celebrating Midnight Mass this year, for the first time in over two centuries.
As the lights stay dim in the once-invincible 855-year-old landmark, officials are trying hard to focus on the immediate task of keeping burned out Notre Dame’s spirit alive in exile through service, song, and prayer.
“This is the first time since the French Revolution that there will be no midnight Mass [at Notre Dame],” cathedral rector Patrick Chauvet told The Associated Press.
There was even a Christmas service amid the carnage of World War I, Mr. Chauvet noted, “because the canons were there and the canons had to celebrate somewhere,” referring to the cathedral’s clergy. During World War II, when Paris was under Nazi occupation, “there was no problem.” He said that to his knowledge, it was only closed for Christmas in the period after 1789, when the anti-Catholic French revolutionaries turned the monument into “a temple of reason.”
Christmas-in-exile at Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois this year will be a history-making moment.
“We have the opportunity to celebrate the Mass outside the walls, so to speak … but with some indicators that Notre Dame is connected to us,” Mr. Chauvet said.
Those indicators include a wooden liturgical platform that has been constructed in the Saint-Germain church to resemble Notre Dame’s own. A service will be led at midnight on Dec. 24 by Mr. Chauvet to a crowd of faithful, including many who would normally worship in the cathedral, accompanied by song from some of Notre Dame’s now-itinerant choir.
The cathedral’s iconic Gothic sculpture “The Virgin of Paris,” from which some say Notre Dame owes its name, is also on display in the new annex.
The 14th-century masterpiece, which measures around six feet and depicts Mary and baby Jesus, has come to embody the officials’ message of hope following the fire.