By Daniel Burke
This week is Holy Week, when millions of Western Christians mark the death and resurrection of Jesus. Under normal circumstances, Notre Dame cathedral in Paris would have been preparing to display its holy relics to the faithful on Good Friday.
But as fire engulfed the sacred site on Monday, Catholics across the world reacted in horror and disbelief, particularly when the cathedral’s iconic spire toppled amid the flames.
For generations, Notre Dame has been a place of pilgrimage and prayer, and, even as religion in France has declined for decades, it remained the beating heart of French Catholicism, open every day for Mass.
About the cathedral: Notre Dame is not a parish church, meaning that it does not have a regular body of worshippers who “belong” to the church. But it is still the home church of Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit, and draws Catholics for vespers (evening prayers), Masses and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, also known as Penance.
And every year during Holy Week, Notre Dame unveils some of the most coveted relics in Christendom. Among them is the Holy Crown, believed by many to be from the crown of thorns placed on the head of Jesus. Catholics have prayed with the Holy Crown for more than 16 centuries, according to the cathedral.