NOTRE DAME IS IN FLAMES. The spire has gone; the roof has collapsed. It appears no one has died—Deo gratias—which is a real mercy. The cause is as yet unknown but no doubt we shall no soon enough. The recent spate of attacks on churches in France hangs heavier in the air tonight . . .
Medieval cathedrals such as Notre Dame were designed in part to be visual, iconographic catechisms for a largely illiterate population. Most people could not read the Bible let alone have afforded a copy of it, but in the cathedral the great biblical narratives were unfolded before them, as too the teachings of Christ, the example of the saints, the virtues and vices, enticing visions of heaven and chilling visions of hell. In the cathedrals the great liturgies of the Church’s year were celebrated before rich and poor alike, and in them they beheld a living exposition of faith and salvation, and the presence of God in a fallen world, offering a living tableau that fed faith, hope, and charity.
But even more, in our day such cathedrals seem to be the last voices proclaiming an unsullied, uninhibited Christianity, thus far, free from the restrictions on Christian faith and preaching increasingly being visited upon the Church’s ministers and faithful by an increasingly aggressive secularism in western society, and elsewhere.