There have been many articles and commentaries on various aspects of the disastrous fire that engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral on April 15th of this year. Many are written from a secular point of view, and examine the economic and historical impact of France's great loss. Others, written by Christians, acknowledge the spiritual and cultural decline of France, and pay homage to the Catholic Church's many contributions to building European culture. Still others are written by Catholics who see beyond the physical structure of the Cathedral to discern the very reason why such edifices exist in the first place: to enable the daily celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass. (A fact that hasn't been lost on many Catholics is that the modern Novus Ordo altar was completely destroyed by the Cathedral's great spire, whereas the beautiful High Altar, pictured above, remains intact.) All three sources draw a link between the growing Moslem population in France, the shrinking number of Christians and the frequent attacks on churches in that country.
For Catholics, the historic cathedral's most valuable item was not a golden artefact or a priceless sculpture; even Jesus' venerable Crown of Thorns pales into insignificance when compared to this true treasure. That most precious item was housed, not in a vault or behind glass, but in the tabernacle: it was the Blessed Sacrament, the very flesh and blood of the crucified Saviour.
A French news report has surfaced, which shows an interview with an heroic priest who entered the burning building to extract its most valuable contents. The following English translation and accompanying notes are by reddit user zara_von_p and she has kindly given permission for them to be reproduced here:
"I am Father Fournier, chaplain-major at the Paris Fire Brigade and I was the chaplain on duty this 15th of April when an extraordinary fire occurred in the Notre-Dame cathedral.
As I was on duty, I was called on the scene, and right away two things must absolutely be done : save this unfathomable treasure that is the crown of thorns, and of course our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament.
As I entered the cathedral, there was little smoke and almost no heat, but we had a vision of what hell may be : like waterfalls of fire pouring down from the openings in the roof, due to the downfall not only of the spire but also of other smaller debris in the choir.
I was escorted by a senior officer; the difficulty was in finding the holder of the code to the safe that sheltered the Crown of Thorns. This took us much time, and during this quest for the code a team of firefighters was trying to break open the safe, and they did just as I got a hold of the keys.
The relic was then extracted [from the building] and guarded by police officers.
Everybody understands that the Crown of Thorns is an absolutely unique and extraordinary relic, but the Blessed Sacrament is our Lord, really present in his body, soul, divinity and humanity and you understand that it is hard to see someone you love perish in the blaze. As firefighters we often see casualties from fire and we know its effects, this is why I sought to preserve above all the real presence of our Lord Jesus-Christ.
[Something about Macron and the fact that there were 400 up to 600 firefighters on scene...]
[Compliments to the general officer commanding the Paris fire brigade who showed exceptional leadership]
The time when the fire attacked the northern bell tower and we started to fear losing it, was exactly the time when I rescued the Blessed Sacrament. And I did not want to simply leave with Jesus: I took the opportunity to perform a Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament.
Here I am completely alone in the cathedral, in the middle of burning debris falling down from the ceiling, I call upon Jesus to help us save His home.
It was probably both this and the excellent general maneuver of the firefighters that led to the stopping of the fire, the ultimate rescuing of the northern tower and subsequently of the other one.
We started Lent by imposing ashes and saying "remember you are dust", and truly this was a miniature Lent: the Cathedral went to ashes, not to disappear, but to emerge stronger, as we Christians are, after the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus-Christ."
Zara then goes on to provide some information on Fr Fournier:
Fr Fournier was ordained in the FSSP, and was detached temporarily - ongoing - from the FSSP into the Diocese of the French armed forces, since 2006. During the Nov. 13th, 2015 terror attacks, Fr Fournier sneaked into the Bataclan concert hall under live fire to give a collective absolution to the victims (more than 100 dead). Then on April 15th, 2019, he blessed the Notre-Dame cathedral from the inside with the Eucharistic reserve he had just rescued.
To the world, and to most Christians, the actions of this priest seem at best foolish, and at worst, blasphemous. But to faithful Catholics, it is a sign that there still exist in France that breed of priest who has his priorities in order. Perhaps Fr Fournier will inspire all Catholics who hear his story to be ready to risk their lives for the sake of the Blessed Sacrament.
[Note: click here to watch the interview with Fr Fournier. It's in French, without English subtitles.]