PARIS (OSV News) -- The reopening of Notre Dame Cathedral, scheduled for Dec. 8, will be "six months of celebration and praise," the archbishop of Paris said in a pastoral letter. The iconic cathedral will reopen five years and 10 months after the devastating fire in April 2019.
Archbishop Laurent Ulrich gave some details in his Feb. 2 letter on what the reopening will look like, emphasizing it will not be a one-day celebration but several months of joy.
The archbishop announced that "this celebration of the reopening of Notre Dame deserves an octave: from Dec. 8 to 15, every day, we will have a solemn celebration with a particular theme." But the festive "reopening" time will last until June 8, when Pentecost falls in 2025.
That way, the archbishop said, "many will be able to say: 'I was at the reopening!'"
"It must in fact be taken into account that the number of seats in the cathedral is not very large: Notre Dame is certainly not the largest church in Paris!" Archbishop Ulrich said.
At the end of November, a procession will take place in the streets of the French capital to return the statue of the Virgin Mary to the cathedral. It is currently housed in the church of Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois, directly across the street from the Louvre Palace. The sculpture, called the Virgin of the Pillar, or the Virgin of Paris, dates back to the mid-14th century. It was next to her, inside Notre Dame Cathedral, that the famous French poet and diplomat Paul Claudel suddenly converted to Christianity on Christmas Day in 1886.
The celebration of the reopening will start Dec. 7, with representatives of the French state, which owns the cathedral, officially handing Notre Dame over to the archbishop of Paris -- "the assignee which is the Catholic Church" -- the letter said. The event will include the "awakening of the organ," restored since the fire, followed with "liturgical celebration with blessing, a Magnificat or a 'Te Deum,' then vespers."
The first Mass will be celebrated in Notre Dame Dec. 8, the day when the new altar will be consecrated, highlighting the celebrative week. The sober bronze altar, with a flared shape reminiscent of a cup, was designed by Guillaume Bardet. Based south of Lyon, Bardet was chosen from among 70 candidates vying for the project. He also is in charge of the other pieces of furniture, baptistery, ambon, pulpit and tabernacle.
The feast of the Immaculate Conception will be celebrated in the reopened cathedral Dec. 9., a day later than the actual feast. "We will have the joy of celebrating the Immaculate Conception, which the liturgy celebrates this year on Dec. 9, due to the Second Sunday of Advent," the archbishop wrote.
The archbishop of Paris paid a special tribute in his letter to the generosity of all those who donated money for the reconstruction of the cathedral, whether they be "major donors, exceptional patrons or modest donors." The donors will be present at ceremonies, as well as firefighters, entrepreneurs and craftsmen, public figures, French and foreign bishops and other representatives of the French dioceses, the letter said.
"This festive season will be one for all Christian people, of all ages and conditions," Archbishop Ulrich said. "The most precarious, the isolated, the forgotten will be at Notre Dame."
"Believers or not, Christians or not, it is a landmark for all. This cathedral is there for everyone," he added, mentioning all those he said are in his heart prior to the opening -- especially youth from troubled outskirts of Paris and people suffering from traumas.
Archbishop Ulrich confirmed in his letter that the work is progressing according to schedule on the cathedral restoration worksite, and the craftsmen are working "with happiness, enthusiasm and understanding." Inside the cathedral, the ground is still open due to archaeological excavations and for the creation of conduits for electricity, heating, protection and fire alarm circuits. At the end of the summer, diocesan teams will start setting up equipment and facilities for liturgical functions, for which they will need two or three months.
The Paris archbishop announced in his letter that the archdiocese will take advantage of the reopening period to propose a renewal of "catechesis for all on the sacraments" to "rediscover in depth" their meaning, often forgotten in today's society.
In a touching letter to his flock 10 months prior to reopening, the archbishop said Notre Dame is the "mother church of the diocese" and "a source place for our faith."
"You love it, I love it, we love it," Archbishop Ulrich stressed.
"Then, amidst the jubilation that we can expect, and also the pride that naturally attaches to the work accomplished in this period of just over five years, the magnificent commitment of companies and their employees who have found exceptional professional accomplishment there, I would like us to simply know how to express our gratitude for a truly common work, to congratulate ourselves on this sense of the common good achieved together which produces so much more joy than when everyone only thinks about his own good," the Paris archbishop wrote.
"Above all," he concluded, "I would like us to give glory to God: 'Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam' -- 'Not to us, Lord, but to Your name give glory!'"