The Holy Father's Homily on the liturgical experience and the
In the Church everyone has
On Friday evening, 12 September , the Holy
Father went to Paris' famous Cathedral of Notre-Dame to
celebrate Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the clergy,
men and women religious, seminarians and deacons of France.
Notre-Dame Cathedral is located on the
Île de la Cité
in the River Seine in the heart of Paris. The foundation stone
of the modern church was laid by Pope Alexander III in 1163. The
facade was completed in 1245. It is one of the finest examples
of stained-glass rose windows and has a capacity of 6,500. The
Pope was welcomed by the Cathedral's Rector and accompanied to
the Sacristy where Cardinal Vingt-Trois presented to him several
representatives of other Churches and Christian denominations.
The following is a translation of the Pope's Homily in French.
Dear Brother Cardinals and Bishops,
Reverend Canons of the Cathedral Chapter,
Reverend Chaplains of Notre-Dame,
Dear Priests and Deacons,
Dear Friends from Non-Catholic Churches and Ecclesial
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
Blessed be God who has brought us together in a place so dear
to the heart of every Parisian and all the people of France!
Blessed be God, who grants us the grace of offering him our
evening prayer and giving him due praise in the very words which
the Church’s liturgy inherited from the synagogue worship
practised by Christ and his first disciples! Yes, blessed be
God for coming to our assistance —
in adiutorium nostrum —
and helping us to offer him our sacrifice of praise!
We are gathered in the Mother Church of the Diocese of Paris,
Notre-Dame Cathedral, which rises in the heart of the city as a
living sign of God’s presence in our midst.
My predecessor, Pope Alexander III, laid its first stone, and
Popes Pius VII and John Paul II honoured it by their presence.
I am happy to follow in their footsteps, a quarter of a century
after coming here to offer a conference on catechesis. It is
hard not to give thanks to the Creator of both matter and spirit
for the beauty of this edifice.
The Christians of Lutetia had originally built a cathedral
dedicated to Saint Stephen, the first martyr; as time went on it
became too small, and was gradually replaced, between the
twelfth and fourteenth centuries, by the great building we
admire today. The faith of the Middle Ages built the
cathedrals, and here your ancestors came to praise God, to
entrust to him their hopes and to express their love for him.
Great religious and civil events took place in this shrine,
where architects, painters, sculptors and musicians have given
the best of themselves. We need but recall, among so many
others, the architect Jean de Chelles, the painter Charles Le
Brun, the sculptor Nicolas Coustou and the organists Louis
Vierne and Pierre Cochereau.
Art, as a pathway to God, and choral prayer, the Church’s
praise of the Creator, helped Paul Claudel, who attended Vespers
here on Christmas Day 1886, to find the way to a personal
experience of God. It is significant that God filled his soul
with light during the chanting of the Magnificat, in which the
Church listens to the song of the Virgin Mary, the Patroness of
this church, who reminds the world that the Almighty has lifted
up the lowly (cf. Lk 1:52).
As the scene of other conversions, less celebrated but no
less real, and as the pulpit from which preachers of the Gospel
like Fathers Lacordaire, Monsabré and Samson transmitted the
flame of their passion to the most varied congregations,
Notre-Dame Cathedral rightly remains one of the most celebrated
monuments of your country’s heritage. Following a tradition
dating back to the time of Saint Louis, I have just venerated
the relics of the True Cross and the Crown of Thorns, which have
now found a worthy home here, a true offering of the human
spirit to the power of creative Love.
Beneath the vaults of this historic Cathedral, which
witnesses to the ceaseless dialogue that God wishes to establish
with all men and women, his word has just now echoed to become
the substance of our evening sacrifice, as expressed in the
offering of incense, which makes visible our praise of God.
Providentially, the words of the Psalmist describe the emotion
filling our souls with an exactness we could hardly have dared
to imagine: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the
house of the Lord!’” (Ps 121:1). Laetatus sum in his
quae dicta sunt mihi: the Psalmist’s joy, brimming over in
the very words of the Psalm, penetrates our hearts and resonates
deeply within them.
We truly rejoice to enter the house of the Lord, since, as
the Fathers of the Church have taught us, this house is nothing
other than a concrete symbol of Jerusalem on high, which comes
down to us (cf. Rev 21:2) to offer us the most beautiful
of dwelling-places. “If we dwell therein”, writes Saint Hilary
of Poitiers, “we are fellow citizens of the saints and members
of the household of God, for it is the house of God” (Tract.
in Ps. 121:2). And Saint Augustine adds: “This is a psalm
of longing for the heavenly Jerusalem … It is a Song of Steps,
not for going down but for going up … On our pilgrimage we sigh,
in our homeland we will rejoice; but during this exile, we meet
companions who have already seen the holy city and urge us to
run towards it” (En. in Ps. 121:2).
Dear friends, during Vespers this evening, we are united in
thought and prayer with the voices of the countless men and
women who have chanted this psalm in this very place down the
centuries. We are united with the pilgrims who went up to
Jerusalem and to the steps of its Temple, and with the thousands
of men and women who understood that their earthly pilgrimage
was to end in heaven, in the eternal Jerusalem, trusting Christ
to guide them there. What joy indeed, to know that we are
invisibly surrounded by so great a crowd of witnesses!
Servants of the Word
Our pilgrimage to the holy city would not be possible if it
were not made in the Church, the seed and the prefiguration of
the heavenly Jerusalem. “Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labour in vain” (Ps 126:1).
Who is this Lord, if not our Lord Jesus Christ? It is he who
founded his Church and built it on rock, on the faith of the
Apostle Peter. In the words of Saint Augustine, “It is Jesus
Christ our Lord who himself builds his temple. Many indeed
labour to build, yet unless the Lord intervenes to build, in
vain do the builders labour” (Tract. in Ps.
Dear friends, Augustine goes on to ask how we can know who
these builders are, and his answer is this: “All those who
preach God’s word in the Church, all who are ministers of God’s
divine Sacraments. All of us run, all of us work, all of us
build”, yet it is God alone who, within us, “builds, exhorts,
and inspires awe; who opens our understanding and guides our
minds to faith” (ibid.).
What marvels surround our work in the service of God’s word!
We are instruments of the Holy Spirit; God is so humble that he
uses us to spread his word. We become his voice, once we have
listened carefully to the word coming from his mouth. We place
his word on our lips in order to bring it to the world. He
accepts the offering of our prayer and through it he
communicates himself to everyone we meet.
Truly, as Paul tells the Ephesians, “he has blessed us in
Christ with every spiritual blessing” (1:3), for he has
chosen us to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, and he
made us his elect, even before we came into existence, by a
mysterious gift of his grace.
God’s Word, the Eternal Word, who was with him from the
beginning (cf. Jn 1:1), was born of a woman, born a
subject of the law, in order to redeem the subjects of the law,
“to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might
receive adoption as sons” (cf. Gal 4:4-5). The Son of
God took flesh in the womb of a woman, a virgin. Your cathedral
is a living hymn of stone and light in praise of that act,
unique in the annals of human history: the eternal Word of God
entering our history in the fulness of time to redeem us by his
self-offering in the sacrifice of the Cross. Our earthly
liturgies, entirely ordered to the celebration of this unique
act within history, will never fully express its infinite
meaning. Certainly, the beauty of our celebrations can never be
sufficiently cultivated, fostered and refined, for nothing can
be too beautiful for God, who is himself infinite Beauty. Yet
our earthly liturgies will never be more than a pale reflection
of the liturgy celebrated in the Jerusalem on high, the goal of
our pilgrimage on earth. May our own celebrations nonetheless
resemble that liturgy as closely as possible and grant us a
foretaste of it!
Even now the word of God is given to us as the soul of our
apostolate, the soul of our priestly life. Each morning the
word awakens us. Each morning the Lord himself “opens our ear”
(cf. Is 50:5) through the psalms in the Office of
Readings and Morning Prayer. Throughout the day, the word of
God becomes the substance of the prayer of the whole Church, as
she bears witness in this way to her fidelity to Christ. In the
celebrated phrase of Saint Jerome, to be taken up in the XII
Assembly of the Synod of Bishops next month: “Ignorance of the
Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” (Prol. in Is.).
Dear brother priests, do not be afraid to spend much time
reading and meditating on the Scriptures and praying the Divine
Office! Almost without your knowing it, God’s word, read and
pondered in the Church, acts upon you and transforms you. As
the manifestation of divine Wisdom, if that word becomes your
life “companion”, it will be your “good counsellor” and
an “encouragement in cares and grief” (Wis 8:9).
Thirst for God's Word
“The word of God is living and active, sharper than any
two-edged sword”, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews
tells us (4:12). Dear seminarians, who are preparing to receive
the sacrament of Holy Orders and thus to share in the threefold
office of teaching, governing and sanctifying, this word is
given to you as a precious treasure. By meditating on it daily,
you will enter into the very life of Christ which you will be
called to radiate all around you. By his word, the Lord Jesus
instituted the Holy Sacrament of his Body and Blood; by his
word, he healed the sick, cast out demons and forgave sins; by
his word, he revealed to us the hidden mysteries of his
You are called to become stewards of this word which
accomplishes what it communicates. Always cultivate a thirst
for the word of God! Thus you will learn to love everyone you
meet along life’s journey. In the Church everyone has a place,
everyone! Every person can and must find a place in her.
And you, dear deacons, effective co-workers of the Bishops
and priests, continue to love the word of God! You proclaim the
Gospel at the heart of the Eucharistic celebration, and you
expound it in the catechesis you offer to your brothers and
sisters. Make the Gospel the centre of your lives, of your
service to your neighbours, of your entire diakonia.
Without seeking to take the place of priests, but assisting them
with your friendship and your activity, may you be living
witnesses to the infinite power of God’s word!
In a particular way, men and women religious and all
consecrated persons draw life from the Wisdom of God expressed
in his word. The profession of the evangelical counsels has
configured you, dear consecrated persons, to Christ, who for our
sakes became poor, obedient and chaste.
Your only treasure —
which, to tell the truth, will alone survive the passage of time
and the curtain of death —
is the word of the Lord. It is he who said: “Heaven and earth
will pass away; my words will not pass away” (Mt 24:35).
Your obedience is, etymologically, a “hearing”, for the word
obey comes from the Latin obaudire, meaning to turn
one’s ear to someone or something.
In obeying, you turn your soul towards the one who is the
Way, and the Truth and the Life (cf. Jn 14:6), and who
says to you, as Saint Benedict taught his monks: “Hear, my
child, the teaching of the Master, and hearken to it with all
your heart” (Prologue to the Rule of Saint Benedict).
Finally, let yourselves be purified daily by him who said:
“Every branch that bears fruit my Father prunes, to make it bear
more fruit” (Jn 15:2). The purity of God’s word
is the model for your own chastity, ensuring its spiritual
With unfailing confidence in the power of God, who has saved
us “in hope” (cf. Rom 8:24) and who wishes to make of us
one flock under the guidance of one shepherd, Christ Jesus, I
pray for the unity of the Church.
I greet once again with respect and affection the
representatives of the Christian Churches and ecclesial
communities who, as our brothers and sisters, have come to pray
Vespers together with us in this cathedral. So great is the
power of God’s word that we can all be entrusted to it,
remembering what Saint Paul once did, our privileged intercessor
during this year. As Paul took leave of the presbyters of
Ephesus at Miletus, he did not hesitate to entrust them “to God
and to the word of his grace” (Acts 20:32), while warning
them against every form of division.
I implore the Lord to increase within us the sense of this
unity of the word of God, which is the sign, pledge and
guarantee of the unity of the Church: there is no love in the
Church without love of the word, no Church without unity around
Christ the Redeemer, no fruits of redemption without love of God
and neighbour, according to the two commandments which sum up
all of Sacred Scripture!
Mary, at home with God's Word
Dear brothers and sisters, in Our Lady we have the finest
example of fidelity to God’s word. Her great fidelity found
fulfilment in the Incarnation; with absolute confidence, Mary
can say: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me
according to your word!” (Lk 1:38). Our evening
prayer is about to take up the Magnificat, the song of her whom
all generations will call blessed.
Mary believed in the fulfilment of the words the Lord had
spoken to her (cf. Lk 1:45); she hoped against all hope
in the resurrection of her Son; and so great was her love for
humanity that she was given to us as our Mother (cf. Jn
19:27). Thus we see that “Mary is completely at home with the
word of God; with ease she moves in and out of it. She speaks
and thinks with the word of God; the word of God becomes her
word, and her word issues from the word of God” (Deus
Caritas Est, 41). To her, then, we can say with confidence:
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, our Mother, teach us to believe, to
hope, to love with you. Show us the way to his Kingdom!” (Spe
Salvi, 50). Amen.