The Tuesday of Holy Week dawns grim and grey. One of the most celebrated buildings of western Christendom has been gutted by fire. Anyone with a feeling for history, for beauty, for cultural significance must feel sadness at the loss of so much that has formed a backdrop to our lives. The cathedral has always been there. The role it has played in the life of the people of France and of Europe as a whole is incalculable. Inevitably, the media are busy capturing sound-bites from eye-witnesses and politicians, and it is good to see and hear acknowledgement of the courage of the firefighters and those who did their best to ensure that more was not lost; but we in England, at least, have heard nothing from those who are most deeply affected — the canons and parishioners who worship day by day at its altars, for whom the cathedral is a spiritual home rather than a glorious monument. Is it stretching things too far to say that something analogous can happen with Holy Week?
It is easy to make Holy Week a time of sharp contrasts, to spill a Caravaggio-like spotlight on Judas’s betrayal of Jesus and the anguished dialogue between Peter and his Lord that follows, for example, in today’s gospel (John 13.21–33, 36–38). Easy, but perhaps not quite right. Holy Week concentrates our attention on the meaning of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection; but we remember those events liturgically every day at Mass. What we bring to Holy Week is really the result of our fidelity and reflection at other times. Holy Week intensifies our experience, so to say, but it is not a substitute for the rest of the liturgical year.
The poignant images of Notre Dame de Paris in flames will not quickly be forgotten, even as the work of rebuilding begins. In the same way, we do not forget the betrayals and brutality of Holy Week during the rest of the year but use them as a spur to greater devotion to the central mysteries of our Faith and the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.