Archbishop Michel Aupetit led the meditation in the apse behind Notre-Dame's pietà. He was accompanied by Msgr. Patrick Chauvet, rector of Notre-Dame and Aux Bp. Denis Jachiet of Paris. French actors Philippe Torreton and Judith Chemla read texts by Charles Péguy, Paul Claudel and St. Teresa of Calcutta. Violinist Renaud Capuçon provided musical accompaniment.
The veneration represents one of few times worshippers have gathered in the cathedral since last year's devastating fire; for many, it was a welcome sign of hope amid France's ongoing pandemic lockdown.
The Crown of Thorns is Notre-Dame's most precious and revered relic. During the April 2019 blaze, the relic was rescued by members of the Paris Fire Brigade, who formed a human chain to take the treasure to safety.
The Crown of Thorns' history began with the Roman soldiers mocking Jesus 2,000 years ago:
And they clothed him with purple; and, platting a crown of thorns, they put it upon him. And they began to salute him: Hail, king of the Jews. And they struck his head with a reed; and they did spit on him. And bowing their knees, they adored him. And after they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him and put his own garments on him; and they led him out to crucify him (Mark 15:17–20).
In the first centuries after Jesus' death, spoken accounts about the existence and location of the Crown of Thorns circulated among the faithful. Written accounts citing its location in a basilica in Jerusalem began to surface as early as the fourth century.
The relic made its way to Constantinople during the seventh- through 10th centuries under the protection of Byzantine emperors.
Bank records documented that the holy relic was actually pawned in 1238 by the Latin Emperor Baldwin II who, in great financial difficulty, received credit from Venetian Merchant Bank for the transaction. Saint Louis, who was King Louis IX of France, bought back the relic from the bank, allegedly for a sum greater than the cost of two cathedrals.
The relic miraculously survived the French Revolution of the 18th century and the devastating fire of 2019.
It is contained in a hand-wrought circular container made of crystal and gold with one thorn ensconced at the top. Over time, it has lost its original thorns to natural wear and to reliquaries throughout the world.
Paris is not the only place the Wuhan pandemic is spurring the faithful to acts of devotion, as Church Militant has reported.
The archbishop of Turin, for example, announced he would unveil the Shroud of Turin during Holy Week to inspire and comfort the faithful. An archbishop in Jerusalem also blessed his city with a relic of the True Cross on Palm Sunday. And a priest processed through the streets of Lublin, Poland in March armed only with relics of St. Anthony of Padua.
Other prelates have recently taken to the skies with the Blessed Sacrament, flying over Lebanon, Poland and the diocese of Camden, New Jersey in the United States to bless the faithful below and to beseech God's protection.
Faithful Catholics see the Crown of Thorns and other holy relics as a sort of a window into Heaven, connecting them to God and the saints. Because of Abp. Aupetit's Good Friday service this year, others may see that window too.
To watch a video of the service (in French), click here.