Swiss cathedral’s first Catholic Mass since 1535

A Swiss cathedral’s first Catholic mass in nearly five hundred years will be celebrated at a cathedral in Geneva at the end of this month.

The mass will be celebrated at Saint-Pierre de Genève Cathedral on 29 February.

The last Mass celebrated at the cathedral took place in 1535. After the Reformation, it was taken over by John Calvin’s Reformed Protestant Church.

The cathedral’s statues and paintings were destroyed and Catholic worship was banned.

The Catholic episcopal vicar for Geneva, Fr. Pascal Desthieux, says the cathedral is the “central and symbolic location of Geneva’s Christian history”.

Following the reformation, the cathedral became a location “emblematic of the Calvinist reform,” he said.

John Calvin, who founded Calvinism, lived in Geneva.

The city was a destination for French Protestant refugees, who were fleeing persecution in France.

The cathedral became Calvin’s home church and his chair is displayed next to the pulpit.

While acknowledging that the return of Catholic Mass to the cathedral is a cause for rejoicing, Desthieux – who will celebrate the mass – warned against any “triumphalism,” as well as any language suggesting the Catholics are looking to “take over” the building.

“With our Protestant brothers and sisters, who welcome us in their cathedral, we want simply to make a strong ecumenical gesture, a sign that we all live together in Geneva,” he said.

He underlined that making the cathedral available for the Mass is a “gesture of hospitality” within the Christian community of the city.

“Our Protestant brothers will welcome us, and we will let ourselves be welcomed,” he said.

The date and timing of the Mass was chosen to coincide with the beginning of Lent.

It will be celebrated at 6:30 p.m., making it the vigil Mass of the first Sunday of Lent.

“We have chosen to have this historic Mass at the beginning of Lent, to include a penitential process where we ask forgiveness for our sins against unity,” he said.

All other Saturday vigil Masses in Geneva will be cancelled on 29 February to encourage all Geneva’s Catholics to attend the Mass at the cathedral.

Various media reports have suggested Protestant attendees at the Mass will be invited to receive Communion, though this is prohibited by canon law.

Others have contradicted the possibility.

Saying everyone is welcome at the mass and quoting Redemptionis Sacramentum, Desthieux explained that Protestants who attend Mass are not generally permitted to receive Communion.

“However, in such special circumstances, we practice what we call eucharistic hospitality by welcoming all people who come forward to receive the Body of Christ,” he said.

He did not explain what “eucharistic hospitality” means or if and on what basis Communion would be knowingly distributed to Protestants.


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