While the Notre Dame de Paris fire has more or less faded from our memories, a surprising memory of Ottawa’s namesake church has been burned into my mind.

A sign adorns the entrance of the building whenever Mass takes place. As a popular tourist attraction, the church asks people not to take photos and wander the pews during the sacred service so as to be respectful to those present. 

I found myself attending Catholic Mass in our beloved cathedral one day recently, pondering the beauty of the edifice and of the Mass itself. When I arrived, though, I couldn’t help but notice a large group of teens sitting in the front rows of the Cathedral – likely accounting for at least half the congregation at the noontime service. 

A school group visiting from out of town, I heard the priest say before the beginning of Mass. They weren’t particularly distracting, nor were they overtly pious – but for whatever reason, they seemed a little out of place among the older crowd. I could hear them mumbling responses in the Mass, obviously familiar with the ever-confusing concepts of when to sit, stand, kneel.

After Mass had ended, I overheard someone I presumed to be their teacher ask for a blessing on the group, and whether they could please sing while standing in the aisle of the Cathedral. A strange request, I thought, my mind filled with judgments of what this group was up to and why these sneaker-wearing teens would willingly sing in this sacred place. Reverently, they bowed their heads, received the blessing. Then, they lined the aisle of the cathedral, facing one another on either side, getting instructions from a person I figured out was their choir director: shuffle down, altos spread out, do you have your starting note?

Goosebumps. Shivers down my spine as their crystal-clear voices rang out in the spaces of the ever-perfect acoustics in the Cathedral. The 20-something of them sang out their four-part harmonies, so united in sound you’d guess they were only a quartet. A rendition of Ave Maria rang outand I couldn’t help but wonder at the beauty of singing a song devoted to the same Mother whom the Cathedral honours. 

In my Catholic faith, Mary holds great importance. She isn’t merely an instrument, nor a body to house Jesus as a developing baby. But in the moment of peace, utter beauty surrounding me in the Cathedral, it was as though she was holding us all in the building, in the same way she held her baby in her womb.

The sound was stunning, crystal clear, and yet such a juxtaposition to their very lackadaisical spirits I'd noticed during mass. My hardened heart that had assumed they were a tourist group, was moved to warmth and admiration for these voices honouring Notre Dame, Mary, Mother of God. In the same way that Jesus came to a humble spirit, so too did these teens bring about an unspeakable beauty in the normalcy of their visit to the cathedral.