I had been meaning to go there for some time, and I am ashamed to say it took my mother’s death to get me there. I have made a point of visiting many great cathedrals on my trips to England but I know nothing of those in Montreal where I live.
So the day of my mother’s funeral found me climbing the many steps leading up to the Oratory on Montreal’s Mount Royal. The photos do not do credit to the dimensions involved. The building is huge and imposing in stature in itself quite apart from the fact that it sits on top of a mountain. The architecture of the façade is in the classic Greco-Roman style.
Climbing the steps, I feel small and fragile and humbled. At the top of the steps I turn to see the city stretched out before me, and beyond it an uninterrupted horizon of hazy hills. Yet still the Oratory towers above me. I enter.
Inside I am surprised to find escalators rising up to the next floors. Then another, and another. The escalators give the impression, not that one is rising up to heaven, but rather that one is surfacing from an underground world of base emotions into the real world of the spirit above.
Finally, I surface at the Basilica. With only images of old cathedrals in my mind, I am surprised to see the pure simple lines of this Basilica. I have little time to reflect more because I am immediately overwhelmed with sorrow and sit down in the first bench to cry.
Slowly my emotions work themselves out and I sit peacefully contemplating the altar and the cross. I say a prayer for my mother. A mother and her child walk down the aisle. The mother stops and kneels and makes the sign of the cross and continues on.
Eventually I get up and walk around the altar. On the wall behind is a mosaic. I read an inscription in French: ‘Joseph the Just, Holy Husband of the Virgin Mary, Guardian of the Son of God’.
On one side of the altar is a statue of Frère André, founder of the Oratory.I linger a little, absorbing the peace that vibrates in this place. As I leave, I pass by a message engraved in one of the marble blocks that make up the walls of the Basilica. It reads:
‘Even in the heart of darkness Your hand grasps me, because for You the night illuminates as much as the day’.