Vigils and Masses across country to mark Great War anniversary

01 August 2014 | by Liz Dodd , Ruth Gledhill

Every life lost in war represents a unique human soul that we should pray for, the Bishop of Shrewsbury said on Sunday, at one of the first in a series of nationwide Requiem Masses to commemorate the start of the First World War.

“In the tragic drama of the past 100 years it was the eternal value and dignity of every human person which was so often lost sight of,” he said, drawing a comparison between the Great War and conflicts going on today.

“Today as we hear within the 24-hour news cycle of a Syrian refugee, a Palestinian child, a missing Israeli soldier we are invited in faith to recognise not a statistic but always a human person, a brother, a sister of ours,” he added.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols will celebrate a Requiem Mass for the Fallen of the First World War today, the anniversary of Britain’s entry into the First World War, at Westminster Cathedral.

He said: "It is especially poignant to remember the centenary of the Great War, which was meant to end all wars, at a time when so many people are still suffering from violence and the ravages of war, particularly in the Middle East and Africa.”

Cardinal Nichols is due also to attend a vigil at Westminster Abbey at 10 pm in a service that will draw upon Sir Edward Grey's remark that "the lights are going out all over Europe." The Duchess of Cornwall will represent the Queen at the vigil as the Abbey moves from light into darkness until one candle remains at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior, to be extinguished at 11 pm, the exact moment of the declaration of war.

Meanwhile peace groups around the country will use the anniversary call for an end to war. The First World War Peace Forum, made up of groups including Pax Christi, is encouraging Twitter users to tweet #nomorewar at 11 pm on Monday. Vigils taking place today included, at noon, a two-hour silent vigil on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, Trafalgar Square, London. There will also be vigils in Liverpool, Grassington, Skipton, Glossop, Glasgow, Bath and Oxford.

The white poppy, favoured from the late 1960s as a way of showing both respect for the fallen and a strong anti-war sentiment, will take central place in a prayer service recommended to parishes and groups by the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh to mark the centenary.

Under the heading “Remember, Repent, Reconcile” the service offers prayers and meditations on conflict and “peace-building”. The service sets out to avoid any glorification of war and encourages reflection on the call in Matthew’s Gospel to be peacemakers.

A century ago, The Tablet marked the outbreak of war by publishing a prayer for peace from the-then Cardinal-Archbishop of Westminster, Francis Bourne. It reported that Mass had been offered at Westminster Cathedral for peace, and that an entire hospital in north London was given over to the Red Cross.

On the front page it reported that a crowded House of Commons listened “breathlessly” to a speech by Foreign Secretary Edward Grey outlining the situation, while in an editorial it remarks that Britain was “duty-bound” to enter the conflict.

“It is well for England that in this day when she is bared for battle, she goes into the fight with the knowledge that she is striking for the noblest of all causes –for the sake of human faithfulness, for the sanctity of treaties and of trust between nations,” it writes.

In the same edition of 08 August 1914 The Tablet reported that Cardinal Bourne had ordered a prayer for peace to be inserted into the Mass until further notice, adding in a letter published in the paper: “War is in truth one of the greatest material evils that the world can see, but our Divine Master has warned us that it is an evil for which we must be prepared.” 


Read The Tablet of the week Britain entered WW1
There was no comprehension of the scale of the approaching war 01 August 2014 by Jamie Callison
View from the trenches: see Jesuit chaplain's poignant watercolours 01 August 2014
German bishops: Churches shared blame for Europe’s slide into war 30 July 2014

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