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The eve of World War One: what The Tablet said at the time

04 August 2014

A century ago, The Tablet marked the outbreak of war in the edition of 8 August 1914 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.

Read more excerpts from that issue below. 

 

Why England fights

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. For one moment it seemed that there might be room for hesitations and doubt—for some difference of opinion as to whether, and how far, we were bound in duty and honour to come to the aid of France in this, the hour of her great need. All perplexity was ended when Germany without provocation invaded and brutally violated the neutrality of the little State she was pledged and sworn to respect. 

[...] For the sake of this little people, fighting for its freedom against desperate odds, England will go out by land and by sea. So she _will vindicate the honour of her sacred word—and there is no nobler cause for which any man may die.

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Chronicle of the week

The rumours and uncertainty of the week-end were cleared away by the speech of the Foreign Secretary in Parliament on Monday, when a crowded House listened breathlessly to a striking statement of the situation. After pointing out how the Government had worked persistently and perseveringly for peace, Sir Edward Grey said that those efforts had failed, partly from want of time and partly from a disposition in some quarters to force things to an immediate issue. He then proceeded to set forth the position from the points of view of our obligations, interests, and honour. We had no secret engagements; the entente was not an alliance, but a diplomatic group, and he had never, in the past, given pledges of anything beyond diplomatic support to France and Russia. Even military consultations with France had bound the country to nothing, though in 1912 he had told the French Ambassador that in case of aggressive attack they would consult as to united action. That was the starting point with regard to the present crisis. France, which was strongly for peace, was now involved in war because of her alliance with Russia, of which he did not even know the terms.

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Letter from Francis Bourne, Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, to the Clergy and Faithful of the Diocese.

On Sunday last, when there was still some faint hope that the peace of Europe might be maintained or, at least, speedily restored, we ordered the recitation in the Holy Sacrifice of the prayers taken from the Mass for Peace. To-day when we learn that the Empire is involved inevitably in a war the extent of which no one can foretell, it is our duty to order instead the recitation of the prayers from the Mass "tempore Belli," tanquam pro re gravi, until further instructions be sent to you.

These prayers are intended not merely as the most fitting way of pouring forth our fervent supplications before the throne of God in the spirit of the Sacred Liturgy, but they are meant to bring strongly and clearly before our minds the lessons which the Church has enshrined in this Mass for the time of War.

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.

"You shall hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that ye be not troubled. For these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom." War is at the same time a reminder of sin, for without the sin of individuals and of nations enmities and consequent hostilities would not exist. It is, then, in a spirit of humble penitence that we must approach the Altar of the Lord, and strive by true contrition and a real turning from sin, to draw down upon our country and its rulers, and upon the whole Empire, the Blessing of God without which all armies are without avail.

We exhort you, therefore, dear Children in Jesus Christ, to make use of this time of national sorrow and anxiety, compelling us as it does to face the sternest facts of human life, in order to enter into your hearts and recognize in all its consequences the supreme sovereignty of God, and cast yourselves as humble suppliants before His Divine Presence. We have so many things for which to beseech His clemency. In the first place that He may give to the Empire a lasting peace and security : then that He may comfort and strengthen all those whose days must now be spent in constant and often unrelieved anxiety for the men who are perilling their lives in the defence of King and country : and, again, for the numberless souls who will be hurriedly called into the presence of their Maker with scanty opportunity of preparation for that summons.

May these terrible moments be used by all as God, Who allows them, would have them used, for the uplifting of the nation to a high sense of duty, and for the strengthening of all in a due recognition of their dependence on the Almighty.

We allow and desire that on Sunday next, wherever it be possible in conformity with the rubrics, a Solemn Votive Mass " tempore Belli" be celebrated ; and we enjoin that on all Sundays at Benediction, the Miserere be sung in Latin, or recited in English, for those who are engaged in war or who have fallen in the fight. And we exhort the faithful to approach the Sacraments frequently and fervently, and to keep themselves closely united to God and to His Most Holy Will in all the circumstances of strain and trial through which it is His purpose that we should pass.

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JESUITS: 36TH GENERAL CONGREGATION
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