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Remember

November 7, 2009

remembrance_day1111061 St Clement’s will be one of the few churches in America that will substitute the normal Sunday Mass with a special Requiem Mass, though this will be quite common in the UK. After the First World War, a profound silence used to fall over the UK at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, when all traffic stopped, all conversations were cut off, and a whole nation stood for two minutes of silence to remember those who fell in the war. Then the silence was transferred to the nearest Sunday, and bit by bit it was observed only in church or at the touching little gatherings out of doors at the war memorials in every village in the land. And even later, many voices were raised against having the remembrance ceremonies at all, saying that it was so long after the World Wars that the two minute silence was out of date.

But someone’s son was blown to pieces yesterday in Afghanistan; someone’s husband gave his life last week trying to defuse a booby trap in Iraq; most of us, sadly, have relatives or friends who bear injuries, physical or mental, from acts of war and terrorism. How many of us have avoided the scars of horror, anger, pity, despair, which followed from the sights we saw only a few years ago on television as the Twin Towers crumbled to the ground?

We still need to remember these things. If we forget them, they will be repeated; but if we keep them in mind, we may learn from them and may just find ways of stopping them happening again. Burying our heads in the sand is not the answer: someone will always come along and kick our rear end thus exposed!

So when we stand for the two minutes silence tomorrow before the Mass, I will be praying for all who have given their lives in the wars of the past century and of this new one. It is no good calling these wars “senseless” and trying to put them behind us, and stop dwelling on them. They were not and are not senseless; but they make sense only to those who believe that there are worse things than death, things like standing by and watching the innocent being tortured and killed; things like seeing one’s family and loved ones forced into slavery.

And where better to proclaim this message of liberation than in the Mass? The Mass makes every Sunday Remembrance Sunday, for Jesus instituted it, saying “Do this in remembrance of me”. The recalling of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is what the Mass is all about, and
no crucifix can be bloody enough to represent the agonies, physical and mental and spiritual which our Lord suffered.

It is good for us to gaze on the Cross, though it shows such suffering, because it also shows that God is right here in the midst of our own sufferings. He will not treat us like robots by making it impossible for us to sin and suffer the consequences of sin (and that is supremely what war is all about), but he shows his solution to the whole mess mankind has made of this creation by dying for those he loves.

It is a far better thing to die at twenty one trying to save a comrade’s life than to live comfortably and selfishly into one’s nineties, doing nothing or very little for anyone. In the eternities, it will be confirmed for us what we begin to learn here in the Christian Faith, that it is the quality of love in our lives that counts, not the number of years we live.

Tomorrow, for two minutes we will think on these things.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 8, 2009 2:55 pm

    “Then the silence was transferred to the nearest Sunday, and bit by bit it was observed only in church or at the touching little gatherings out of doors at the war memorials in every village in the land. And even later, many voices were raised against having the remembrance ceremonies at all, saying that it was so long after the World Wars that the two minute silence was out of date.”

    That may have been so twenty years ago (the low point), but things have moved on since then.

    It is those “many voices” that now seem out of date. The silence on 11th November is increasingly observed again, and ceremonies in church and at war memorials on Remembrance Sunday are now attended by large numbers – and not just of the old, but of all ages.

    • November 8, 2009 3:16 pm

      I’m so glad to hear this. I detect many signs that the destructive effects of shallow liturgical “experts” in the 60s and 70s are being gradually (and sometimes swiftly) undone in both the Roman and the Anglican Communions.

  2. November 8, 2009 4:09 pm

    Yes and no.

    In a British Anglican context the younger generation of clergy and laity is either fiercely orthodox and liturgically conservative, or quite the opposite.

    Liturgical and doctrinal decay in some parts of the Church of England (which on the whole was less afflicted by liturgical destruction than Rome) now resembles the 1960s and 1970s on speed.

    Even the older generation of liberals is beginning to worry about this tendency, especially as it seems set to become dominant.

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