Sunday, 11 November 2007

Remembrance Sunday - The Cathedral at War

Today we remember and pray for the dead of two World Wars, and of the other conflicts of our time - the roll call of which, sadly, is added to year by year. 10.30 Mass today is a Requiem, attended by members of the Services, with a sermon by the principal RAF chaplain. We shall sound the Last Post and observe the two-minute silence.

It is sobering to read the reports of the Cathedral and diocese during World War II. The Cathedral Chronicle of October 1939 records:

"On September 3, almost at the very momentwhen war broke out (11.15am), the Choir in Westminster Cathedral was singing the Communion Antiphon of the Mass. The words were "Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice and all things else shall be added unto you." What a gamut of thoughts sped through the mind at that moment! One felt that the voice of the Good Shepherd had been mystically projected into the twentieth century at a moment when it was most needed. A reminder, a warning, a corrective; His solution for the dire tribulation and affliction which had befallen an erring world."

Cardinal Hinsley, whose wartime broadcasts became well known (above), called for 'Faith, Sacrifice and Service', and stated that Churches would remain open throughout the war. He also issued the following Dispensation:

1. Owing to the present state of affairs and the difficulties that may arise, we dispense all the Faithful of our Diocese from the Law of Fasting and Abstinence until further notice.

2. In place of the Imperata Pro Pace the Imperata In tempore belli tamquam pro re gravi should be said until further notice.

3. No evening services should be held in any church or chapel of the Diocese after sunset till further notice. Leave is hereby given for exposition of the Blessed Sacrament wherever prudently possible, provided it ends by sunset.

In the Cathedral, there was daily exposition of the Blessed Sacrament from 1 to 2pm, and the building remained open each day until 9.30pm. The boys were evacuated, and all masses were celebrated as Low Masses. On 1 October Mass was celebrated by Canon Howlett (above), the Administrator, for the victory of the Allied Cause. During his sermon he said:
"We are engaged in a most just and sacred cause. It is indeed a religious war in defecne of the fundamental principles of Christian civilization... We desire peace above all things, but the peace of God which surpasethh all understanding - not peace which depends upon brute force, but peace which springs from the harmony of our natural state with the grace and friendship of God."
The image above shows a Polish army choir singing in the apse in March 1940 at a Mass attended by the Polish Government in exile. It was a sombre occasion, at which the Cardinal spoke of Poland as 'crucified between two thieves.'

On a lighter note, the Cathedral was mercifully spared a direct hit, but one bomb fell October 1940 in the school playground adjacent. It left a crater 30 feet wide, which was filled with soil by the Cathedral sacristan, and turned into a vegetable garden. Pictures of the Cathedral's bomb crater garden appeared in the national press, and in the 'Grow More Food' campaign on Movietone News.


Anonymous said...

I thought that the daily mass & liturgy had been sung at the cathedral since its opening. I noted that you say the choir boys wre evacuated and all masses were said as low masses. Does this mean that there wasn't a sung liturgy during the war years?

Anonymous said...

ROFL, what an excellent use of a bomb crater. I can't think of a more brilliant idea. Any overflying german bombers must have been really peeved at the sight. Top marks for Tommy on this one.