Sunday, November 11, 2012

On Remembrance Sunday



On this Remembrance Sunday I want to pay a tribute to Military Chaplains. Here's an extract from a letter of Fr William Doyle SJ, an heroic WWI chaplain. It describes a Mass he celebrated for the dead at the Somme on Saturday 9th September 1916:

"By cutting a piece out of the side of the trench, I was just able to stand in front of my tiny altar, a biscuit box supported on two German bayonets. God's angels, no doubt, were hovering overhead, but so were the shells, hundreds of them, and I was a little afraid that when the earth shook with the crash of the guns, the chalice might be overturned.
Round about me on every side was the biggest congregation I ever had: behind the altar, on either side, and in front, row after row, sometimes crowding one upon the other, but all quiet and silent, as if they were straining their ears to catch every syllable of that tremendous act of Sacrifice... but every man was dead!
Some had lain there for a week and were foul and horrible to look at, with faces black and green. Others had only just fallen, and seemed rather sleeping than dead, but there they lay, for none had time to bury them, brave fellows, every one, friend and foe alike, while I held in my unworthy hands the God of Battles, their Creator and their Judge, and prayed Him to give rest to their souls.
Surely that Mass for the Dead, in the midst of, and surrounded by the dead, was an experience not easily to be forgotten".

Feel free to re-tweet this post. Fr Doyle's comments deserve to be read and re-read. If you are preparing for ordination, take them with you on your ordination retreat. Amidst all the hardship, suffering and tragedy of the Somme, he dug an altar into the side of the trench so that he could celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And when you are ordained, if ever you are tempted not to celebrate Holy Mass one day, quod Deus avertet, remember Fr Doyle scraping at the side of his trench to make an altar and offer it for the repose of the soul of a faithful priest who was killed at Ypres on 15th August 1917. His body was never found.

A few days later a remarkable tribute was paid to him in the English newspapers:

"The Orangemen will not forget a certain Roman Catholic chaplain who lies in a soldier's grave in that sinister plain beyond Ypres. He went forward and back over the battlefield with bullets whining about him, seeking out the dying and kneeling in the mud beside them to give them Absolution, walking with death with a smile on his face, watched by his men with reverence and a kind of awe until a shell burst near him and he was killed. His familiar figure was seen and welcomed by hundreds of Irishmen who lay in that bloody place. Each time he came back across the field he was begged to remain in comparative safety. Smiling he shook his head and went again into the storm. He had been with his boys at Glinchy and through other times of stress, and he would not desert them in their agony. They remember him as a saint - they speak his name with tears".

Requiescat in Pace.

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