Tuesday, 11 November 2008

To you from failing hands we throw/The torch; be yours to hold it high

Consider this my little rebellion.

Well, not really. Had I been home on Sunday morning, I'd have gone to the Remembrance Day Requiem mass at the Oratory, which is one of my favourite masses of the year - the recessional hymn always leaves me choked up.

I hate Remembrance Sunday - NOT in the way you expect. I hate it in the way I hate transferring holy days of obligation to a Sunday to make it more convenient. If a day is THAT important, you don't transfer it. Moving it to a weekend says, "You're not important enough for me to interrupt my work week for you." Holy days of obligation are THAT important. You stop during your week to remember God and go to church.

Equally important is the day that we remember those that we have sent to war to fight and die for us. The day we do that is NOT the closest Sunday to the day. It is THE DAY.

The 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour. The moment when the war that was supposed to end all wars ended. THAT is the day, whatever day of the week it is. And it is a day when the world should stop, when we should:

Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

Nor, on this day, must we forget the parents, spouses, children, lovers and friends of the fallen, those whose loss echoes these words:

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

We need to be there for them - remembrance is for the living as well as the dead.

It is on the 11th that we should keep silent for 2 minutes out of respect.

It is on the 11th that the words Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine should sound from every church at 11.02 am (Verdi, not Faure), the Mourners' Kaddish from every synagogue, prayers for the dead from every place of religion, whether it is a Sunday, Wednesday or a Friday.

It is on the 11th that we should lay wreaths at cenotaphs and war memorials and weep for the universes we lost with each of the fallen, for every single human being is a universe.

It is on the 11th that we close our eyes to offer our profound gratitude for the men and women who either chose to become career soldiers or who chose to put down the lives they were living to become soldiers when their country called them - and those who love them. The sacrifice they made for us cannot be put into words. No matter how we feel about the wars they fought, we thank them and pray for them, because they fought for us, even if those declaring war didn't declare war for us.

And it is on the 11th that we renew our promise to John McCrae and his fallen colleagues, past and present:

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.

With greater certainty and hope than in years past, I can say that I believe we have caught it.

May we never again break faith with you who have died...and those of you who have come back.

Thank you.


Ariel said...


Stressful though it was this year to have holidays in the middle of the week for the better part of the month, I'm glad it was that way rather than transferred to a more convenient weekend.


Anonymous said...

We stopped in school today at 11am and were meant to pray for one minute in silence. I have always observed two minutes since childhood, so that is what my class and I did, ending with 'Eternal Rest grant unto them O Lord...' No way are we stinting, and two minutes is hardly anything to give, besides.