I attended at the start of November two very different cathedral remembrance services, one by accident, the other planned.
The first was in Canterbury cathedral, where I’d gone expecting the Saturday afternoon Evensong. Instead there was a ‘Eucharist of the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed’, with the girls’ and men’s choirs. I glanced down at the programme and was thrilled to see that they would be singing some of Fauré’s Requiem. It was a dignified and prayerful service, part of which was the naming of the faithful departed, and I thought particularly of my dad and gave thanks for his life. When the girls began to sing the ‘Pie Jesu’ from the Requiem (usually sung by a solo boy chorister!) it was one of those very special ‘moments’. There I was still dripping wet in my (almost!) waterproof jacket and trousers (it had been pouring with rain outside) sitting in the choir stalls of Canterbury cathedral, looking up and around at the beautiful stonework and stained glass windows and in awe at the sheer vastness of the building, listening to the voices of angels (singing a piece that I’ve performed myself in this august venue), thinking about those I’ve loved that have died, and I said to myself “how lucky am I”. Ironically I’d been thinking about taking Yim Soon to hear a choir in the Cathedral that very evening. In the end we stayed in and watched Strictly: I’d had my concert in the Cathedral, and it had been completely free!
The second remembrance service I attended was in St Patrick’s chapel at Westminster cathedral, an Irish Chaplaincy event to mark the feast of All the Saints of Ireland on November 6th. Bishop Paul McAleenan, who presided, told us that although there are over 300 Irish saints, just four have been officially canonised by the Church. The remainder, including such greats as Patrick and Brigid, were declared saints by the people, in recognition of the lives they lived. Bishop Paul also reminded us that there is no actual word for ‘hello’ in the Irish language; the usual greeting, rather, is “God be to you”, with the reply being “God and Mary be to you”. It is a recognition of the sacred in the other person; and is an attitude, said Bishop Paul, that led to the centrality of hospitality in Irish culture. There was also a nice quote from a W.B. Yeats poem: “the good will always emerge”.
It was a very moving service, attended by a nice cross-section of people; and very much in keeping with the fine tradition of Irish hospitality, it was followed by tea and cakes in the café, where many people remarked on what a lovey atmosphere there had been both during the service and subsequently in the café.
The following morning on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day I was struck by a quote from another poet, the native American Linda Hogan, who speaks of the importance of remembering and honouring our ancestors and writes that “you are the result of the love of thousands”.
So for all of those we’re remembered this November, and for countless others un-named; and for all the saints, and for all of those unofficially declared so, I give thanks.