C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre: c’est de la folie


St Pauls Order of Service
St Pauls Order of Service

Quite by accident, I attended part of the ‘Sung Eucharist to Commemorate the Hundredth Anniversary of the Outbreak of World War 1.’ The invited guests filled perhaps a quarter of St Paul’s Cathedral in London with interested spectators taking up perhaps another quarter. Passers-by, like myself, came in and out, most paying little attention to what was happening at the front. I arrived perhaps ten minutes into the service but it was only out of a sense of discipline and a desire to at least try genuinely to worship, that I stayed for about half an hour. It was simply terrible. It had a certain grandeur, solemnity and even, to those with ears to hear, beauty in the music, to the aesthete, it may have been magnifique.

The words of Scripture and the cadences of the Book of Common Prayer obviously meant something to me, but, overall, what I saw and heard was culturally and spiritually so distant from me that it was punishingly boring and spiritually deadening… and I’m supposed to be, at least to some degree, an insider. I later discovered that Communion had been celebrated and that the service had ended with the metrical version of Ps. 100, to ‘Old One Hundredth’, so maybe things would have come closer to my understanding of magnifique.  But, of course, it would only have been an improvement for me: a Christian; an educated, middle class Presbyterian… almost sixty years old.

In all that we do in the Church of Jesus Christ we must beware of being magnifique but having nothing to do with la guerre (spirituelle). In the context of what the service was commemorating there was an awful poignancy and a dreadful irony. To replace la guerre with la folie comes perilously close to ‘having a form of godliness but denying its power’ (2Tim.3:5).

Lord, keep us from ignoring the battle cry of the Mighty Warrior (Zeph.1:14) and settling for the Charge of the Light Brigade.

One Reply to “C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre: c’est de la folie”

  1. Drew, I saw this service on tv and felt much the same as you. It reminded me of certain meetings I go to where I endure the ‘worship’ and wait for the teaching to begin. It seemed to me to be, like the events at the other end of the worship spectrum was worship as performance, not connecting with or involving the people. SGM Lifewords have produced a wonderful replica John’s Gospel of that which was given to troops (albeit the NIV they are now using was not the original text 🙂 ). I was moved to see that some popular and strong hymns were printed at the end (e.g. Abide with me). How much comfort those may have given the men in dreadful times. As you say, there were scripture and hymns in the service but my abiding and not edifying memory was of the choral pieces.

    2 questions

    1 Are you and I grumpy old men, reflecting our own limited compass of ‘what I know and like’?

    2 Should we patch the Dean of Westminster into this on the principle of ‘if you like our product, please tell others, if you don’t please tell us’? Maybe you have.

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