A Catholic Monthly Magazine

An All Souls’ Day Mass: Selle, France, 1917

At the request of the Bishop of Arras, Monsignor Julien, Fr Adolphe Roger described events and activities within the parish of Selle during World War One. In his report, mention was made of the presence of New Zealand troops and an All Souls’ Day Mass in November 1917. 1

Fr Jean Barra SM described the service in vivid detail in a letter 2 to Archbishop Thomas O’Shea SM dated 7 November 1917:

The parade came off all right; and on Monday 5th November, at 10 am the Holy Sacrifice was celebrated for the souls of our Heroes. The church was beautifully decorated. Black hangings covered the walls; a large black cross stood well at the back of the altar; the catafalque

was draped with a French flag, the flags of France and Britain posted in mourning at the four corners of it.

In front of the sanctuary a large cross made of flowers, with the letters NZ made equally of flowers, gave to all the meaning of the ceremony. Over the sanctuary arch a banderolle was hung with these words upon it, ‘Eternal Rest Grant to Them, O Lord’. Against the four pillars of the nave could be seen in large silver letters the four names of NZ fame in this war: Gallipoli, Somme, Messines, Ypres.

The Curé sang the Mass and the parish choir executed the liturgical singing with great sweetness and devotion. All the boys went to Holy Communion, led by their officers who knelt first at the Holy Table. It was a magnificent act of faith which brought tears to the eyes of the French people present. Fathers Bartley and Segrief had come to help me and the work went on quickly and well: I feel sure that God was pleased with the men.

Church service commemorating All Souls’ Day in Selle, France. Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association: New Zealand official negatives, World War 1914-1918. Ref: 1/2-013003-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22780580

After a short sermon the men marched out of the church into the cemetery where the burial service was solemnly read for the dead who in the line have never had the blessing of the Holy Church over their sacred remains. It was most impressive! Four priests stood there at the foot of the Cross of Salvation, by the side of the immortal flag of France in the hands of a veteran wounded at Verdun, and all our noble NZ Catholic soldiers around.

Angels of heaven, who witnessed the faith and devotion of those men, the religious silence of heroes as the glorious words of the Ritual were read out, write that scene down in the records of God! Carry to the trenches the protecting blessing of Christ and give joy to the bones of those who now sleep there, their last long sleep! ‘Exultabunt ossa humiliate!’  3

Source: We shall remember them: Our World War One Chaplains, Elizabeth Charlton, 2014-18

1  Roger, A., c.1918, Archives Diocésaines d’Arras, Arras, France

2  Fr Jean Barra SM to Archbishop Thomas O’Shea SM, November 7, 1917. Box 381 – Military Ordinariate: World War 1 Chaplains / Taranaki-Waikato Wars. Archdiocese of Wellington Archives, Wellington, New Zealand

3  ‘Humbled bones shall rejoice’, Psalm 51:8

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