Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall will attend A Solemn Commemoration of the Outbreak of the First World War at 10pm on Monday 4th August. The Service will be televised live in its entirety on BBC2 and the Abbey today publishes the full Order of Service. In a foreword the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall writes:

For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3: 1, 4, 8

Each year, the Dean and Chapter of Westminster welcomes to Westminster Abbey Heads of State during their state visits to Her Majesty The Queen, and Heads of Government in the course of a government visit. We stand at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior; a wreath is laid; and we pray for our countries and their governments, for their armed forces, and for the peace of the world.

The Grave has been a powerful focus for prayer for peace, and for solemn remembrance since the State Funeral of an Unknown Warrior, whose body had been moved from a battlefield cemetery in northern France on Armistice Day, 11th November 1920, the day on which the Cenotaph was unveiled and dedicated in Whitehall.

Remembrance is both powerful and important. On 11th November 2009, following the death of the last of the men from the British Isles who had fought in the Great War, Her Majesty The Queen laid a wreath at the Grave as we marked the passing of the First World War generation.

There will be time for remembrance as the four years of commemoration of the centenary of the Great War unfold. That time is not now.

In the Solemn Vigil of Commemoration this evening, we focus our attention on the last moment of peace before the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. The bloody conflagration lay ahead; tonight we catch glimpses of people's anticipation of what was to come.

But we also have an opportunity to reflect on the attitudes of those preparing for war: some, frankly, relished the prospect; others dreaded it. Most were stumbling into the darkness, increasingly bound by the chains of their own and others' making, their hope of avoiding war ever fading. We shall hear some of the earliest reflections on the reality of those first months of the war as the Abbey descends into darkness.

The Service this evening falls into four parts, at the end of each of which candles are extinguished — both a symbolic candle and those held by people in various parts of the Abbey. At the end of the Service, darkness will have fallen, as Sir Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary, predicted in his famous remark a hundred years ago that the lamps were going out all over Europe.

Finally, the Paschal Candle alone will remain alight, in the Lady Chapel, representing the Light that for ever shines in the darkness, offering us hope. May Christ our Light enlighten us in our Solemn Commemoration.

See also:

The Order of Service (PDF, 1.1MB)

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