The Little-Known Heroism Performed by Chaplains of World War I

Source: FSSPX News

According to the historian Xavier Boniface, estimates say that between 800 and 1,000 Catholic chaplains accompanied the French troops during the four years of World War I, while 30,000 religious participated in the fighting.

After the Law of 1905 which abolished their exemption, priests could be enlisted in combat units. As soldiers, nurses, or stretcher carriers, they often helped the chaplains by celebrating Mass in the combat zones.

Le Figaro, in its January 20, 1916 edition, published the moving story of an officer:

I asked a priest stretcher carrier to come celebrate Sunday Mass for us. Permission must have been granted by his commander because I see him reach our lines around 7 o’clock in the morning; no sign of his priesthood, except for the crucifix pinned on his cloak.

“A table from a nearby hut which has been knocked over by shells will serve as an altar, with a hunter's cape spread over it. From his canvas bag, the celebrant pulls out the white altar cloth, then his vestments, and puts them on.

“From a tin box, he takes out the sacred vessels and cruets, and places them on the makeshift altar between the flickering flames of the two candles. An infantryman serves as altar boy…

During World War I, 2,949 diocesan priests, 1,571 religious, and 1,300 seminarians fell on the field of battle, and 375 nuns died serving the soldiers.