November is a very important month in the Catholic calendar. It’s the month when we pause on many occasions to remember our friends and loved ones who have died – the Holy Souls. We also remember those killed in the world’s conflicts, especially on Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday.
For this podcast, produced in partnership with the Centre for the Art of Dying Well, we head over to South Kensington in central London to speak to Father George Bowen, a priest of the Congregation of the Oratory of St Philip Neri.
The community has a most beautiful church. Built between 1880 and 1884, the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary – the London Oratory – is sometimes incorrectly called the ‘Brompton Oratory’ and is the second-largest Catholic church in London, with a nave exceeding in width that of St Paul’s Cathedral. The architectural style and the atmosphere of the church were deliberately Italianate, in order to bring St Philip’s romanità to nineteenth century London.
So why are we here? Well, partly for the person and partly for this stunning place of worship. Fr George Bowen has vast experience as a hospital chaplain and has accompanied many people on their way to the Lord – Catholics and non-Catholics. As a priest and Oratorian, his stock-and-trade extends beyond what happens in the here and now – beyond this world to the eternal kingdom.
“St Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, talks about our experience in life as if we’re living in a tent,” says Fr George. “We’re living in a temporary place and we need to fold up that tent because there’s going to be a house built for us in heaven. And in a way, when we walk into a church like this, what it reminds us of is the house which is prepared for us in the next world. It’s meant to do that, really. It’s meant to put this world into a different perspective.”
This podcast is a walk-and-talk tour of the London Oratory’s memorials, statues, confessionals, altars, beautiful works of art, and prayerful side chapels – all gateways to a life beyond this world. Prayerful places where we can focus our minds on the Holy Souls and pray for those who have gone before us.
Although we do our best to paint word pictures in your minds, we have an album of images on Flickr that accompany this podcast.
The Centre for the Art of Dying Well is based at St Mary’s University. It’s founding aim is to rethink the art of accompaniment at the end of life. It focuses on public engagement, policy, and research on the subjects of death, dying and bereavement.