2 November 2017, All Souls EF Missa Cantata, 7.00pm
The commemoration of the souls of all the faithful departed originated with Abbot Odilo of Cluny (+1048). In the very earliest chant manuscripts, however, we already find an Agenda Mortuorum, a Mass liturgy for the deceased, with the same Introit and Gradual as in today's Mass.
Today's liturgy affords us a searching glance into the heart of the Church, who is, as St. Augustine tells us on this day, the pia mater communis, the loving, solicitous mother of all. She forgets none of her children, even when they have passed from this life and their name is no longer remembered. She prays and offers the Sacrifice of atonement for all of them. And these sentiments we faithful make our own.
A supernatural quiet seems to hover over the prayers and chants of this formulary; they express unbounded confidence in God's merciful love. Over the liturgy of the dead of the first Christian centuries, one might inscribe the words: quia pius es. . .. You, O God, are goodness, mildness, and mercy. This spirit pervades today's Introit, Gradual, (Tract), and Communion. In the Middle Ages, however, an emphasis on the idea of judgement and punishment for sin—the leading thoughts of the Sequence Dies Irae—appear to dominate. (But see comments below on the Sequence.) The EF liturgy of the dead combines these elements, keeping in perspective the purely human and natural sadness over the departure of loved ones, the reality of the judgement we all must face, and confidence that the Resurrection of Jesus is a promise of eternal life. The interpretation and rendition of today's chants should reflect that blended perspective.
Introit: Requiem aeternam
Gradual: Requiem aeternam
Sequence: Dies Irae
Offertory: Domine Jesu Christe
Communion: Lux aeterna
Absolution: Responsory: Libera me
Recessional: Antiphon In paradisum
The Introit has two phrases, both of which must be kept together.
- Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine
- et lux perpetua luceat eis
The very first words of the Introit bring the leading thought of the day. We devoutly implore eternal rest for the faithful departed—the Church's prayer of predilection whenever she thinks of her beloved dead. She already prayed thus in the third century, for we can trace these words to an epitaph of that time. The Saviour has said: 'Take up My yoke and learn of Me. . . and you shall find rest for your souls.' But we all know how easily human weakness betrays us. Man's life upon this earth is a warfare, and not a few fall in the battle. Under the trials, disappointments, and the enticements of this life, in bodily pain and distress of soul which often sadden and embitter the final moments of life, man's heart becomes vacillating and unstable. Hence we pray for those who have preceded us: Lord, grant unto them eternal rest, take them into Thy kingdom of eternal, immutable peace, draw them to Thy heart!
'And let perpetual light shine upon them!' Perhaps in the storms of life the supernatural light was often threatened with extinction. The departed may have for a time pursued illusory objects, or may have determined to be a light unto themselves and not always lived as children of light. Now, when all other lights have been darkened, when the world with its attractions and seductions has disappeared, the only thing they long for, the only thing they desire is the eternal light. God alone is that immense light toward which their entire being gravitates, the Sun that never sets, lumen indeficiens.
This, also, is the mute prayer of the many candles which, according to ancient custom, are lighted during the Mass for the Dead. Formerly candles were not only used to illumine the subterranean burial places, but were also a symbolic prayer for light. Our most powerful intercessor, however, is Christ in the Sacrifice of the Mass. He is the Sun of justice; in His sea of light He can cleanse all the defects that mar the human soul, and with His infinite merits supply its needs and deficiency of love and make reparation for it.
Filled with confidence in the reparatory power of the holy Sacrifice, the psalm-verse begins joyfully: Te decet laus—'A hymn, O God, if fitting for You.' How often have eternal rest and eternal light been asked of God, and how often has He granted the prayer! How many have attained Him, singing in a blissful spirit as they entered into heaven: Te decet lausl
The psalm is a harvest song. At one time all Israel made a pilgrimage to God in Jerusalem and offered Him the first fruits of the harvest according as they had vowed. So we also, in order to sing a fitting hymn to God in Sion for His many blessings, bring to the Lord in the deceased member of our community the gift of a ripened spiritual harvest (votum), that thus, being united in the closest manner to Christ's sacrifice, he may find eternal rest and eternal light. The world of this psalm portrays such a consoling picture of the soul that has departed in words of the wicked have prevailed over us: and Thou wilt pardon our transgressions.
The melody of the antiphon is especially warm and pleasant. Something of the quiet of death, or better, of the peace of eternal life, or again of heartfelt sympathy with those who have been bereft of a loved one seems to hover about it. As soothing balsam it penetrates the afflicted heart. The parallelism of the text is reflected in the melody. Each of the four half-phrases closes with a quiet clivis: g f and g f f, and each phrase with the same rhythm. In the second phrase the cadence sets in on the fifth last syllable: luceat eis. The first phrase closes with a dactylic word (Domine), over the first syllable of which, as is often done, a single note is set: (do)-na eis (Do)-mine. In the first phrase the melody grows gradually: / g, f ga, f g a c, and then, as in the second phrase, come those serene closing notes: g f and g f f. Aeternam —only eternal rest can satisfy the human heart—receives prominence through its pressus. With (e)-is care must be taken that the high point of the melody be not neglected; nevertheless c must not be accented.
In the first phrase each member began on the tonic f ; in the second phrase they all set in on the dominant a. Perpetua has not the heavy pressus of aeternam; here everything is lighter, one might almost say more spiritual, reminding us of a descending light. In the closing rhythm, the top notes of the melody give the following descending line: cb a g f.
This Introit has two psalm-verses. The first has a solemn intonation but is wanting in the solemn Introit-psalmody as noted in the most ancient manuscript. We have here the simple form, which Dom Pothier tries to justify in Revue (15, 153). We also note the mournful mediatio correpta over the Hebrew words Sion and Jerusalem. The text of the antiphon is closely related to a verse of the apocryphal fourth Book of Esdras (20: 34). Psalm 64, of which our verse in an excerpt, bears the inscription: 'To the people of the captivity, when they began to go out.' Even more than the exiled Jews, the souls in Purgatory yearn for their fatherland, the heavenly Sion, where they shall glorify God for all eternity.
The corpus of the Gradual is the same as the Introit. The verse has four phrases: (Ps. 111:7):
- In memoria aeterna
- erit Justus
- ab auditione mala
- non timebit.
The melody is a Mode 2 formulaic one of the Justus ut palma type, as in the EF Mass of a Confessor not a Bishop and many other places, e.g., 1st Sunday of Lent and Easter Sunday. Christ's resurrection is the pledge of the resurrection of our beloved dead and of our own resurrection. In the Latin countries, the poor souls are frequently referred to as 'holy souls,' and with good reason, for they are possessed of sanctifying grace, which renders them 'just' and assures them heaven, even though they have still to make atonement for some of their offenses. In God's courts they were given a favorable verdict. Although the world may be harsh and unjust in its judgments, they are now far removed and it can affect them no longer. And though they must suffer the effects of God's justice, yet they are fully conscious that God will be their final end. How pleasing and sublime is the effect of this verse in the liturgy of the dead!
The Tract has three phrases, each divided:
- (a) Absolve, Domine, animas omnium fidelium defunctorum
(b) ab omni vinculo delictorum.
- (a) Et gratia tua illis succurente,
(b) mereantur evadere judicium ultionis.
- (a) Et lucis aeternae
(b) beatitudine perfrui.
Ordinarily the Tract is taken from one of the psalms. Here, however, we have an example of an oration from one of the best periods of the liturgy. Verses one and three pray for the departed. The second verse is emphasized still more in the Offertory. Except for the florid intonation in the first verse, the first half of all three verses is alike, having also the same middle cadence. The second half of the first and second verses shows the same descending formula, which sets in one syllable before the word-accent: -lictorum, -tionis. The third verse has a florid closing melisma. Here the chants, so far of a quiet character, take on a gloomier coloring, yet even now the petition for liberty and light, yes, eternal happiness, predominates above all else. The melody is not in the serious second mode, but in the lighter, brighter eighth mode.
The famous Sequence has become an important element in Western culture, both in its text and its music. There is much debate about its authorship. Many attribute it to the Franciscan Thomas of Celano (1200-1255?), although we find his name attached to it only a century later. It was not included in the Requiem Mass until the second half of the fourteenth century, having been previously used merely for private devotion,or after the Mass for the Dead, as the procession made its way from the church to the cemetery. It was prescribed for universal adoption in the sixteenth century. It seems that the serious and solemn trochees were created particularly for the awful scene here described. 'This monumental piece of poetry could make even a Goethe tremble. The reference to it in his Faust has been duly noted by the modern Christian and non-Christian literary world. And even today it serves to remind us that the poetical powers of the Middle Ages need fear nothing by comparison with the poetry of a later period, indeed, that the latter in great part shares in the heritage of the former' (A. Baumgartner, S.J., Weltliteratur, IV, 458).
Until the last six verses, there are three double strophes that repeat the same melody thrice. In the first strophe the second verse extends beyond the melodic peak of the first verse. In still greater measure the second double strophe predominates over the first and third. The text concerning the blasts of the trumpet may have influenced the composer. The third verse descends to low a once, the third double strophe does the same twice. The fact that every strophe, as well as every individual verse, closes on the tonic, heightens the force of this chant and has the effect of the somber tolling of bells. Berlioz, who employs all the possibilities of the modern orchestra in his Requiem, admits that in the unbounded wealth of musical art there is nothing to compare with the effect produced by this plainsong Sequence.
The second half of the first and second verses has the same melody. Judicandus produces a marvelous effect. The subsequent huic ergo ought to be sung more softly, after which Pie Jesu should be rendered with utmost devotion. Although the double strophes of each of the first three parts have the same melody, still in every instance the text will give the cue for the rendition, without of course, introducing any sharp contrasts.
This Sequence was formerly sung in some places during Advent, as a preparation for the coming of the universal Judge. Many (most?) scholars today think that placement was the original purpose of the author. So in the Ordinary Form, it is now sung as a hymn in the Divine Office (Liturgia Horarum) during the last week of the year, just before Advent, linking our celebrations of Christ the King and of His coming again in glory.
The Offertory has a corpus with four phrases:
- Domine Jesu Christe, Rex gloriae, libera animas omnium fidelium defunctorum de poenis inferni, et de profundo lacu:
- libera eas de ore leonis, ne absorbeat eas tartarus, ne cadant in obscurum:
- sed signifer sanctus Michael repraesentet eas in lucem sanctam:
- Quam olim Abrahae promisisti, et semini ejus.
And a versicle with three phrases:
- Hostias et preces tibi Domine laudis offerimus
- tu suscipe pro animabus illis, quarum hodie memoriam facimus
- fac eas, Domine, de morte transire ad vitam. (Quam olim . . .)
The difficulties of this popular and well-known chant are the subject of a lot of commentary for several aspects. Some would translate defunctorum not by 'departed,' but by 'dying.' Considered in this light, the prayer carries us to the moment of death, where it will be decided whether the soul will be condemned to eternal darkness or whether it will attain to perpetual light. We may pray thus for those who will die today, as well as for all men, whom, as today's Preface says, 'the certainty of dying afflicts;' we can also call to mind the approaching hour of our own dissolution. In the present instance,
llbera does not signify 'deliver,' but rather 'preserve from,' just as the various invocations of the Litany of the Saints do not always presuppose that we have been afflicted with the evils there enumerated, but pray for protection against and preservation from them. Hence we here implore the King of glory to preserve the dying from the pains and the darkness of hell. This first part, with the twofold libera, is the negative part.
The significant sed leads to the second, the positive part, with its petition for the 'holy light.' St. Michael the standard-bearer, was once victorious in the struggle against the evil spirits; may he lead also our souls to true peace. He is the angel who bears the gifts and the prayers of the faithful to heaven, letting them ascend like sweet-smelling incense (Offertory for his feast); may he bring our souls after that most important moment of death to the holy light, so that we also may become partakers of the promises made by God to Abraham. May God become our reward exceeding great.
This antiphon is perhaps native to Ireland. Originally the verse did not belong to it. In reality it is a Secret, a silent prayer for the deceased. Today's sacrifice, however, is also a sacrifice of praise, because it is the Sacrifice of Christ. It is Christ who imparts to it its efficacy. Hence we confidently hope that the departed, by virtue of this sacrifice, may pass from death to life. The verse harks back to the last phrase of the antiphon. The composer has treated the two parts as a whole.
The melody is not so tender as that of the Introit, nor so powerful as that of the Libera. It is serene, serious, a prayer with restrained emotion. Frequently it recites on the tonic. Only in two passages does the melody become somewhat florid, first to give the words Rex gloriae prominence, and secondly with semini, that by means of tone-painting it may cast a sweeping glance over the innumerable children of Abraham, entrusted to him by virtue of God's promise. The passage d f e d e c corresponds to d f e f g e. Christe rhymes with (glori)-ae, and the two libera have similar introductions. Alternately the melody over defunctorum is expanded and contracted over de prof undo lacu, ne absorbeat eas tartarus, Abrahae promisisti, (a)-nimabus illis, (me)-moriam facimus. Related to it is the motif over Hostias, which opens the verse. This motif, recurring several times, makes the petition here expressed more appealing.
De ore leonis with its fourth and accented g is especially powerful, making one almost see the hellish lion with its distended jaws. Repraesentet eas has practically the same formula; the energetic fourth, however, is wanting. It is sung gently and brightly, similar to the third and fourth phrases, in accordance with their lucid text. The petition of the verse is more fervent. Its first phrase confines itself to the range of a fourth. The second phrase gives prominence to the words tu, quarum hodie, and transire, and demands a rendition of special warmth. In more than thirty instances, the accented syllable has a higher pitch than the following syllable, and is also frequently higher than the preceding syllable. If any chant deserves to be sung prayerfully, with serene confidence in God's goodness and with inner emotion, it is today's Offertory.
The Sanctus begins with the closing note of the Preface, whose natural continuation it is. Hence the celebrant's pitch is to be taken in this manner: dicentes: Sanctus. Gloria tua and nomine Domini (each having a cadence with two accents) remind us of Dignum et justum est while the second Hosanna reminds us of Per omnia saecula.
The Agnus Dei is the same as that at the end of the Litany of the Saints. The petition dona eis should be sung impressively, but without harshness. Sempiternam should follow requiem without an intervening pause.
Both the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei are also part of Mass XVIII, sung on ferial days.
The Communion antiphon has two phrases, the second of which is repeated after the Requiem aeternum, which functions in lieu of a psalm verse and/or a doxology:
- Lux aeterna luceat eis Domine:
- cum sanctis tuis in aeternum quia pius es.
The Communion refrains the thoughts of the Introit, setting them forth in brighter light. It is a song of triumph, a song of victory. Such were the sentiments of the early Christians when, singing, they bore to the tomb the remains of those who were privileged to become a sacrifice to Christ through martyrdom. The antiphon Iste Sanctus, sung at the Magnificat on the feast of a martyr, begins and closes with the same melody as the Communion. We hear expressed today the conviction that the sacrifice of the Mass just completed has poured out the fullness of blessings over Purgatory, and that through its efficacy many souls have entered into the kingdom of comfort, of light, and of peace. They are now joined with the army of the saints (cum sanctis), are themselves saints, entirely immersed in the blissful light of God. All that was obscure and confusing, that troubled them so frequently in their lives, has vanished. One truth alone shines out brightly before them.
This Communion plays a very important part in the history of the liturgy, precisely because it is the only Communion antiphon that retained the tradition of singing psalm verses with the antiphon. The psalmody is not the simplest. Before the accent of the cadence a preparatory d is inserted, as we find in the solemn psalm tone of the fifth mode; moreover, the second half of the verse has at its beginning a decorative a. In the antiphon, Cum sanctis tuis corresponds to luceat eis. Something like the light of resurrection and the mild splendor of God's goodness ought to characterize the rendition: quia pius es . . ..
The Responsory at the Absolution has three phrases in the corpus and three verses:
- Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna, in die illa tremenda:
Deliver me Lord from eternal death on that dreadful day
- Quando caeli movendi sunt et terra:
When the heavens and the earth will quake
- Dum veneris judicare saeculum per ignem.
When You will come to judge the word by fire
- V. Tremens factus sum ego, et timeo, dum discussio venerit, atque ventura ira. (Quando caeli . . ).
I tremble and am greatly afraid for the judgement and wrath too come
- V. Dies illa, dies irae, calamitatis et miseriae, dies magna et amara valde. (Dum veneris . . . )
That day, day of wrath, day of woe and tribulation, great and exceedingly bitter day.
- V. Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine: et lux perpetua luceat eis. (Libera me [usque ad V. Tremens].
Eternal rest grant to them Lord and let light perpetual shine upon them
In the responsory we no longer hear the expressions of peace, rest, and confident hope that characterized the prayers of the early Christians regarding death. Rather we find the fear and anguish that had laid hold of the mind of the Middle Ages, anticipating the impending destruction of the world. It is an impetuous appeal to the universal Judge. Judicare dominates the entire piece, sounding almost like a shrill piercing cry. Only over this word does the melody ascend to high c. This phrase has indeed the greatest range, the largest intervals (fifth and fourths), and the richest, well-prepared development. The first three words have the range c—f, the subsequent three, d—g. In the second half of the first phrase, with the range c—g, the words die illa are accentuated by means of a higher pitch and also by means of the pressus, which had already served to strengthen aeterna. The second phrase points to the catastrophe that will shake both heaven and earth. The third phrase begins immediately a fifth higher than the closing note of the preceding; similarly judicare. Rarely in plainsong are the accents which dominate members and phrases given such plastic prominence as here: me, morte, die illa, movendi, judicare, and rarely do we see such a carefully planned gradation. Singers should bring this out in their rendition.
In a certain sense, the quiet, reserved character of the verses forms a contrast to the agitated corpus. They are almost syllabic and avoid large intervals, never going beyond a. Both in text and melody, the second verse without doubt formed the nucleus for the later Sequence Dies Irae; there also judicare finds an echo in tuba mirum spargens. Originally the Dies irae served as a trope to Libera; then it became a Sequence.
After the first verse the second phrase is repeated, after the second verse the third phrase, after the third verse, which exhibits special warmth with Domine and gives impressiveness to the word lux, the entire Libera up to ignem is sung again. The form here reminds us of the rondo. The melody in the Graduale Romanum can be traced back to the end of the tenth century. These same chants are sung at the burial, on the third, seventh, and thirtieth day after death, and on the anniversary.
What in the (secular) Roman rite we know as the antiphon In paradisum is actually a combination of two separate antiphons:
- (a) In paradisum deducant te angeli
(b) in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres
(c) et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
- (a) Chorus angelorum te suscipiat
(b) et cum Lazaro quondam paupere aeternam habeas requiem.
Although the two are in different modes, 7 and 8 respectively, as the new GR makes clear, the older GR treats them as one in Mode 7. (It’s a manageable mix, as both have the final on g.) One of the most well known and dearly beloved melodies in the repertory, this is ever the defining moment of the Roman funeral rite. As we walk the body of the deceased toward the place of burial, we commend our beloved dead to the tender goodness of the Lord and the angels and saints who await them. We add our prayers to their intercession before God that in His loving mercy he will forgive their sins and they will be able to enter into the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem. The high points over deducant and perducant in part 1, and suscipiat in part 2, reflect the image of the angels and saints lifting up the deceased toward heaven. The descent over Jerusalem and requiem reflect the image of the eternal rest we pay they will enjoy.