28 October 2012
I Corinthians 15.50–58
Introit (John Rutter)
Requiem aeternam / Te decet hymnus
Kyrie eleison (John Rutter)
Psalm 23 (John Rutter)
Sequence hymn 620
‘Jerusalem, my happy home’
F.B.P. (ca. c.16)
‘Land of Rest’
American folk hymn
adapt. & harm. Annabel Morris Buchanan
Pie Jesu (John Rutter)
Sanctus & Benedictus qui venit (John Rutter)
Communion anthem (John Rutter)
Agnus Dei / Man that is born of a woman /
In the midst of life / I am the resurrection
Postcommunion anthem (John Rutter)
Lux aeterna / I heard a voice
On 1 November the Western Church celebrates All Saints’ Day (a similar feast is observed in the East on the Sunday after Pentecost), and on 2 November All Faithful Departed.* At Good Shepherd we commemorate the faithful departed on the Sunday before All Saints’ Day with a choral Requiem Mass, a special form of Mass historically used on the day of a death, the day of burial, on various anniversaries of a death, and for the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed. (Requiem is a form of the Latin word requies, meaning ‘rest’, and is the first word of this traditional Mass for the Dead and thus has come to stand for that Mass or a musical setting of its texts.)
Some parts of the Requiem are essentially identical to the parallel items sung at any other Mass: Kyrie eleison (‘Lord, have mercy’), Sanctus & Benedictus qui venit (‘Holy, holy, holy’), and Agnus Dei (‘Lamb of God’). These are ancient words of entreaty and praise, mostly unchanging from one occasion to another, forming the backbone of the Mass – what we call the ordinary. Composed settings of the Requiem, though, often include at least some of the proper texts – those anthems chosen for the particular occasion, usually to be sung during the processions at the Entrance, Gospel, Offertory, and Communion. Finally, settings of the Requiem often include texts that are not strictly part of the Mass, especially the Responsory Libera me sung at the Commendation that takes place at the end of the Requiem Mass, the anthem In paradisum sung at the procession to the grave, and/or the devotional text Pie Jesu. John Rutter’s Requiem, first performed in Dallas in 1985, mixes some of these traditional Latin texts with others taken from the Anglican burial-service tradition (texts which themselves have pedigree in the Western Office of the Dead – special forms of Vespers, Matins, and Lauds that were hugely important in medieval and later piety).
* * * *
The practices of caring for, remembering, and even providing in some way for the ongoing life of the dead are as old as human history – indeed, the presence of such practices is one way to define what constitutes humanity itself. If fully developed doctrine about the afterlife is not a part of the Hebrew scriptural witness – and indeed the Bible overall is far from clear about this greatest of mysteries – nevertheless prayers and sacrifice for the dead and a belief in resurrection are attested in the intertestamental period (e.g., II Maccabees 12) and, interpreted in the light of the Christian experience, were certainly part of the Church’s consciousness and practice from the beginning.
The practice of praying for the dead has had a checkered history in the Protestant world, as reformers rejected what had become in the West overly literal and specific concepts of what happens when we die and what can be done to aid the deceased in their journey into the fulness of God’s presence – and the prevalence and abuse of these provisions. Nevertheless, prayers for the departed are firmly enshrined in the reformed catholic theology of our Prayer Book, in which all forms of the Prayers of the People include such petitions. The Prayer Book catechism explains the practice thus: ‘We pray for [the dead] beause we still hold them in our love, and because we trust that in God’s presence those who have chosen to serve him will grow in his love, until they see him as he is’ [BCP 862]. This idea is rooted in the very essence of what it means to be a Christian:
‘The Church is “the communion of Saints,” that is, a people made holy through their mutual participation in the mystery of Christ. This communion exists through history, exists now, and endures beyond “the grave and gate of death” into heaven. For “God is not a God of the dead but of the living,” and those still on their earthly pilgrimage continue to have fellowship “with those whose work is done.” The pilgrim Church and the Church at rest join in watching and praying for that great day when Christ shall come again to change and make perfect our common humanity in the image of Christ’s risen glory’ [Lesser Feasts and Fasts].
In the Apostles’ Creed recited at every baptism and most funerals, and in many other prayers throughout the Prayer Book, we affirm our belief in this communion of saints, this fellowship of love and prayer, of growth and service, of life open to and showing forth the presence of Christ. The Requiem, then, gives us an oppotunity to focus on this aspect of our life of faith, to hold in our hearts those who have gone before and who are yet still with us, to think on our own mortality and our preparedness for death, to give thanks for the promise that death is not the end but only a change and a new beginning.
*Though the Episcopal Church’s 1979 Book of Common Prayer does not make an outright distinction, the former, and far older, feast traditionally commemorates those who have lived particularly heroic lives of faith (often resulting in particularly heroic deaths as well) and may have reached their final destination in the full presence of God (those who have ‘entered into joy’, as Form III of the Prayers of the People puts it) [BCP 387], while the latter celebrates all those who have lived lives of faith and may yet be ‘increasing in knowledge and love of [the Lord]’ and going ‘from strength to strength in the life of perfect service in [the] heavenly kingdom’, as the Prayers of the People at the Burial of the Dead suggest [BCP 481]. Both commemorations stem from ‘the desire of Christian people to express the intercommunion of the living and the dead in the Body of Christ’ [Lesser Feasts and Fasts, entry for All Saints’ Day].