F THIS WERE a typical year, I’d be preparing for a sung Mass tonight for the Commemoration of All Souls. My parish choir loves singing the traditional Requiem Mass.
When I say we love it, I don’t mean that we merely don’t mind it or that we enjoy it about as much as the typical Sunday Mass. I mean that we love it above nearly any other Mass. I’ve asked many choir members over the years, “Would you rather sing a Requiem Mass or a Nuptial Mass?” Every last singer has chosen the Requiem.
There are several reasons for this affection. The Requiem chants are plentiful, colorful, and poignant, encompassing every mode except for 3 and 5. The liturgical texts deal with eschatology, which gives perspective to everything we believe and do as Catholics. Also, it’s always easy to see how much grieving families appreciate even the modest efforts of the handful of singers who are typically available to sing a midweek Requiem.
I love any Mass that includes a Sequence because the 1962 missal contains only five of them. The Dies Irae is one—and perhaps the best.
It’s Not Just About Wrath
Dies Irae conjures up images of righteous anger, fire, deafening noise, and judgment. Here in 2020, as the worst machinations of the world’s elite become apparent, it’s tempting to hope that the Day of Wrath will come soon. We trust that the return of Our Savior will mean swift judgment for those who want to prohibit public worship, promote deviant behaviors, and safeguard the “right” to dismember babies in the womb.
But we know that the return of Our Savior will also mean swift judgment for ourselves—we who are weak, lazy, selfish, and lukewarm.
Am I hoping for the Day of Wrath to come quickly? Would I dare? I prefer to focus on the inner stanzas of Dies Irae. In the ninth through fifteenth stanzas, beginning with “Recordare, Jesu pie,” we address Our Lord directly.
Here is where supplication reigns—where we focus on the things we can control.
Here is where we admit that, although nothing can slip His mind, our ingratitude has made us deserve to be forgotten.
Here is where we picture Our Lord faint and weary from seeking us—and yet we continue to wander off and hide.
Here is where we beg for forgiveness while there’s still time. Here is where our faces grow red with shame.
Here is where we dare suggest that if there was hope for Mary Magdalen and Dismas, perhaps there is hope for us. Here is where we admit that our prayers and sighs are worthless but beg nevertheless for a place among the sheep—not the goats.
Everything Is Better with Jerry Hadley
Even if my parish had the budget, I would have no interest in conducting an orchestral Requiem during an actual liturgy. I would much prefer to chant the traditional Requiem Mass. But I do enjoy listening to the Mozart Requiem and will always be grateful that Mozart set the middle stanzas of Dies Irae with such sensitivity. Here’s a performance of his Recordare that includes the late, great American tenor Jerry Hadley (oh, and Leonard Bernstein). May it inspire you to more fervent prayer this All Souls Day.