The Beauty of the Requiem Mass

Saint Francis of Assisi w Skull“THAT day of wrath, that dreadful day,
shall heaven and earth in ashes lay,
as David and the Sybil say.
What horror must invade the mind
when the approaching Judge shall find
and sift the deeds of all mankind!”


With its black vestments, omitted Gloria, and repeated invocations for mercy on the souls of the departed, the Tridentine Requiem Mass can seem a bit subdued, to say the least. The pomp and grandeur that are usually associated with the Latin Mass are toned down or even replaced with grim reminders about our own mortality. The sequence for the Requiem Mass—the Dies Irae or “Day of Wrath,” quoted above—reminds the faithful of the final judgement at the end of time, with music that can send shivers down one’s spine.

The Requiem Mass, however, is not meant to be dismal or frightening. It is rather meant to be a source of comfort. As one of my favorite priests once explained it to me, the Church is a good and loving mother, and at a Mass for the dead, she mourns alongside her children for the loss of their loved ones.

In addition to being a manifestation of motherly care, the Requiem Mass also contains what I find to be the single most beautiful prayer of the entire Roman liturgy, the In Paradisum (see video below). At the end of Mass, as the casket of the deceased is being carried from the church to be interred in the cemetery, the choir traditionally sings this simple yet profound chant. The text in English is as follows:


“May the angels lead you into paradise;
may the martyrs receive you at your arrival
and lead you to the holy city, Jerusalem.
May choirs of angels receive you,
and with Lazarus, the poor man,
may you have eternal rest.”


Every time I hear them, I find these few, simple words to be strikingly beautiful. They are the final farewell that we bid to our dearly departed brother or sister in Christ who has taken the path that we must all someday follow.

It is a supremely profound moment as the faithful leave their pews and fall into line behind the casket to accompany the deceased to his final resting place. He has fought the battle. He has run the race. And now his time here on earth is done. He’s passed forever out of the ranks of the Church militant. The liturgy, the sacraments, indeed, everything the Church has to offer has culminated in that supremely important moment of his death when his eternal destiny was decided, just as ours too shall one day be determined.

During these final few days of November, the month of the Poor Souls, let’s remember to continue our prayers for the Church Suffering in Purgatory, and let’s take time to reflect on the fact that we too shall someday have to make the journey from time into eternity.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them!

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

 

 

 

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