Wherein I write of Requiem Masses, of death and prudence and perennial wisdom

I had a useful and edifying experience today.  In a way what happened today dovetails with what I experienced a week or so ago when I carried the Blessed Sacrament for Corpus Christi in the streets of Manhattan.  But I’ll stick to today.

This morning I was celebrant for a sung Requiem Mass.  The deceased was a long time reader of this blog who had an connection with one of the parishes in these parts where we regularly have Traditional Latin Masses.  While he, Lawrence, and his wife had moved away from the area, he still visited often and, when he did, he continued to frequent TLMs at the same parish.  Thus, Monsignor the Rector welcomed them when the widow communicated the man’s request that we have a sung Requiem and I was only too happy to oblige as celebrant.

This was a different experience for most of the people present, as you can imagine.

During the course of the Mass, which went pretty much without a hitch, I found some helpful insights, perhaps because I am now comfortable with the rites to the point where I can focus on what is really going on.

For example, for a Requiem the sermon is to be preached after the rites are concluded, and only with permission of the Ordinary.

Thus, after the reading/singing of the Gospel there is no sermon.  A funeral oration is preached without the preacher even wearing a surplice. (Cf. Fortescue/O’Connell/Reid, p. 462; Collins, p. 273; Trimeloni, 588, AAS 9 (1917): “21. Elogia funebria nemini recitare fas esto nisi praevio et explicito consensu Ordinarii, qui quidem, antequam consensum praebeat, poterit etiam exigere ut sibi manuscriptum exhibeatur.” About the lack of stole, but legitimate use of the ferraiuolone or religious habit, etc., SCR 2888:1.)  It is extra-liturgical. I obtained from the Ordinary ahead of time permission to preach both for myself or for the rector (just in case).  This was in force in 1962 and, by the provisions of Universae Ecclesiae for Summorum Pontificum, we obey the law in force at the time.  Therefore, I obtained permission and the discourse was after the Absolution rite.

This all makes so much sense.  Think about how in small towns or in large cities alike, controversial neighbors or public figures die and all manner of absurdities or unkind things or political things or scandalous gossipy things are said in a eulogy or oration.  I suppose an Ordinary Bishop could by particular law grant blanket permission to preach on these occasions, but that seems to me to be a bad idea.  Prudence!  In many dioceses today eulogies are forbidden at Masses for the sorts of reasons we all know to be true.

Furthermore, the vector of the Mass, the solemn prayers, is not broken up by more or less good preaching wherein Father or the Bishop suddenly becomes the object of everyone’s attention.  We remain on target, focused on our purpose in church today.

For another example, in the funeral discourse after the rites were concluded, Monsignor the Rector pointed out the obvious – that there was no choice of music or readings in our traditional requiem. He added, however, that this lack of options underscores how we are all the same in facing our death and judgment.

That got me thinking.  Holy Mother Church is the greatest expert on humanity there has ever been.  For centuries we learned how to pray at the time of death and burial, for the deceased and for ourselves.  The Requiem, properly celebrated, has what we need: the proper balance of prayer and silence, of action and still waiting, of grandeur and sobriety, of imploring mercy, of harrowing reminders of our own judgement, of surety of God’s mercy when asked and hope for the glories of heaven to come.  Death, even when it comes suddenly, isn’t exactly a surprise.  It’s coming.  The solemn rites, perennially repeated, place us in line with our forebears.  Though we are all precious in the eyes of God, we aren’t “special cases” who get to have tailor-made rites by which someone can choose to emphasize x or avoid saying y.  We are equal in death.

“But Father! But Father!”, some of you are surely blurting.  ”You hate Vatican II, don’t you?  All those poor people in the church couldn’t understand anything!  How were they expected to participate?  You didn’t let them celebrate his life!  You are mean.”

First, everyone did just fine.  We went straight at the traditional Requiem with no hesitation or apologies.  We gave everyone booklets.  We followed the rites.  At Communion, we had arranged for someone to go to the rail ahead of time and kneel and receive on the tongue so people could see right off what to do.  When some people weren’t sure exactly where to go, I made a simple gesture that they should come down to the end and then kneel at the rail.  No rushing, no problems.  Everyone received on the tongue without a hitch.  It went smoothly.  Afterwards, I had a chance to talk to a few people, including the widow.   Though they had never seen anything like this before, they all thought it was beautiful.  Some mentioned how reverent it all seemed.

Moreover, they all knew they were praying for Lawrence, the deceased.

Please, dear readers, pray for the soul of Lawrence, who died recently.  He was one of you, one the regular readers here.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.
And let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace.
Amen.
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Amen.

Lastly….

Please go to confession.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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27 Responses to Wherein I write of Requiem Masses, of death and prudence and perennial wisdom

  1. At the last Requiem Mass (celebrated by an FSSP priest) I witnessed, the priest—evidently anticipating a number of non-Catholics or non-traditional Catholics present—mounted the pulpit before the Mass to explain briefly why the sermon would come after rather than during Mass.

  2. Priam1184 says:

    Thank you Father.

  3. Tony McGough says:

    We attended a Requiem today – we didn’t know the deceased, but it was the only Mass in town.
    In the new order, in English, with hymns, incense, committal, the works. As always, with gentle directions for the non-catholics as to how to behave – the deceased’s colleagues, neighbours, and (alas! ) some of the family clearly unfamiliar with catholic ceremonies.

    There was a homily – which incorporated a thumbnail sketch of Joe’s life, so some elements of eulogy – but the main theme was to think about baptism, life, death, eternal destiny, good works, charity and hope.

    It may not be quite like the classic Requiem, but there was plenty to feed the soul and ample opportunity to pray for the dead and console the sorrowful. Done with the devotion Fr Jon puts into these things, we felt the care the Church has for us, and the help she offers us to cope with the four Last Things.

  4. KosmoKarlos says:

    A son of one our parishioners died in a terrible motorcycle accident recently.
    His wake was on Saturday, and my parish priest asked me to accompany him in case he needed help (I am not a priest though, just his helper). Our catholic cemetery is located right next to our county cemetery ( the chapels are about 100 feet apart) so my first initial reaction was that there would be a procession. But after some asking I was told there would be no mass; apparently because the young man was never baptized (though I am not sure if this is true entirely). As the ‘service’ carried on, there was no rosary, no litany, and the only prayer was when another priest came and prayed some of the Funeral Rite. There were eulogies given by both the priests and some people, but not once did anyone mention prayer for the youth’s soul or the necessity of it. He was then taken to the grave site in the county cemetery, and the fathers ended the Funeral Rite.
    It was distressing.
    Thus I ask the readers here to please pray for Vance, that his soul may find eternal rest, and his sins be forgiven.
    Thank you.

  5. One of those TNCs says:

    In our parish here in AZ, a sign in the vestibule notifies parishioners of when upcoming funerals are, and for whom. It is a nice service, so that people can know in time to make arrangements to attend.

    Unfortunately, the sign reads, “In celebration of the life of _____.”

    No, dear people, funerals are for praying for the soul of the deceased.

    And no matter how many times it has been told to you, funerals are not for the living. Funerals are for the dead – it is for their soul that we are gathered to pray and commend them to the mercy of God. Comfort, solace, inspiration, grace are there for the living, but they are a “byproduct” of the funeral Mass, not the aim of it.

    By all means, celebrate the life of the deceased. Remember him with all the gusto and love you can muster. The place for that sort of celebration is before and/or after the funeral Mass.

  6. iPadre says:

    I have celebrated the Low Mass many times and could do it now with my eyes closed. Also celebrated Missa Cantata about 3 times and become more comfortable each time. I would love to eventually learn the Requiem Mass. All of this has enhanced my love for the Mass and helped me to celebrate better the OF.

  7. discipulus says:

    Eternal rest give unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.

    “Please go to confession”

    Please pray that I may be able to go soon, as confession is largely frowned upon where I live. Thanks.

  8. discipulus says:

    Eternal rest give unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.

    “Please go to confession”

    Please pray that I may be able to go soon, as confession is largely frowned upon where I live. Thanks.

  9. JARay says:

    One Mass which stands out for all time in my memory was a Solemn Requiem for the late Pope Pius XII. I was, at that time, in Seminary but I never became a priest. You will understand that this Mass was very, very many years ago. When I come to die, what I would like, most of all, is a similar Requiem but somehow I don’t think that I will get it.

  10. PostCatholic says:

    I attended a memorial service yesterday. It was not a Catholic service and the deceased was not a believer in the Christian God, and thus service was not for his benefit but rather for the living who came to celebrate his life. The eulogies were anecdotal and dignified and touching and numerous. In the service, I learned more to admire about a man I had held in highest esteem. The service helped me find more meaning in my encounters with this man. I think it was an hour well spent.

    That’s appropriate if you believe, as I do, there is nothing more one can do for the deceased than treasure his or her memory. If you sincerely believe in the potential of the wrath of a disappointed God awaits the dead souls—and I know most of you do—then I suppose you have a duty left to you to do what you can to ameliorate that judgment. And I know many of you believe that there’s enough consolation in the promise of a heaven. So perhaps it’s right in that situation to omit eulogies and stick to the god-oriented purposes. I see Catholic funerals as primarily exercises in Faith and Hope. Memorial services, by contrast, are primarily about the ennobling power of Love and how the deceased spread it into the lives of those gathered to remember him or her. That’s also a great good thing to celebrate.

  11. Mike says:

    Thank you, Father. I will pray for the deceased and his family.
    This Friday I am helping serve at a NO funeral Mass. Could be just about anything from “Eagles Wings” to “When the Saints go Marchin’ In”. Alas. I will offer my hidden tears for souls in purgatory…

  12. acardnal says:

    PostCatholic wrote: “I see Catholic funerals as primarily exercises in Faith and Hope. Memorial services, by contrast, are primarily about the ennobling power of Love and how the deceased spread it into the lives of those gathered to remember him or her.”

    To love without Hope and Faith is simply hopelessness. Falsehood. A lie. Ultimately, nihilism.

    “The eulogies were anecdotal and dignified and touching and numerous. In the service, I learned more to admire about a man I had held in highest esteem. The service helped me find more meaning in my encounters with this man. I think it was an hour well spent.”

    Did you really learn “more to admire about a man”? How do you know what was said was true? Many eulogies of people I know are nothing but hyperbole. A fantasy. Can anyone but God know what was in the deceased’s heart and soul? Does anyone other than me know about their problem with pornography and their adultery? We must pray for the dead. That, hopefully, they are in Purgatory and our prayers and penance will help them to reach heaven.

    ” If you sincerely believe in the potential of the wrath of a disappointed God awaits the dead souls—and I know most of you do—then I suppose you have a duty left to you to do what you can to ameliorate that judgment. And I know many of you believe that there’s enough consolation in the promise of a heaven. So perhaps it’s right in that situation to omit eulogies and stick to the god-oriented purposes. I see Catholic funerals as primarily exercises in Faith and Hope. “

    God doesn’t put people in hell. One puts oneself there through their own selfishness . . . sinfulness. If one wants to live selfishly and as if God doesn’t exist then He will honor their request. They will live in eternity without God.

  13. acardnal says:

    iPadre, I applaud everything you are doing. Keep up the good work!

  14. JuliaSaysPax says:

    @PostCatholic
    One wonderful thing about having a funeral where the focus is on praying for the deceased is that it doesn’t mean that you can never have a gathering of mourners sharing touching eulogies and remembering and loving together. It’s just that gathering isn’t called a funeral. It’s called a wake. This way, you get the best of all worlds: faith AND hope AND love. The funeral Mass for the deceased AND the wake for the mourners.

  15. Kathleen10 says:

    It is a little late, and I can’t help but feel JUST a little cranky, about protestants who peruse the blog looking for a chance to rub it in some Catholic’s eye. We are talking about something that happens to be different for Catholics than it is for Protestants. A traditional funeral for an informed Catholic is oriented toward prayer for the deceased. That Mass is a holy “send off”, and we believe it has infinite value and very rich, very real, very deep meaning, and even action. It is a profound exchange of prayer often rent from the grieving survivor’s heart, mind, and soul, in the face of loss, to our God who hears all, and cares about all. It is heartbreakingly impossible yet comforting all at the same time.
    This has nothing to do with a supposed belief in “the wrath of a disappointed God”, as you have put it. I must say, there is a sort of hubris that seems to accompany comments such as these that give me prickles, for lack of a better word.

  16. Kathleen10 says:

    And please Jesus, forgive any sins committed by our friends Lawrence and Vance while they were with us, and welcome them into your kingdom. Amen.

  17. optimist says:

    This is for discipulus, JAray, and any other readers who are thinking, “I’d really like to have that when I go!” I’ve been directing a schola for 5 years; we started from scratch because I was tired of the same old schlock, and wanted something better. We’re making a difference by letting children hear what the Church really wants at Mass. And they will grow up to know what the Mass is supposed to be, and they will sing at my Requiem, God willing.

    As Father has been saying, “Stop making excuses! Just do it!” I could give you several ways to start making a difference: buy new vestments, make a prie-dieu, learn to chant, join a schola, ask for more chant from your parish. Can’t do any of those things? Support the people who can! Here’s a suggestion: the single biggest way I know of showing people what the liturgy is capable of, in a life-changing way, is to attend the CMAA Sacred Music Colloquium, held in June every year. They need scholarship money so that young people can attend who can’t afford the costs.

    Find a way. There are lots of people who would love to have your help and support.

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  19. NoraLee9 says:

    Post Catholic wrote: “The wrath of a disappointed God …” Dude, where do you get this stuff?

    My G-d isn’t disappointed. My G-d however, is a Just G-d.

  20. Imrahil says:

    “Let us pray especially for the person from our midst who shall depart next to appear before the throne of judgment of the Almighty God. Lord, hear our prayers.”

  21. PostCatholic says:

    NoraLeeg, does your G-d also have a problem with vowels, or is that an acronym?

    acardnal, I did not say that Catholic funerals were absent of love any more than I said a memorial service was absent of hope and faith. I said there were primary emphases to each. I do not buy the idea that the Christian God has no active role in a sentence of hell or purgatory, and neither do you, or else why pray for the dead? And I’m sorry for your cynicism when ask if I had learned any more about the man whose memorial service I attended. I said I did. At the very least, I learned how he had made an impact on others who were present.

    Kathleen10, I quite agree that “We are talking about something that happens to be different for Catholics than it is for Protestants.” I’m not sure I’m a protestant, though. Please re-read my post. I think you missed the part where I said “also a great good thing.”

  22. Choirmaster says:

    PostCatholic proposes:

    If you sincerely believe in the potential of the wrath of a disappointed God awaits the dead souls—and I know most of you do—then I suppose you have a duty left to you to do what you can to ameliorate that judgment.

    Say, rather, the anger of an offended God. More than that, we could say, the fear of Justice from a perfect Judge, and leave all mention of offense or anger aside. As Catholics, we believe in Original Sin, concupiscence, and old-fashioned human weakness. Who among us can claim a favorable judgement from a God who knows all things, regardless of what we believe?

    Yet we believe that God has made certain promises of mercy, even mercy in justice; salvation even though it is not deserved but merely desired. The Requiem Mass contains within its prayers the humble admission of the fear of the truth of Death and Justice for everyone, and constant petitions to God to remember his promises and apply them in mercy to the deceased, a sinner, and to those making the prayers, sinners still alive to sin another day before their own death. The Protestant, the atheist, must at least concede the truth of death for us all, and the discomfort, the fear, that comes naturally to all of us because of it.

    Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory,
    free the souls of all the faithful departed
    from infernal punishment and the deep pit.
    Free them from the mouth of the lion;
    do not let Tartarus swallow them,
    nor let them fall into darkness;
    but may the standard-bearer Saint Michael,
    lead them into the holy light
    which you once promised to Abraham and his seed.

    There’s more than that, of course, and you’re on the right track with the sense of duty to pray for the dead. Whether or not God is offended by vowels, however, I cannot say.

  23. benedetta says:

    I attended a Requiem Mass for the very first time in my life this past spring. It was stunningly beautiful, prayerful, dignified, reverent, touching. And I felt shock that we threw it away in favor of what predominates for funeral Masses now. Even a little bit angry, feeling like, we had this, and traded it for…that???

  24. Mike Morrow says:

    I have always thought it most appropriate that any new traditional community put its greatest emphasis, after perfecting the common low and high Mass celebrations, on the Requiem High Mass. That is the most common out-of-the-ordinary Mass that any real parish will be called to perform as nature takes its course among its congregation. This includes especially development of a choir or schola that is capable of the magnificent Gregorian chant required for the Requiem High Mass. (Unfortunately, it seems many new traditional communities waste their time practicing artsy entertainment Mass music from various classical composers instead of the only music that should ever be heard at Mass, the Gregorian chant.)

    In my old pre-Vatican II parish, the local parochial school provided boys as the servers for the Requiem and cemetery services, and boys and girls for the choir performing the traditional Gregorian chant. (I’d love to hear a recording of us from fifty years ago to learn how well we did or did not do!) Universally, those of us from the school who were filling those roles put our maximum efforts toward the Requiem High Masses.

    After the horrible changes that stated taking place in 1966 (yes…long before the novus ordo) I and others believed that we would never again see the solemn beauty of the Requiem High Mass. Having cared more for the Church than anything else, I had to leave it all rather than watch the wreck that was in progress at full throttle. Very sadly, it turned out far far worse that even I had predicted 48 years ago. My father’s funeral 12 years ago was the first time I was in a “catholic” church for more than thirty years. I was absolutely appalled by the unrecognizable touchy-feely magic show that was my father’s funeral.

  25. Choirmaster says:

    @Mike Morrow: I agree, the Requiem chants are the most beautiful… if also the most chilling! My first exposure to the Requiem was, of course, through academia and “high” culture. Even in that setting they are powerful. In recent years, attending and working exclusively in the Traditional Latin Mass, my opinion has only gone up after several All Souls Days and funerals. The Requiem is especially poignant when sung as a Mass and for actual soul(s).

  26. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Choirmaster,

    “the wrath of a disappointed God” … Say, rather, the anger of an offended God.

    Neat distinction. Thank you very much for that. Contains an important point: We do believe that God is offended by the sins because they are actually offensive to Him. We, unlike some sort of Puritans and also (dare I say it?) Evangelicals, do not really hold so much the “challenge” etc. etc. so strikingly similar to pep talk and today’s business world.

  27. Lovely description Father Z. Thank you.
    May God grant me a real Requiem Mass and people to pray earnestly for me and offer many Masses when I die. Will there be anybody left to do this for me?

    The non-Catholic view of death is such a hopeless outlook, to think that there is nothing more to do for a dead person. It is a great comfort to me to pray for a deal soul, preserving a ‘link’ and a sense that I can still help them with my prayers. And if able, these good souls in gratitude return the favor and pray powerfully for me. Isn’t that a happier outlook than just thinking ‘poof they are gone, gee, what a great life they had [which is, in most cases, an egregious exaggeration]‘?

    May the soul of Lawrence, and Vance, Rest In Peace. May God comfort their families and those that miss them.