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.
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Please go to confession.