From a reader…
When my father died, about 11 years ago, the priest who offered his funeral Mass ended it by chanting what he called “the Ultima”. The priest who did it is a very good friend of mine, and this is the only instance I’ve ever heard him chant in Latin during a Mass. I had never heard of this chant before my father’s funeral and I haven’t heard it since.
Over the years I would try to research this chant to find information on it but have not had any sucess till recently. I found the words and notation on a website along with a translation that was done in 2006 but I still don’t know much about the chants use or history.
My priest friend has not been helpful. He is usually the type to scoff at all things traditional, which is why I was shocked at his chanting latin at my father’s funeral. Would you be able to shed some light on this for me, please?
Thank you for all your hard work at this blog. You are in my prayers.
The chant in question is called “The Ultima”, from the more complete “Ultima in hora mortis”.
This is something from the Benedictine tradition. It is a chant, to the Blessed Virgin, invoking her as a good Mother and Queen of Heaven, to help souls to a good death and to take care of them afterward.
You can find it online, for example, HERE.
The American Cassinese Benedictines have a version, which includes three languages. HERE [UPDATED link: to their new server… help them out and CLICK!]
The text seems to be cobbled up from lines taken from a sequence written by a Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne at the time of Pius IX’s proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Hence, it is not an ancient text, but it reflects the piety and faith of millennia of Christian experience of Mary and of death.
Usually the first part is sung, and it has been set for four voices, etc.
Ultima in mortis hora
Filium pro nobis ora
Bonam mortem impetra
Virgo, Mater Domina
In the last hour/moment of death
pray to Your Son for us
obtain (for us) a good death
O Virgin, Mother Lady.
We should contemplate death often and pray for a good death.
Last night I blessed Epiphany Water, which rite includes the Litany of Saints, during which we pray to be saved from a sudden and unprovided death, that is, death with the the sacraments, the chance to make a good confession.
Baring extraordinary graces, I think people die as they have lived. Habits get baked into over the years. We have to develop habits of dying while we are still living, so that when we die, we die as well as possible. Death is a great mystery, but we can ready ourselves, much as soldiers – and we belong to the Church Militant – ready for the struggle through constant and long drills.