2 November 2014, All Souls (OF)

2 November 2014, All Souls

Replaces 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

The commemoration of the souls of all the faithful departed originated with Abbot Odilo of Cluny (+1048). In the very earliest chant manuscripts, however, we already find an Agenda Mortuorum, a Mass liturgy for the deceased, with the same Introit and Gradual as in today's Mass.

Today's liturgy affords us a searching glance into the heart of the Church, who is, as St. Augustine tells us on this day, the pia mater communis, the loving, solicitous mother of all. She forgets none of her children, even when they have passed from this life and their name is no longer remembered. She prays and offers the Sacrifice of atonement for all of them. And these sentiments we faithful make our own.

A supernatural quiet seems to hover over the prayers and chants of this formulary; they express unbounded confidence in God's merciful love. Over the liturgy of the dead of the first Christian centuries, one might inscribe the words: quia pius es. . .. You, O God, are goodness, mildness, and mercy. This spirit pervades today's Introit, Gradual, (Tract), and Communion. In the Middle Ages, however, an emphasis on the idea of judgement and punishment for sin—the leading thoughts of the Sequence Dies Irae—appear to dominate. (But see comments below on the Sequence.) The EF liturgy of the dead combines these elements, keeping in perspective the purely human and natural sadness over the departure of loved ones, the reality of the judgement we all must face, and confidence that the Resurrection of Jesus is a promise of eternal life. The interpretation and rendition of today's chants should reflect that blended perspective.

N.B. We will sing from the Gregorian Missal. There are some slight variations from the chants as found in the Graduale Romanum (or Liber Usualis) that we use for the EF Requiem. We will review these at practice time.

Introit: Requiem aeternam, begin on F (as fa)

Gradual: Requiem aeternam, begin on E (as sol)

Alleluia: Melismatic Mode VIII, PBC, p. 95

Offertory: Domine Jesu Christe, begin on F (as re)

Communion: Lux aeterna, begin on G (as la)

Recessional: Antiphon In paradisum, begin on D (as sol)

Ordinary from Mass XVIII, with Kyrie specific to the Requiem Mass.

The Introit has two phrases, both of which must be kept together.

  1. Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine
  2. et lux perpetua luceat eis

The very first words of the Introit bring the leading thought of the day. We devoutly implore eternal rest for the faithful departed—the Church's prayer of predilection whenever she thinks of her beloved dead. She already prayed thus in the third century, for we can trace these words to an epitaph of that time. The Saviour has said: 'Take up My yoke and learn of Me. . . and you shall find rest for your souls.' But we all know how easily human weakness betrays us. Man's life upon this earth is a warfare, and not a few fall in the battle. Under the trials, disappointments, and the enticements of this life, in bodily pain and distress of soul which often sadden and embitter the final moments of life, man's heart becomes vacillating and unstable. Hence we pray for those who have preceded us: Lord, grant unto them eternal rest, take them into Thy kingdom of eternal, immutable peace, draw them to Thy heart!

'And let perpetual light shine upon them!' Perhaps in the storms of life the supernatural light was often threatened with extinction. The departed may have for a time pursued illusory objects, or may have determined to be a light unto themselves and not always lived as children of light. Now, when all other lights have been darkened, when the world with its attractions and seductions has disappeared, the only thing they long for, the only thing they desire is the eternal light. God alone is that immense light toward which their entire being gravitates, the Sun that never sets, lumen indeficiens.

This, also, is the mute prayer of the many candles which, according to ancient custom, are lighted during the Mass for the Dead. Formerly candles were not only used to illumine the subterranean burial places, but were also a symbolic prayer for light. Our most powerful intercessor, however, is Christ in the Sacrifice of the Mass. He is the Sun of justice; in His sea of light He can cleanse all the defects that mar the human soul, and with His infinite merits supply its needs and deficiency of love and make reparation for it.

Filled with confidence in the reparatory power of the holy Sacrifice, the psalm-verse begins joyfully: Te decet laus—'A hymn, O God, if fitting for You.' How often have eternal rest and eternal light been asked of God, and how often has He granted the prayer! How many have attained Him, singing in a blissful spirit as they entered into heaven: Te decet lausl

The psalm is a harvest song. At one time all Israel made a pilgrimage to God in Jerusalem and offered Him the first fruits of the harvest according as they had vowed. So we also, in order to sing a fitting hymn to God in Sion for His many blessings, bring to the Lord in the deceased member of our community the gift of a ripened spiritual harvest (votum), that thus, being united in the closest manner to Christ's sacrifice, he may find eternal rest and eternal light. The world of this psalm portrays such a consoling picture of the soul that has departed in words of the wicked have prevailed over us: and Thou wilt pardon our transgressions.

The melody of the antiphon is especially warm and pleasant. Something of the quiet of death, or better, of the peace of eternal life, or again of heartfelt sympathy with those who have been bereft of a loved one seems to hover about it. As soothing balsam it penetrates the afflicted heart. The parallelism of the text is reflected in the melody. Each of the four half-phrases closes with a quiet clivis: g f and g f f, and each phrase with the same rhythm. In the second phrase the cadence sets in on the fifth last syllable: luceat eis. The first phrase closes with a dactylic word (Domine), over the first syllable of which, as is often done, a single note is set: (do)-na eis (Do)-mine. In the first phrase the melody grows gradually: / g, f ga, f g a c, and then, as in the second phrase, come those serene closing notes: g f and g f f. Aeternam —only eternal rest can satisfy the human heart—receives prominence through its pressus. With (e)-is care must be taken that the high point of the melody be not neglected; nevertheless c must not be accented.

In the first phrase each member began on the tonic f ; in the second phrase they all set in on the dominant a. Perpetua has not the heavy pressusof aeternam; here everything is lighter, one might almost say more spiritual, reminding us of a descending light. In the closing rhythm, the top notes of the melody give the following descending line: cb a g f.

The corpus of the Gradual is the same as the Introit. The verse has four phrases: (Ps. 111:7):

  1. In memoria aeterna
  2. erit Justus
  3. ab auditione mala
  4. non timebit.

The melody is a Mode 2 formulaic one of the Justus ut palma type, as in the EF Mass of a Confessor not a Bishop and many other places, e.g., 1st Sunday of Lent and Easter Sunday. Christ's resurrection is the pledge of the resurrection of our beloved dead and of our own resurrection. In the Latin countries, the poor souls are frequently referred to as 'holy souls,' and with good reason, for they are possessed of sanctifying grace, which renders them 'just' and assures them heaven, even though they have still to make atonement for some of their offenses. In God's courts they were given a favorable verdict. Although the world may be harsh and unjust in its judgments, they are now far removed and it can affect them no longer. And though they must suffer the effects of God's justice, yet they are fully conscious that God will be their final end. How pleasing and sublime is the effect of this verse in the liturgy of the dead!

The Offertory has a corpus with four phrases:

  1. Domine Jesu Christe, Rex gloriae, libera animas omnium fidelium defunctorum de poenis inferni, et de profundo lacu:
  2. libera eas de ore leonis, ne absorbeat eas tartarus, ne cadant in obscurum:
  3. sed signifer sanctus Michael repraesentet eas in lucem sanctam:
  4. Quam olim Abrahae promisisti, et semini ejus.

And a versicle with three phrases:

  1. Hostias et preces tibi Domine laudis offerimus
  2. tu suscipe pro animabus illis, quarum hodie memoriam facimus
  3. fac eas, Domine, de morte transire ad vitam. (Quam olim . . .)

The difficulties of this popular and well-known chant are the subject of a lot of commentary for several aspects. Some would translate defunctorum not by 'departed,' but by 'dying.' Considered in this light, the prayer carries us to the moment of death, where it will be decided whether the soul will be condemned to eternal darkness or whether it will attain to perpetual light. We may pray thus for those who will die today, as well as for all men, whom, as today's Preface says, 'the certainty of dying afflicts;' we can also call to mind the approaching hour of our own dissolution. In the present instance,

llbera does not signify 'deliver,' but rather 'preserve from,' just as the various invocations of the Litany of the Saints do not always presuppose that we have been afflicted with the evils there enumerated, but pray for protection against and preservation from them. Hence we here implore the King of glory to preserve the dying from the pains and the darkness of hell. This first part, with the twofold libera, is the negative part.

The significant sed leads to the second, the positive part, with its petition for the 'holy light.' St. Michael the standard-bearer, was once victorious in the struggle against the evil spirits; may he lead also our souls to true peace. He is the angel who bears the gifts and the prayers of the faithful to heaven, letting them ascend like sweet-smelling incense (Offertory for his feast); may he bring our souls after that most important moment of death to the holy light, so that we also may become partakers of the promises made by God to Abraham. May God become our reward exceeding great.

This antiphon is perhaps native to Ireland. Originally the verse did not belong to it. In reality it is a Secret, a silent prayer for the deceased. Today's sacrifice, however, is also a sacrifice of praise, because it is the Sacrifice of Christ. It is Christ who imparts to it its efficacy. Hence we confidently hope that the departed, by virtue of this sacrifice, may pass from death to life. The verse harks back to the last phrase of the antiphon. The composer has treated the two parts as a whole.

The melody is not so tender as that of the Introit, nor so powerful as that of the Libera. It is serene, serious, a prayer with restrained emotion. Frequently it recites on the tonic. Only in two passages does the melody become somewhat florid, first to give the words Rex gloriae prominence, and secondly with semini, that by means of tone-painting it may cast a sweeping glance over the innumerable children of Abraham, entrusted to him by virtue of God's promise. The passage d f e d e c corresponds to d f e f g e. Christe rhymes with (glori)-ae, and the two libera have similar introductions. Alternately the melody over defunctorum is expanded and contracted over de prof undo lacu, ne absorbeat eas tartarus, Abrahae promisisti, (a)-nimabus illis, (me)-moriam facimus. Related to it is the motif over Hostias, which opens the verse. This motif, recurring several times, makes the petition here expressed more appealing.

De ore leonis with its fourth and accented g is especially powerful, making one almost see the hellish lion with its distended jaws. Repraesentet eas has practically the same formula; the energetic fourth, however, is wanting. It is sung gently and brightly, similar to the third and fourth phrases, in accordance with their lucid text. The petition of the verse is more fervent. Its first phrase confines itself to the range of a fourth. The second phrase gives prominence to the words tu, quarum hodie, and transire, and demands a rendition of special warmth. In more than thirty instances, the accented syllable has a higher pitch than the following syllable, and is also frequently higher than the preceding syllable. If any chant deserves to be sung prayerfully, with serene confidence in God's goodness and with inner emotion, it is today's Offertory.

The Sanctus begins with the closing note of the Preface, whose natural continuation it is. Hence the celebrant's pitch is to be taken in this manner: dicentes: Sanctus. Gloria tua and nomine Domini (each having a cadence with two accents) remind us of Dignum et justum est while the second Hosanna reminds us of Per omnia saecula.

The Communion antiphon has two phrases:

  1. Lux aeterna luceat eis Domine:
  2. cum sanctis tuis in aeternum quia pius es.

The Communion refrains the thoughts of the Introit, setting them forth in brighter light. It is a song of triumph, a song of victory. Such were the sentiments of the early Christians when, singing, they bore to the tomb the remains of those who were privileged to become a sacrifice to Christ through martyrdom. The antiphon Iste Sanctus, sung at the Magnificat on the feast of a martyr, begins and closes with the same melody as the Communion. We hear expressed today the conviction that the sacrifice of the Mass just completed has poured out the fullness of blessings over Purgatory, and that through its efficacy many souls have entered into the kingdom of comfort, of light, and of peace. They are now joined with the army of the saints (cum sanctis), are themselves saints, entirely immersed in the blissful light of God. All that was obscure and confusing, that troubled them so frequently in their lives, has vanished. One truth alone shines out brightly before them.


What in the (secular) Roman rite we know as the antiphon In paradisum is actually a combination of two separate antiphons:


  1. (a) In paradisum deducant te angeli
    (b) in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres
    (c) et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
  2. (a) Chorus angelorum te suscipiat
    (b) et cum Lazaro quondam paupere aeternam habeas requiem.


Although the two are in different modes, 7 and 8 respectively, as the new GR makes clear, the older GR treats them as one in Mode 7. (It’s a manageable mix, as both have the final on g.) One of the most well known and dearly beloved melodies in the repertory, this is ever the defining moment of the Roman funeral rite. As we walk the body of the deceased toward the place of burial, we commend our beloved dead to the tender goodness of the Lord and the angels and saints who await them. We add our prayers to their intercession before God that in His loving mercy he will forgive their sins and they will be able to enter into the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem. The high points over deducant and perducant in part 1, and suscipiat in part 2, reflect the image of the angels and saints lifting up the deceased toward heaven. The descent over Jerusalem and requiem reflect the image of the eternal rest we pay they will enjoy. 


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