In the Catholic Church, the month of November is dedicated to praying for the souls of the faithful departed who have gone before us. On Monday, November 14, with autumn’s bitter nip and the final remnants of fallen leaves under foot, faithful gathered at St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg for a poignant Mass to remember their loved ones.
Celebrated by Father Joshua Brommer, pastor and rector of the Cathedral Parish, the Diocesan Mass for the Faithful Departed was a solemn and stirring liturgy in the middle of the month of the Holy Souls.
The Paschal Candle was lit in front of the altar – a symbol of our belief in the resurrection of the dead and life with Christ in the world to come. To the side was placed a folio containing the names of several thousand faithful departed submitted by parishioners throughout the Diocese.
The poignant Mass featured selections from Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem. With sung prayer presented by the Diocesan Schola Cantorum, pieces such as Pie Jesu and In Paradisum added an element of consolation to the stirring liturgy for those in the pews and those watching the Mass via its livestream.
“Our song this evening is not a lullaby to assuage the restlessness of grief and heartache. Our song is not a ballad that hearkens the joys and pains of earthly love. No, our song this evening is the Church’s song, Her requiem – to sing our loved ones to heaven,” Father Brommer said in his homily, which is reprinted below.
“In this song, we proclaim our faith in the power of the Lord’s Death and Resurrection. In this song, we announce our hope in the mercy of God and in eternal life. In this song, we sing the victorious love of Christ, a love that is ‘stronger than death (Sng 8:6)’, a love that will never fail (cf. 1 Cor 13:8), a love that forges a bond so firm that it remains when a soul pierces the veil between time and eternity,” he said.
Prayer through Music
Dr. Richard Skirpan, Director of the Diocesan Schola Cantorum and Director of Liturgical Music at the Cathedral Parish, told The Catholic Witness he has studied and performed settings of the Requiem Mass, and those by Mozart, Duruflé and Fauré were intended for liturgical use.
He said he first encountered Fauré’s Requiem nearly 20 years ago during a Mass he attended on All Souls Day in Virginia; he experienced it again on the holy day several years later in the Diocese of Raleigh, as Catholics gathered for a Mass in a Catholic cemetery.
Those experiences inspired Dr. Skirpan to introduce the Requiem in the Diocese.
“When I became director of our Diocesan Schola Cantorum, composed of singers from parishes across our Diocese, most of the liturgies for which we sang – Rite of Election, Chrism Mass, and the Ordination Masses – were in the spring. As we have begun to expand our apostolate’s work more year-round, I thought it would be a great opportunity to combine aspects of those two All Souls Day traditions that had touched me deeply – but on a day when we’re not taking people away from their parishes on All Souls Day – and which also serves as a reminder that the entire month of November is dedicated to praying for the faithful departed,” he said.
The Schola, which is open to singers from all parishes in the Diocese, began rehearsals for the Fauré Requiem in mid-October at the Diocesan Center in Harrisburg, with a final rehearsal with instrumentalists at the Cathedral a week before the Mass.
“The Fauré Requiem was a bit challenging for us in that the parts for men’s voices often divide into three or four parts, and while we had some strong men’s voices singing for this Mass there were only so many of them, so many of our altos had the unenviable task of jumping back and forth between parts to make sure that everything got covered,” Dr. Skirpan said.
During the Mass, Schola soloist Hannah O’Donnell moved many in the congregation to tears with her serene presentation of Pie Jesu.
She later told The Witness, as tears welled in her eyes, that she was thinking of her grandmothers, who have passed away.
“Getting to sing this in the Cathedral was absolutely incredible,” said O’Donnell, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Carlisle. “To sing those words, ‘Lord Jesus, have mercy; let them rest in peace,’ was just so moving. It’s a beautiful piece, and I wanted to do it well.”
“It was wonderful to be part of this unique experience for the Diocese,” she said.
Dr. Skirpan said the presentation of the Fauré Requiem within the context of the Mass for the Faithful Departed offers a balance of the reality of death and the hope in the resurrection.
“I think what touches me the most about Fauré’s music in the Requiem is how its beauty can give voice to so many individual prayers. While the Fauré Requiem is sung by a choir and soloists and not the entire congregation, our hope on this special occasion was to offer music to help provide the space for individuals to pray for their departed loved ones,” he said. “There are some settings of the Requiem Mass that emphasize the harshness of death, while others choose instead to focus primarily on consoling the living. I find Fauré’s setting (along with a handful of others) to sit in a very healthy middle ground, not ignoring the pain of sin and death, while still providing us with reassuring glimpses of the heavenly glory we pray our loved ones attain.”
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness
Text of Father Brommer’s Homily for the Mass for the Faithful Departed
Father Joshua Brommer, pastor and rector of the Cathedral Parish of St. Patrick in Harrisburg and Director of the Diocesan Office for Divine Worship, offered this homily during the Diocesan Mass for the Faithful Departed on Monday, November 14. The text of the homily is reprinted here with permission.
It is bequeathed to us who remain on our earthly journey – as an act of faith, an act of hope, and an act of charity – to offer this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for our beloved departed. For in this solemn ritual we proclaim that “by dying Jesus has destroyed our death, and by rising, restored life (Roman Missal, Preface I Easter).” Through this Eucharistic sacrifice, we believe that we once again stand at the foot of the Cross. And, through sacred signs and holy words, participate in that singular act of perfect of love, hearing the Lord Jesus crying out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit (Lk 23:46).” With and in and through Christ, with “pious and holy intention (2 Mc 12:45),” we commend the souls of our loved ones to our Merciful Father.
We believe that we do not stand afar as spectators at this event; but, through the power of the Holy Spirit, truly share in the offering of Jesus to the Father whereby He redeemed the whole of humanity, indeed, the whole world.
We also believe that we are not alone in this wondrous event: we join the angels and the saints in a holy communion of adoration and thanksgiving. That, in this holy place, at this sacred altar, heaven and earth are united in the eternal worship of the Paschal Lamb that was slain. Our voices join in with those of the choir of heaven and, for a moment, we are reminded of our destiny. For God did not create man for death. God did not fashion us for mortality (cf. Wis 1:12-14). But, through Christ, our original destiny has been restored and, as Saint Paul reminds us this evening, at the time of the Lord’s return, that destiny will be fulfilled when Christ returns in glory: “For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed (1 Cor 15:52).” In this will come the definitive and final blow to the penalty of death, as we become clothed in God’s own immortality (cf. 1 Cor 15:54).
Everything about our liturgical celebrations is meant to foreshadow this truth of our faith. We gather together and worship, not vested in the ordinary clothing of everyday life, but in the vesture of the Baptized, of those who have had their robes washed clean in the blood of the Lamb (cf. Rev 22:14). We enter into this mystery through the means of sacred words whose language is not common and prosaic, but shaped by the faith of our forefathers and forged in the kiln of two-thousand years of unbroken tradition. Incense rises around us, a sign of our worship ascending from the earthly to the heavenly where adoring angels with thuribles incense the throne of God. As our prayers rise up before His throne, we are lifted up as well.
And, in the midst of this great movement of our hearts, our minds, our voices, a movement heavenward, we speak to God not only a fervent prayer for ourselves, but tonight, in a most “pious and holy” way, for all those faithful departed, our loved ones who have died, that what we experience in mystery this evening may be experienced in fullness for them and for us in the world to come (cf. Roman Missal, Prayer after Communion, Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time).
This evening, we are surrounded with the beauty of sacred music – a sign of what is to come. For, there is singing in heaven; this we know by the testimony of Scripture, that the choirs of heavenly hosts and the great crowd of witnesses stand before the Lord singing a new song. And, at every celebration of Holy Mass we sing that new song.
Our song this evening is not a lullaby to assuage the restlessness of grief and heartache. Our song is not a ballad that hearkens the joys and pains of earthly love. No, our song this evening is the Church’s song, Her requiem – to sing our loved ones to heaven. In this song, we proclaim our faith in the power of the Lord’s Death and Resurrection. In this song, we announce our hope in the mercy of God and in eternal life. In this song, we sing the victorious love of Christ, a love that is “stronger than death (Sng 8:6)”, a love that will never fail (cf. 1 Cor 13:8), a love that forges a bond so firm that it remains when a soul pierces the veil between time and eternity.
Our petition of loving devotion echoes throughout all we hear this evening – requiem aeternam – grant them eternal rest – Kyrie, eleision – Lord, have mercy – O Domine – O Lord, Jesus Christ, make them pass from death to life – In paradisum – may the angels lead them into paradise.
This is our song, and we believe there is nothing greater we can do than to sing this song with faith, hope, and charity for those who have gone before us and await the kingdom. May our prayer be heard by the Merciful Lord and, in His abundant kindness, may He console us who remain as we catch a glimpse and a sound of our heavenly destiny.
 Saint Albert the Great, A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, “Certainly he would demand nothing more profitable, nothing more pleasant, nothing more beneficial, nothing more desirable, nothing more similar to eternal life.”