From the early days of Christianity, following the example of Jewish custom, the Church has sought to offer prayers and supplications for its deceased members. As the development of liturgy progressed in later centuries, a Mass for commemoration of the faithful departed was elevated to a universal prayer of the Church and is now celebrated annually on Nov. 2.
In recalling the memory of deceased loved ones, an experience filled often with sorrow and the pain of loss, many look to the transcendent beauty of the liturgy and compassion of God for comfort and strength. Recent years have seen an increased attraction on this day for men and women to visit St. John Cantius Church in Chicago, where a sung requiem Mass is offered in the extraordinary form. One of the most famous and beautiful pieces of music written in the history of western culture, this experience has also initiated many to the mystery of the Traditional Latin Mass and provided an additional opportunity to grieve in the presence of God and offer supplication for the dead.
Aware of this interest, Father Jacob Meyer, pastor of St. Monica Parish, Mishawaka, chose to coordinate with local pastors Father Chris Lapp and Father Royce Gregerson in offering a sung requiem Mass at his parish on the feast of All Souls.
This style of the extraordinary form of the Mass, known as a solemn high Mass because it involves the collaboration of three ordained clergy working together as priest, deacon and sub-deacon, was the first of its kind to be celebrated at St. Monica since before the Second Vatican Council.
Father Lapp, who served as priest for the Mass because of his experience and familiarity with the extraordinary form, indicated that “there is a lot of love for the traditional Mass that we wanted to share, especially with the young people of the diocese who have no experience with it at all.” Father Meyer added that “now having priests and musicians in our own diocese who are willing and able to offer it provides greater exposure to the beauty of this form of the Mass.”
The music selected for this Mass was originally composed by Tomas Luis de Victoria in the early 17th century and was performed by University of Notre Dame Sacred Music students under the direction of Katrina Keat. A music intern at St. Monica Parish, Keat offered her gratitude to be able to perform at this Mass, sharing a great love for All Souls Day and that this particular arrangement is one of her “absolute favorite pieces of music.”
Stephen Horton, music teacher at Mishawaka Catholic School, further explained, “The beauty of music is that as we devote our lives in sacrifice, offering ourselves and giving more greatly to God, our ministry goes in a similar way as that of the priest, as it has the ability to transport the congregation into being in God’s presence. Oftentimes, when music is done well, it can make our hearts vulnerable to receive the mercy that God is waiting to give us. This is powerful effect it can have on a person’s soul.”
Patrick Gouker, a parishioner of St. Joseph, Mishawaka, and a freshman at Notre Dame, served as master of ceremonies for the Mass. He remarked with joy that “there were a lot of young people there, including college-aged students.” He continued, “They showed great reverence and you could almost see it in their eyes that they were enjoying it. The silence of what the priest says and the hiddenness and mysteriousness of this Mass conveys a beautiful parallel with the Paschal Mystery. You are brought closer to the Eucharist, which can then bring a heightened sense of reverence and focus when you attend Mass on a daily basis.”
Father Meyer, who offered the homily, further shared the importance and necessity of the Mass for the dead. He revealed, “This is indeed an invitation to enter into the mystery of wisdom of God. This wisdom is so hard for us to understand, yet is a wisdom that we need to seek out. At a requiem Mass, we come face to face with the reality that we will all one day die. And that in that death we have a judgment that will be a result of what we did in our bodies, whether good or evil. And the Lord in His infinite mercy and love, will not only offer us salvation, God-willing, but the beautiful offering of purgation as well. Purgation is something many today do not understand as something that is necessary and is indeed a reality. There are sufferings that are caused to our souls because of the temporal effects due to our sins. We gather today to pray for all of the holy souls in purgatory, that through the merits of the holy Mass, through the intercession of all the saints, through indeed our prayers and sacrifices, that they may be sped through that purgation and on to the gates of heaven.”
Father Meyer also acknowledged that while this experience of the Mass may be new to many, he reassured, “If you don’t understand, do not worry. Just allow yourself to enter into the beauty of it.” He called to mind that this form of the Mass is how the saints prayed for centuries throughout the history of the Church. He encouraged those present to explore how the mystery present before them had come to draw so many holy men and women into deep and intimate communion with Christ.”
In closing, Father Meyer expressed his gratitude for those in attendance and invited all to continue this spirit of remembrance for the deceased throughout this month dedicated to the Holy Souls.
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