Requiem Mass for All Souls Day (With a Side of Jelly)

Victoria Requiem: Introit

Last night, McDoc and I attended the Solemn Requiem Mass for All Souls Day at our local Anglo-Catholic joint, which we visit whenever we need a dose of good, old-fashioned smells ‘n’ bells.

This church is renowned all over town for its excellent music, and that reputation was ably upheld as the choir performed the Missa pro Defunctis cum sex vocibus (Mass for the Dead for six voices), by Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611).

Whenever I attend services like last night’s, I think to myself, “I can understand why some Protestant sects throughout history have objected to the use of elaborate music in worship services.” That may not sound like a compliment, but I intend it as such, honest! 😀

Click Mr. Readmore for the story of the jelly!

McDoc is a big fan of ultra-high church liturgy, and I am, too, but with a couple of qualifiers. A retired Episcopal priest of our acquaintance once told us that he feels liturgy is an art form that can be exquisite when done well. Many churches these days don’t go the whole nine yards with it, for better or worse. Half-baked liturgy can feel a bit silly, like little kids playing dress-up, but the whole high shebang can be positively transporting.

When I attend the kind of Solemn Mass you’ll find at a large Anglo-Catholic parish with a professional choir, where they perform an entire composed mass as part of the liturgy every Sunday (a very rare bird nowadays, I think), I feel like I’m attending the symphony as well as sitting in church. I say ‘the symphony’ intentionally, rather than just ‘a concert,’ because I am most likely to have something akin to a religious experience when I go to a full-on symphony or opera, as opposed to a smaller-scale, less formal classical concert — though there have certainly been exceptions to that. I’m talking about the kind of experience where your sense of clock-time is suspended, your chattering inner monologue (what Buddhists and others call “monkey mind” is silenced), and you are, well, just plain transfixed.

Listening to the exquisite interplay of six-part polyphony does that for me. And that’s where I can get the theological objection to it. Put a person in that state, and you can sneak all kinds of stuff by them. For example, I’m not a big fan of reciting the Nicene Creed, but I don’t mind singing it. Heck, I just like to sing in church — who cares? 😉

I can still remember, back from my undergrad days, a lecture one of my music history professors gave on Victoria’s music. The particular piece he was talking about employed the device of antiphonal singing, where the choir is divided in two sections, and for maximal effect, placed in two locations, then they alternate singing in a call-and-response sort of way. Just imagine being in a huge stone church listening to those voices echoing back and forth! My professor said the composer’s intent was to turn you into “a mass of quivering, believing jelly.” Yup, it’s true!

Personally, I have trouble taking seriously the idea that this is a bad thing, because at the end of the day, I expect people to be grownups and think things through. I do, however, have a sick fascination with reading online articles like this, that warn of the dangers of anything… well… enjoyable. Hey, everybody needs a hobby! 😉

But enough of me and my preoccupations… let’s hear the rest of the music. The first part of Victoria’s Requiem, the Introit, is embedded above. Here are the others (I’ve linked to youtubes instead of embedding, to make this post less browser-eating):

Offertory (Domine Jesu Christe)
Agnus Dei
Communion (Lux aeterna)
Responsory (Libera me)

I couldn’t find a youtube of the In Paradisum that closes the mass. The setting by Fauré has taken over and kicked out all the other versions, it seems!

p.s. Here are some Dia de los Muertos cookies:

Click the photo to find out where to get them!



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