Published October 23, 2008
November is a month traditionally dedicated to remembering ancestors and loved ones who have died. In a liturgy dedicated to those remembrances, Cathedral Choir of the Cathedral of Christ the King will again offer a moving remembrance of the Feast of All Souls.
On Saturday, Nov. 1, at 5:30 p.m., Father Charles Byrd will celebrate Mass for All Souls Day featuring music from Gabriel Faure’s “Requiem.” Father Byrd was a member of the Cathedral Choir prior to beginning his studies for the priesthood. Accompanying the choir will be a chamber orchestra of harp and strings and cathedral organist Timothy Wissler.
Faure’s “Requiem,” composed in 1888, was significantly different from that of two well-known grand settings of the liturgy by composers Hector Berlioz and Guiseppe Verdi. Its quiet and gentle tone and approach reflected the sensibility of Faure himself.
For the major portion of his life Faure served as a church organist, almost 30 years of them at La Madeleine, one of Paris’s largest churches. He arranged, prepared for and played hundreds of funerals as part of his position and because of this, the music for his “Requiem” was more of a reflection of the restrained thoughts of family and friends at these actual burial services.
The composer said, “My Requiem … has been said to express no fear of death. It even has been called a lullaby of death. But that is how I feel about death: a happy deliverance, a reaching for eternal happiness, rather than a mournful passing … Perhaps I have sought to depart from what is conventional because for so long I was organist at services of interment. I’m fed up with that doom and darkness. I wanted to do something different.”
Though Faure’s own mother and father had died within two years of his composition of the “Requiem,” Faure insisted that he composed the music “for the pleasure of it.” Its first presentation was, as might be expected, for a funeral service, with a concert performance following a few months later. This work was also used in 1924 at Faure’s own funeral Mass.
The Missa Pro Defunctis (Mass for the Dead) is one of the most beautiful and expressive in the Roman Missal and is of very ancient origin. In pre-apostolic times the Jews prayed that the immortal souls of the just might have requiem aeternam (“rest eternal”), and sources from the second century mention this celebration of the Eucharist.
All Souls Day, the feast for the commemoration of the dead, was instituted by St. Odilo, fourth abbot of the famous Benedictine monastery at Cluny, in 998. In its actual form the Requiem Mass can be traced back to the eighth and ninth centuries. The texts of the Mass, though ancient, continue as vital, living expressions of consolation for the present and hope for the future.
At Christ the King, this annual Mass is celebrated with all the mystery and reverence befitting the occasion and is particularly devoted to all those who have passed away in the last year. One of the most moving symbols, used in procession during the Mass, is the Cathedral’s Death Registry, dating from 1936 to the present. This book contains the names of all people who have been buried from Christ the King since the Cathedral’s dedication.
The prayers and music for this special liturgy are filled with images of eternal rest and perpetual light, and ask more than mere reflection on past losses. They encourage bringing to the present all who were loved and known, to acknowledge their continuing presence in the lives of those still living, to pray for them not in the past tense but in the present and future tenses. The entire archdiocesan family is encouraged to attend this profound liturgy.
The Cathedral of Christ the King is located at 2699 Peachtree Road, NE, Atlanta. For more information, call (404) 233-2145, ext. 470.