On the Requiem, Part II

The occasion

The Prayer Book provides for the possibility of Masses for the Departed on three kinds of occasions –

(1) At the Burial of the Dead [bcp 462–507]
(2) As a Votive intention ‘for the Departed’ [bcp 202/253; 928]
(3) In Commemoration of All Faithful Departed [bcp 29; lff]

– but there are no general rubrics entirely clearly distinguishing these three kinds of occasions or fully and unequivocally setting forth the rites (much less the ceremonies) to be used for each.

Nevertheless it would seem clear from the titles that, strictly speaking,
(1) indicates the occasion of the actual burial of the body, and that
(2) covers any memorial at which the body is not present.

In traditional Western practice it was common to offer (2) on the day of death; on the third, seventh, and thirtieth days after death; and on the anniversaries of a death; these observances (and, from 1552, a Communion at the Burial of the Dead itself) were swept away in the reformation of the English Church. Today, on the other hand, with cremation in greater use, it is increasingly common for the (one) public funeral service to be celebrated without the presence of the remains, which may be laid to rest privately well before or well after such a service. And though the week’s, month’s, and year’s mind are essentially unknown today, occasion (3), celebrated on 2 November, may be seen as a special annual, all-encompassing instance of (2).

The rite to be used

bcp1979 provides Collects and Lessons, and specifies a Preface, for (2) and (3), and in the case of (2) adds that any of the Collects, Psalms, and Lessons appointed for (1) may be substituted, and that any of the forms of the Prayers of the People, and the postcommunion prayer, for (1) may also be used. In common practice not only these provisions, but indeed the entire rite for (1) is used even when the occasion, strictly speaking, constitutes (2): a use seemingly envisioned by the shapers of the bcp, as evidenced by the rubric directing the omission of the Commendation if the body is not present (though this rubric itself is often overlooked on such occasions and the Commendation used regardless: another point to which we shall return). If (3) can be seen as a special instance of (2), it would then stand to reason that these provisions for the Burial of the Dead may also be used for All Souls’.

Proper chants and other options

The Roman rite provides proper chants (most, if not all, of which have been adapted to English at some point in Anglican history) for the following points in the Mass for the Dead:
· Entrance of the ministers (Introit)
· Between the lessons (Gradual, Tract, Sequence)
· Offertory
· Communion

Because the Mass for the Dead is connected (depending upon the exact occasion) with the various ceremonies regarding the body, as well as with an Office, other texts came to be part of some composed settings of the Requiem:
· Responsory at the Absolution
· Chants at the procession to the grave

As detailed below, these and other aspects of many composed Requiems – many written for the traditional Roman rite, and not necessarily for use on All Souls’ – conflict variously with the rubrics of the traditional Roman rite, the modern Roman rite, and, to the point of our purposes here, the bcp1979 Rites I and/or II, in ways that the competent liturgical authority (ultimately the bishop, but usually delegated to the rector, dean, or other minister-in-charge) will have to decide.

Since the traditional Prayer Book burial service is essentially a very much simplified Office, followed by the Committal itself, the Anthems appoined at the processions and burial are taken from the Office tradition and elsewhere rather than from the Roman Mass. The bcp1979 order for the Burial of the Dead is a conflation of the traditional Prayer Book burial service with a Mass, so the traditional Prayer Book Anthems as well as some new options now often constitute entrance and exit chants for the Mass. The hymnal provides chant settings and some metrical paraphrases.

The modern Roman rite offers many more options for all of the Proper chant positions than does the traditional rite, some of which may prove more attractive to modern sensibilities.

Entrance rite

bcp1979 Rite I Burial service, nothing other than the Prayer Book anthems may be sung at the entrance of the ministers. Rite II provides the option of ‘a hymn, psalm, or some other suitable anthem’ instead. (At either version of the ordinary Mass, a ‘hymn, psalm, or anthem may be sung.’)

The traditional Roman Introit:

a Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord,
     and let light perpetual shine upon them.

          cf. 4E 2.34–35
v A hymn befitteth thee, O God, in Zion,
     and unto thee shall a vow be paid in Jerusalem.
     Listen to my prayer: unto thee all flesh shall come.

          Ps 65.1–2a

(The antiphon is based upon a passage from IV Esdras, an apocryphal Jewish text widely known in the early ages of Christianity and frequently quoted by the Fathers. This text appears in the Prayer Book at the Committal [bcp 486/502] and the Prayers of the People, Form III [bcp 387].)


The Burial rite does not call for a Kyrie, though a generous definition of the ‘other anthem’ that may be sung at the Entrance in Rite II might include a Kyrie. This seems the only way to accommodate a composed Requiem in which the Introit and Kyrie are conjoined (in the ordinary Mass, the Opening Acclamation and/or Collect for Purity intervene.)

Intervenient chant(s)

The Burial rite, unlike the ordinary Eucharistic rite, does not call for an ‘anthem’ to be sung after the Lessons, restricting the categories (varying between Rites I and II and position after the First or Second Lesson) to psalms, canticles, and hymns. The traditional Gradual –

a Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord:
     and let light perpetual shine upon them.

v The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance:
     he will not be afraid of any evil tidings.

          Ps 112.6–7

– indeed consists of a Psalm-verse with its antiphon, but the traditional Tract –

a Absolve, O Lord, the souls of all faithful departed
     from all the chains of their sins.

v That by the succour of thy grace they may be found worthy
     to escape the avenging judgement.

v And enjoy the bliss of everlasting light.

– in this case does not. Nevertheless there is no other good place to include it. Other Tracts available in the modern Roman rite do qualify, and the Psalms appointed in lff for All Souls’ (116.10–17 or 130) are traditional parts of the services for the dead and may be sung as provided in the Episcopal Church’s Psalters.

The Sequence can be classed as a hymn:

Day of wrath and doom impending,
David’s word with Sibyl’s blending
Heaven and earth in ashes ending

Oh, what fear man’s bosom rendeth
When from heaven the judge descendeth
On whose sentence all dependeth.

Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth,
Throughout earth’s graves it ringeth,
All before the throne it bringeth.

Death is struck and nature quaking,
All creation is awaking,
To its Judge an answer making.

Lo! the book exactly worded,
Wherein all hath been recorded,
Thence shall judgment be awarded.

When the Judge his seat attaineth,
And each hidden deed arraigneth,
Nothing unavenged remaineth.

What shall I, a wretch, be pleading?
Who for me be interceding,
When the just are mercy needing?

King of majesty tremendous,
Who dost free salvation send us,
Fount of pity, then befriend us.

Think, kind Jesus, my salvation
Caused thy wondrous incarnation;
Leave me not to reprobation.

Faint and wary thou has sought me,
on the cross of suffering bought me,
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?

Righteous judge, for sin’s pollution,
Grant thy gift of absolution,
Ere that day of retribution.

Guilty now I pour my moaning,
All my shame with anguish owning;
Spare, O God, Thy suppliant groaning.

Through the sinful woman shriven,
Through the dying thief forgiven,
thou to me a hope hast given.

Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from fires undying.

With Thy favoured sheep O place me,
Not among the goats abase me,
But to Thy right hand upraise me.

When the wicked are confounded,
Doomed to flames of woe unbounded,
Call me, with Thy saints surrounded.

Low I kneel, with heart submission,
See, like ashes my contrition,
Help me in my last condition.

Ah, that day of tears and mourning!
From the dust of earth returning,
Man for judgment must prepare him;

Spare, O God, in mercy spare him.
Lord, all pitying, Jesus blest,
Grant them Thine eternal rest.

    cf., Zp 1.15–16; Mt 25; Lk 21.26; 2P 3; 1Th 4.16; Rv 20.11–15; etc.

(‘Dies irae’ was originally written for Advent Sunday, with its emphasis on the Last Things, and is used in the modern Roman Office in Advent. It was taken over as the Sequence for Masses of the Dead and was one of only four Sequences retained in the Tridentine reforms; it is not among the Sequences included in the Hymnal 1982.)


The Nicene Creed is used at Mass only on Sundays and other Major Feasts and so is not used at a Requiem. The Apostles’ Creed is optional in the Burial rite; it is not a traditional part of the Roman Requiem Mass.

Prayers of the people

As noted above, one of the forms appointed for the Burial of the Dead may be used; the Rite I prayers are by far the fullest and richest, and also seemingly the most appropriate for a Mass for the Departed apart from the occasion of the burial itself. N. in this case would be replaced by ‘all [the] faithful departed’.


The traditional Roman Offertory:

a Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory,
     free the souls of all the faithful departed
     from the pains of hell
[inferni ] and from the deep pit;
     deliver them from the lion’s mouth;
     let not hell
[Tartarus] swallow them up,
     let them not fall into darkness:
     but let Michael, the holy standard-bearer,
     bring them into the holy light,
     which you once promised to Abraham and to his seed.

v Sacrifices and prayers of praise, Lord, we offer unto you.
     Receive them on behalf of those souls we commemorate this day.
     Grant them, O Lord, to pass from death to life,
     which you once promised to Abraham and to his seed.

This text, originally a prayer for the dying, builds upon Hebrew and Greco-Roman imagery concerning the underworld, specifically as found in Daniel, Revelation, and some noncanonical books. There were other Offertories used in other Western rites before the Tridentine conformity, and the modern Roman rite provides other options.

Great thanksgiving

The Preface for the Departed is used.


Of all the major songs constituting the Ordinary of the Mass, the bcp1979 rubrics direct only the Sanctus specifically to be sung by All; the Sanctus chant traditionally used at the Roman Requiem Mass is found at S 122 in the Hymnal 1982. On the other hand, of course, any choral Mass, including a Requiem, includes a choral setting of this text.

Breaking of the bread

Agnus Dei is a standard part of the Western Mass, a borrowing of the Forerunner’s acclamation upon recognizing the Lord, used here to acknowledge His Presence in the Eucharist. For Masses of the Dead, the usual refrain ‘Have mercy upon us’ (‘Grant us peace’ after the third acclamation) is replaced with ‘grant them rest’ (grant them rest everlasting’ the third time). The setting of the Agnus Dei traditionally appointed (because of its utter simplicity) for Masses of the Dead as well as on weekdays in Advent and Lent is found (in the ellc English version, with the ‘regular’ refrain) at S 160.

As many choral settings are rather long and intended to cover the Celebrant’s communion, Agnus Dei may instead be used during Communion.


The traditional Roman antiphon:

a May eternal light shine on them, Lord,
     with your saints forever,
     for you are merciful.
v Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord,
     and let light perpetual shine upon them.

Other anthems, of course, may be sung here, including ‘Pie Jesu’.


As the Postcommunion for the departed is unfamiliar and wordy (and beautiful), it is best said by the Celebrant alone (the rubric only directs that it ‘is said’).


The bcp1979 Burial of the Dead includes a Commendation (in traditional Roman use, the ‘Absolution’, but in current Roman practice more appropriately called the ‘final commendation and farewell’) of the Body and, following certain nineteenth-century Anglican precedent, provides for a Russian Kontakion of the Dead – ‘or some other suitable anthem, or a hymn’ – to be sung where the traditional Roman Rite uses the responsory ‘Libera me’. Both bcp1979 and the modern Roman Ritual, however, state that this rite is to be used only when the body is present.

There is therefore some question as to whether to ignore the rubric in order to sing ‘Libera me’ (or one of the other modern options) in its traditional place (this chant could, of course, be sung during the Communion, though textually it does not seem appropriate there). If the Commendation is to be used, it is then worth considering providing a catafalque and using the traditional ceremonies of censing and sprinkling used (in the traditional Roman Mass for the Dead, the ceremonies actually follow the Responsory; in the modern Roman form – again, only when the body is present – the censing and sprinkling may take place during the Responsory.)

For reference, here are the traditional Roman rubrics concerning the ceremonial, and the Responsory itself:

After Mass, the Priest, vested in a black cope, goes to the catafalque for the ceremony called the Absolution. The cross-bearer stands at the head of the deceased between two acolytes, bearing lighted candles. The priest stands at the foot of the catafalque opposite the cross ... Towards the end of the Responsory [Libera me], the Priest, assisted by the Deacon, puts incense into the thurible and blesses it. When the Responsory is ended, [Kyries are sung and the Pater noster begun;] the Priest continues the Pater noster in silence, whilst he passes round the catafalque, sprinkling it with holy water and incensing it...[then preces follow]

r Deliver me, O Lord, from death eternal, on that dreadful day:
     when the heavens and the earth shall quake,
     when you will come to judge the world by fire.
v I am seized by trembling, and I fear until the judgement should come,
     and I also dread the coming wrath.
v O that day, day of wrath, day of calamity and misery,
     momentous day, and exceedingly bitter,
     when you will come to judge the world by fire.
v Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord,
     and let light perpetual shine upon them.

If the Commendation is used, the Prayer of Commendation which ends it uses the phraseology ‘...we commend all your faithful departed servants....’


A blessing is optional in the Burial rite; if desired, the most appropriate is this from the Committal:  

The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant: Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight; through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever.


Unlike an ordinary Mass, and because of the special nature and logistical necessities of the occasion, the Prayer Book Burial service provides for exit chants. These, however, are to be used ‘as the body is borne from the church’, and not on other occasions, when, a burial not following, the Mass is ritually complete in itself. The traditional Roman rite similarly provides that, when a body is not present, after the Absolution only certain concluding preces (Kyries, Pater noster, Suffrages, possibly a psalm) are said.

Nevertheless, ‘In paradisum’, an antiphon appointed in the traditional Roman Rite only for the Burial of the Dead (or at some time before the actual burial, but not for a commemoration) and intended for use in procession to the place of burial, is a beloved part of several Requiem settings. (It is in fact appointed in the bcp1979 Burial rites as one option to be sung at the procession to the grave.)

Into paradise may the angels lead you;
and at your coming may the martyrs receive you,
and bring you into the holy city Jerusalem.
May a choir of angels welcome you,
and with poor Lazarus of old,
may you have eternal rest.

(Lazarus in this text refers to the beggar of Lk 16.19–31, but it also alludes to the brother of Mary and Martha, whom Jesus raises from the dead in Jn 11, which is the Gospel passage appointed for the Mass of the Dead (at the Burial of the Dead and the Votive for the Departed in bcp1979).)

Further thoughts on choral Requiems

As noted above, offering a Requiem Mass with traditional musical settings presents several conflicts which cannot be reconciled with absolute fidelity to both the bcp rubrics and the musical setting. Below I attempt to point out these frictions and offer some ways in which they might be minimized by balancing ritual, ceremonial, and musical provisions and traditions.

In their original context of late- and post-medieval Roman Catholicism, many Requiem (and other Mass) settings would have functioned essentially as incidental music, or a soundtrack, to the actions of the altar party (the celebrant reciting the ‘official’ installment of the ritual text, not necessarily at the same time as the choir) and, one hopes, the devotions of the faithful. In such a setting, in a large church with elaborate ceremony and rich iconography, with a congregation reasonably familiar with the proceedings, and largely experienced on one’s knees, organ-and-choir Masses by Fauré, Widor, Vierne, Duruflé, Langlais, and the like can be highly effective, moving, uplifting, an aid to devotion and contemplation.

The sixteenth-century reform of the English Church rejected this heterophony of celebrant, choir, and congregation, with the force of law compelling everyone to sit down, be quiet, and be engaged in the same series of proceedings at the same time. Twentieth-century reforms in the Roman Catholic Church assumed the same model of liturgical rite as a series of discrete steps in which the next item or action may not proceed until the text/music that started out to accompany it has finished.

At the same time, ceremony has been greatly simplified in many places so that many ritual actions do not take very long – and of course a small space only adds to this effect. Thus, whereas in a traditional Latin Mass setting, ‘slippage’ between text/music and action is the norm with each proceeding largely uninterrupted and sometimes only loosely coordinated, and the faithful may be tuned in to the music or the action, or to their own devotions, or to some combination of all or none of the above, in many modern settings, action is constantly stopping to wait for the music, and the people (almost certainly sitting in the pews, a much more passive posture than kneeling) thus may experience the music – especially the more elaborate, or the more dramatic it is in style – as driving the proceedings rather than being a part of, or at least accompanying, the liturgical action.

If cultivating greater patience for music to run its course would be a healthy undertaking for many anxious liturgists, no less than cultivating closer attention to the coordination of music and action might be for many ambitious musicians, for chorally sung Masses it is also worth considering elaborating the ceremonial beyond the usual modern parochial custom – most obviously with use of incense at the traditional times – not only as an appropriately solemn gesture, but as a practical one, so that the length of action and music might more closely coincide. The chanting of the dialogues and prayers alongside the singing of the great songs of the Ordinary and Proper also adds to the solemnity, and promotes the unity, of the liturgical action: a unity often undermined by the gulf between the simply spoken and the elaborately sung elements.

Finally, careful attention to the size and placement of the group of musicians relative to the size and placement of the space, altar party, liturgical furniture, and congregation can help achieve appropriate balance and proportion between the musical and other aspects of such a service. At a service with elaborate music, especially at a Requiem, the People might well also be encouraged to kneel when they are not standing, so as never to assume the posture of an audience at a concert.

If rite, ceremony, musical setting, and use of space can be harmonized, at least certain choral Mass settings ought to be useable in a modern liturgical context. If they cannot be balanced in such a way that the musical setting truly serves the entire liturgical action, that music might better be presented as a sacred concert: a meaningful, but essentially different, kind of occasion.