I wear black, because that is the mark of simplicity the Church has long assigned to her ministers. It can be hot in the sun, and it shows certain kinds of dirt very easily, but it is also rumored to be slimming (though I feel unslimmed) and lends itself to being unnoticed, especially when walking into a dark church, which I just did. The choir is practicing Fauré's Requiem, and I just finished praying Vespers.
Gabriel Fauré was serving as music director in a Paris church when he composed this setting of the Requiem Mass for use at parish funerals, for which he had three singers, not even a whole choir. He obviously believed that each funeral, no matter how small or simple, was worthy of the prayer of the Church offered beautifully and well. The power and beauty of the texts of the Requiem Mass have for centuries inspired composers, notably Mozart, Vittoria, and Berlioz. As I sit here and listen to the plaintive pleas for deliverance that Fauré rendered, I am reminded of the universal fear of not only death but annihilation. His rendition of the Angelic hymn -- Holy! Holy! Holy!, revealed by prophets and apostles granted visions of heaven -- is notable for its lack of pomp, or even majesty; depicting instead a tenderness that can be grounded only in intimacy and mercy.
Our choir is augmented for this work, with several alumni returned from retirement or new pursuits. See if you recognize anybody who was with you in the pews last week! Our music director, John Henderson, does not seem to be intimidated by a work often chosen for concerts in the grand venues of world capitals like our own Kennedy Center. Perhaps he knows that the Lord Jesus, present only feet away in the tabernacle, will provide both the grace to give glory, and reward for that glory, and more abundantly than any world concert artist could ever anticipate or enjoy.
To have the opportunity to experience this music in its intended setting - a parish church praying for her beloved dead - is a great gift and opportunity. The prayer will fortify the music, and the music will focus and refine the prayer.
To sit here and listen to these prayers, beautifully rendered in music, sung by our brothers and sisters in faith, is to marvel at the gift we have in our divine worship. Spelled out in poetry passing beautiful are our fear of death and annihilation; grief and loss; hope for deliverance; and ultimately faith in redemption. What a rich gift!
All Souls Day is when the whole Church unites in remembering and praying for her faithful departed. Tinged with the sadness of loss, we are buoyed by a confidence in the mercy of our Redeemer, who in vanquishing death by His Resurrection, has given power over death even to us. We are not defenseless, nor are we helpless. We know that our Redeemer lives, and we know how to call upon His name. Fauré marvelously captured both the sadness of separation, and the hope of redemption that bring us before the Lord on this day.
Sure, it is handy for sneaking around on rainy October nights, but it is rare that my trademark black is the color you see when I preside over our Eucharistic feast. But on this day that we make our communal plea on behalf of our beloved who have gone before, we acknowledge that where we are, there is still something desperately wrong. God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. (Wisdom 1:13) But this is our lot until that blessed day when He is all in all. The Body of Christ groans in death until the fulfillment of the Resurrection in each and every one of us. That is where you and I stand, even while our beloved departed be robed in white at the Banquet of the Lamb. That is why today, in my liturgical vestments, I wear black.