Cynthia Lambert Cheshire
This Year, Consider the Requiem
To be honest, I much prefer the Solemnity of All Saints. In the symphony of the liturgical year, All Saints is a joyful march, a celebration of all those inhabitants of Heaven who live in God’s glory and pray on our behalf. The Solemnity of All Souls, on the other hand, is just that: solemn. It is, quite literally, a requiem.
The Requiem Mass was the form of liturgy used for funerals for most of the life of the Catholic church, but this changed after Vatican II when the emphasis in funerals shifted from grief, sorrow, and holy fear to the joy of resurrection. As a woman in my mid-thirties—and a convert at that—I’ve lived firmly in the post-Vatican II novus ordo tradition. Most of my knowledge of the Requiem Mass comes from my education in music, where Requiems as a musical form dominated the Baroque and Classical periods. When the Mass wasn’t in the vernacular, it was often set to music. That’s why we have so many beautiful Mass settings from composers like Bach, Hayden, Beethoven, Schubert, and many more. Requiem Masses were a particular subset of these musical Mass settings, and they are without a doubt some of the best and most beautiful examples of Western music. Requiems stir the heart and move the soul in ways that our highly reasoned words simply cannot. If you have ears to hear it, these musical pieces soar and sob and hope and wallow and emote in soul-deep ways that touch the transcendent.
Placed in this context, perhaps I don’t mind the Solemnity of All Souls so much. Unlike the day before, which celebrates the certainty of Heaven, All Souls observes the unknowable: death, what happens immediately after it, the mystery of Purgatory, the ever-presence of grief. That’s why I love the idea of reframing my celebration of All Souls around the Requiem. I am a lover of words (my bona fides include ownership of a mug that reads “Team Oxford Comma” that I drink tea from while I write) but All Souls confronts ideas and experiences that words fail to explain. Especially now, when so many of us are walking into the Solemnity of All Souls with the names of loved ones on our lips, the grief of babies gone too soon, or simply 20 months of pandemic death and loss, a Requiem may be exactly what we need. Because sometimes you need something other than words to express the deep cries of your heart, the pain of a life permanently changed, the mystery of suffering.
So this year, I offer you the Requiem. Specifically, I offer you Mozart’s Requiem in D minor (check out an incredible recording here). It is the kind of piece that makes you cry for reasons you can’t quite explain, but which are deeply cathartic. There is so much to be grieved this Solemnity of All Souls, and so many more ways to grieve than only through words.