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“Requiem Æternam”: A Closer Look at the Mass for the Dead (Part II)

The ascension of the soul to heaven (Bouguereau Adolphe-William)1878

In continued observance of the Church’s call to pray for the Faithful Departed, this meditation on the Requiem Mass, as adapted by Gabriel Fauré, reminds us of the glory that awaits those who die in the grace of God.

As the celestial band approaches the gates of Heaven – the New Jerusalem – the music begins to swell in joyful anticipation of that first glimpse of Paradise. At the singing of “Jerusalem,” the lower voices join the sopranos in a gradual crescendo, which is further reinforced by the chromatic blossoming of the harmonies, until the phrase reaches its glorious climax. It is here that the gates have been fully opened, the luminous glory of Jerusalem bathing everything in its celestial light (“et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem”).
The angelic voices return at the singing of “Chorus angelorum” in a manner that mirrors the opening of the movement, their prayer slowly climbing the scale until reaching another climax (albeit a shorter one) at “æternam” – the promise of an everlasting life that knows no end; a life forever transformed, like that of Lazarus the beggar, who now dwells in the magnificence of God. The choir returns at “requiem,” reminding us that it is the communal duty of the living to pray for dead. And so they do, singing “æternam habeas requiem” in a final act of farewell. The music fades away, vanishing just like the soul of the departed one as the gates of Heaven close behind him. And in the midst of this silence, we realize that we have come to behold that great peace which the world cannot give, for it is found only in the presence of the Lord.
Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Requiescant in pace. Amen.

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