Sunday, December 30, 2012


Sacred Heart Church has a fairly unique habit of ensuring that the music for Mass that actually conforms to the liturgical guidelines of the Catholic Church.  This not only goes for Sunday and Holyday Masses, but for weddings and funerals as well.  Therefore, you often hear bits of music that aren't heard in too many parishes.  In fact, some parishes haven't gotten to enjoy such a sense of the sacred since Vatican II.  For those who have been to a funeral at Sacred Heart Church, and have been wondering "what's that stuff the organist (and the pastor) is singing???", here is a little primer.

A good chunk of the music, particularly the Gregorian Chant that we sing in Latin, is proper to the funeral liturgy, and has been proper to the funeral liturgy as long as there have been funeral liturgies.

The first bit of singing heard is when the celebrant (I never use the word "presider") and servers process to the casket is Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.  That is, Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  This is the antiphon to what is the proper Introit (Entrance chant) to the funeral Mass.

After the celebrant blesses the casket, the procession, with casket, proceeds to the altar, at which point a hymn is sung.  This is almost always something from one of our two hymnals.  Some titles often used are:
- Lift high the cross (Worship, #704)
- Crown him with many crowns (Maroon, #352)
- Jesus, lover of my soul (Maroon, #415, first tune)
- Amazing grace (Worship, #583) (if requested)

Following the first reading is the responsorial Psalm, which is always sung.  Even though this is sung in English, it is still a proper of the Mass, and its translation is taken from either the Lectionary for Mass or from the Grail, both translations approved for use here in the United States.  Options include:
- Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd, settings by Owen Alstott or by yours truly, - OR - My shepherd is the Lord, as found in the Worship hymnal, #32)
- Psalm 25 (To you, O Lord, I lift my soul, setting in the Worship hymnal, #768).  I use this mainly during Advent Season.
- Psalm 27 (The Lord is my light and my salvation, setting by Richard Rice, or the setting in the Worship hymnal, #792 during Lent or #871 during Ordinary Time)
- Psalm 63 (My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord, my God, setting by Fr. Samuel Weber, OSB)
- Psalm 122 (Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord, setting by yours truly).  This one is intended for use in the Last Weeks of Ordinary Time (November).

The music for the Alleluia (or Gospel Acclamation if during Lent) is selected according to season.  The accompanying verse is appointed for funerals.  Again, in English, but still a proper.

During the offertory, I usually sing a setting of the Ave Maria.  The most popular setting is probably that of Franz Schubert.  However, I do vary to settings by other composers as well, namely Jacob Arcadelt, Tomas Luis de Victoria, Lorenzo Perosi, and the Mode I Gregorian Chant.  There is also a melody written by Charles Gounod set over J.S. Bach's Prelude in C from his well-known collection, The Well-Tempered Clavier.  I often do this one during Advent and Christmas seasons.
If there is a setting you would like, please specify to the undertaker, Kathy, Father, or myself.  If you will say "the famous Ave Maria", or "the one I heard on TV", I will assume the Schubert setting.

Following is the sung Ordinary of the Mass (Sanctus through Agnus Dei).  The setting we use most is the Gregorian Missa Pro Defunctis (Mass XVIII, for the Dead).  You could call it a "proper", as the Church assigns this setting for funerals, but it's not a "proper".  It's the Ordinary.  The text does not vary.  In this particular setting of the Mass, the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) is a bit different.  In the first two repetitions, the line "miserere nobis" (have mercy on us) is replaced by "dona eis requiem" (grant them rest), and the final ending "dona nobis pacem" (grant us peace) is replaced by "dona eis requiem sempiternam" (grant them eternal rest).

The Memorial Acclamation ("Mysterium Fidei", or "The Mystery of Faith") is the same one we've been using the last few weeks, and you can find more information on it here.

As Father begins to distribute Holy Communion to the faithful, you hear yet another a capella chant.  The text is Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine, cum Sanctis tuis in aeternum quia pius est.  Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis, cum Sanctis tuis in aeternum quia pius est.  The translation is May eternal light shine upon them O Lord, with your saints forever, for you are gracious.  Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them, with your saints forever, for you are gracious.

Immediately following that brief chant (less than a half minute) is a hymn or anthem that will accompany the rest of the Communion Rite.  Such titles often used here include:
- Panis Angelicus (settings by Cesar Franck or Louis Lambillotte, or the Hungarian tune found in the Pius X Hymnal)
- Jesus, my Lord, my God, my All (Worship, #488)
- Jesus, Son of Mary (Maroon, #223)
- Let thy Blood in mercy poured (Maroon, #190)
- Pie Jesu (setting by Gabriel Faure)

Following the Post-Communion Prayer, the celebrant approaches the casket for the Final Commendation.  At this point, there is a brief piece, again, proper to the rites.  The one we use most often is "I believe that my Redeemer lives", using a setting written by a local composer, Henri St. Louis.  The other option for the Final Commendation music is "Saints of God, come to his/her aid", or its paraphrase, "Come to his/her aid, O Saints of God", which is sung to the same tune as the famous "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow".

Finally is the recessional.  One of the unique things about a funeral Mass is that it's the only Mass that actually has a proper recessional.  That recessional is "In Paradisum", and you can find that in the Worship hymnal at #178.  It is sung in Latin, but a translation is provided there.  Although this is the proper, sometimes a requested piece may take its place, e.g. "How Great Thou Art", or for military funerals, a patriotic hymn.  However, when not specified, the proper is sung by default.

Any questions, feel free to contact me.