Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Time Heals and Liberates

Our schola was asked to sing at a funeral Mass of a parishioner who had a strong attachment to liturgical tradition, so it might have seemed fitting that we would sing the Sequence for the Mass of the day. What Sequence is that? Many people have forgotten: it is the Dies Irae.

The text is mostly known today because of that exciting scene in the movie Amadeus when Mozart, from his death bed, is dictating the composition of his Dies Irae to Salieri, who is plotting to steal it. Remember how Mozart spoke the words with great effort, and spelled out the firey accompaniment? "Confutatis maledictis, flammis acribus addictis: voca me cum benedictis."

Also, apparently there a number of rock bands that call themselves or their songs something along these lines (I don't care to investigate this any further!).

In any case, given sensibilities that fear anything that resembles a step "back," one might have expected some degree of controversy about the use of this chant as a Sequence in this setting. Hence, anyone who wants to employ it as part of a New Rite Mass needs to be ready with an explanation.

The Dies Irae was once required but it is no longer. But what exactly is its status? Was it supressed, as many people believe? We had to do the research in case it became a matter of controversy. We called and wrote to many liturgical experts to find out.

It turns out that the Dies Irae remains part of the living liturgy of the faith, in the form of a prayer in the Breviary for the Feast of All Souls. That fact alone demonstrates that it is not somehow banned from Catholic liturgical life.

Then the question arises as to whether it is permitted as part of a public Mass. Here is the passage from the introduction of the 1970 US Lectionary quoted from the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, paragraph 40: "Except on Easter Sunday and Pentecost the sequences are optional." The 4th edition of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal says the same in paragraph 40: "Sequences are optional, except on Easter Sunday and Pentecost."

Which Sequences are optional? The Lectionary and the GIRM are not restrictive in this regard. The current GIRM repeats this while adding a clarification of precisely where in the liturgy the Sequence is to take place. 62: "After the reading that immediately precedes the Gospel, the Alleluia or another chant indicated by the rubrics is sung, as required by the liturgical season." 65: "The Sequence, which is optional except on Easter Sunday and on Pentecost Day, is sung before the Alleluia."

We concluded that using the Dies Irae was an option. Still, we wondered whether and to what extent it would create controversy. It turns out that there was none at all. People were moved by it. The family of the deceased was very pleased. The celebrants found it beautiful. And even people who were present in the congregation who prefer other musical forms admitted that the sound was solemn and the text striking.

In short, there was no controversy at all. And thus this general observation: As time passes, there are fewer and fewer people around who know to be overly sensitive to these issues. The "politics" associated with these liturgical hot buttons seem far less intense. The would-be revolutionaries of yesterday have lost much of their frenzy. The experience does raise hopes.

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