High Masses being sufficiently rare is perhaps the reason I still have a sense of Euphoria after last night's Solemn High Requiem. But I like to think that it is something particularly special and powerful about the Rite itself, and how it was conducted on this occasion.
Once again ensemble 1685 offered to sing Richafort's polyphonic Requiem, as well as Chant the Graduale, Tractus, Dies Iræ, Libera Me and In Paradisum. The Propers of the Mass were from the Daily Mass for the Dead with prayers for deceased Brethren, relatives and Benefactors. The Mass was said at St John Fisher in West Heath, a church built in, and designed for the liturgy of, 1962. The Parish Priest Fr George Grynowski was Celebrant, with fellow South Birmingham Priests Frs Christopher Miller & Jan Nowotnik as Deacon and Subdeacon. Three other Priests from Birmingham were also present, with one sitting in choir.
After some intensive study and attending the Society of St Tarcissius Master Class, I was able to MC the Mass. This in itself is a great honour for me, commonly being the role of a cleric, and something I never imagined I'd be able to do this time last year. God must have graced me with a certain composure which I otherwise wouldn't have had under such circumstances! By all accounts things went very well, especially as a Requiem has so many 'oddities' compared to a normal High Mass, to demonstrate a sombreness and austerity of mood.
For instance, the Acolytes don't carry torches at the Gospel; no-one receives a blessing; there is neither Gloria nor Creed; the Sacred Ministers omit the solita oscula or reverent kisses when handing the celebrants liturgical objects. The Subdeacon has a different role, and instead of using a humeral veil and holding the Paten throughout the Canon, he instead incenses the Sanctissimum at the consecration.
But the most noticeable difference at last night's Mass for the 80 people present was the presence of the Catafalque and the ceremony associated with it at the end of Mass. An empty coffin was borrowed from the local funeral parlour, and the faithful were able to place inside it petitions written on paper, for dearly beloved who have passed out of this life. It is common to have November dead lists in Catholic Parishes, at which time we pray for the faithful departed. What better way to incorporate this into an 'All Souls' type Mass than to combine it with the Traditional ceremonial of the Catafalque, which takes the place of a body. The coffin was draped with a beautiful Pall commissioned by AWN Pugin, which is on loan from the recently closed Parish at Cotton.
It requires great pastoral sensitivity to introduce customs such as this into a Catholic world which no longer has any knowledge of them. For me it was a beautiful fruitful expression of grief and prayer, which no doubt stirs us to greater love and sacrifice for the Holy Souls in Purgatory who are destined for an eternity with the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of the World. Requiéscant in Pace. Amen.
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