Just a week or so ago, while having lunch with our current Minister of Music, Mitchell Edgar-Galloway, and Bill Roberts of Virginia Seminary about our upcoming parish retreat at Shrine Mont, we talked about our enthusiasm for Maurice Duruflé’s choral setting of the Requiem Mass (I know, how typical for church musicians and clergy types).
I had purchased a recording of the Requiem sung by the Corydon Singers a few years ago and had not listened to it in some time. Our conversation, coming just a few days before the anniversary of my father’s death, piqued my interest and sent me back to listen carefully and deeply once again.
Duruflé’s Requiem is without question an exquisite creation and an extraordinary fusion of disparate elements -- plainsong, subtle counterpoint, and brilliant harmonies that bring profound depth to the ancient prayers we offer for those we love but see no longer:
May light eternal shine upon them, O Lord, for thou art merciful. Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
As people of faith, we know that life, both its joys and difficulties, comes to us as generous gift. We know our time is limited and this certainty can change the way we see and live in the present. St. Benedict was right to remind his monks to “keep death before one’s eyes daily” (4:47).
The background of death is always to be before us, though not in a morbid or depressing way. Awareness of the relative brevity of physical life is meant to help us appreciate and embrace those things that truly matter in the present. Cultivation of this awareness in no way minimizes the difficulty of grief when the death of a loved one falls across our path. But I think it is essential that we keep saying “yes” to life, to celebrating what makes human life distinctively human, to securing our hope in the “eternal now” of God’s kingdom, and bringing healing to a world in need. St. Benedict also reminded his monks to “look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing” (49.7).
Duruflé’s Requiem is a musical masterpiece that holds St. Benedict’s reminders about death and our longing for fullness of life in perfect tension. Death and life are inseparable. We lose our lives in order to gain them. Beyond our physical life there is resurrection life. Some would call this utter foolishness. But we’ve tasted it, and we’ve recognized it in the lives of countless fellow pilgrims who have loved and inspired us along the way.
My father would have said, “Amen to that!” I do too.
iTunes Link to Duruflé’s Requiem by Corydon Singers