Saturday, November 28, 2009


Rest In Peace, I.

Osmo Vanska conducts the Minnesota Orchestra
I love a good requiem. Most choral requiem masses have been commissioned by the wealthy or powerful and are now presented primarily as concert pieces. But why should the flower of liturgical expression be reserved for the wealthy in a church whose Lord so loved the poor. What's more, according to the Roman Catholic encyclopedia, New Advent: "...Requiem Masses may be celebrated ... for one, or several, dead, in particular, or for all the dead in general." So when the day comes, I'd like a requiem celebrated for me. You can be included, too -- I'm not being exclusive here.

The great barrier to celebrating a choral requiem for every Tom, Dick, and Mary is the cost: an orchestra with conductor, a choir, a sizable sanctuary or hall. So here's my idea: A subscription requiem. Everyone who seeks to be remembered in such a service pays an annual subscription fee. In the year of one's demise, one's name is included in the listing of those for whom the mass is celebrated. The particular requiem (Mozart? Rutter? Verdi? Mahler? Durufle? Ellingboe?...) would be selected each year by the conductor. Names would be listed in a dignified manner in the concert program. As to liturgical celebrants, in the spirit of ecumenism it would be sufficient simply to offer a concert performance free of clerical involvement.

I have no clue as to the economics of this. If the subscription group would not be large enough to support this plan on the local level (i.e. The Minnesota Orchestra), perhaps it could be carried out on a national scope by one of our larger-city orchestras: "The Annual Subscription Requiem of the New York Philharmonic," for example. As to room in the hall for attendance by the loved ones of the departed? It'll work out somehow. (And there's always PBS.)

These funereal reflections remind me of a quote attributed to Mark Twain, supposedly delivered at the beginning of his public lectures: "George Washington's dead..., Abe Lincoln's dead..., and I ain't feelin' to good myself!" But, honestly, I'm feeling fine; which gives me time to write my letter of suggestion: "Dear Maestro Vanska...."

Rest in Peace, II.

While watching Princess Di's funeral televised in all its splendor from London's St. Paul's Cathedral all those years ago, an idea came to me: The Church of England should conduct and broadcast just such an extravagant service once a year for a homeless (perhaps nameless) person who has died without the care of family, friend, or church. I mean pull out all the stops! (In this case, quite literally.) This would be satisfying on at least two levels: 1) It would allow the world to see liturgical worship and music at its deepest and finest once a year, and 2) It would serve to counter the notion that the Anglican Church pays an overly servile obeisance to royal and societal hierarchy. It would be an act of Christian witness and outreach.

The historic Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour,
Faribault, Minnesota. "The First Cathedral"
I have many times taken up my digital pen to write the dean of St. Paul's to suggest this idea. What has stopped me? I'm a hypocrite: Why are we not doing this in our own church? Thus, I have recently suggested to our community ecumenical association that we should cooperate in conducting such a service -- at the Episcopal Cathedral, of course, because the Anglicans do it up right! (So now I feel liberated to write to
St. Paul's: "Dear Reverend Dean...")

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