In Paradisum: Music for All Saints and All Souls

Vincent Fung headshot
Vincent Fung, Music Advisor

Vincent Fung, who is currently an Administrative Assistant for the Office of Music and Liturgy, has served in various capacities at the Basilica, including as a member of the Choir of the Basilica and Music Advisor to the production team for the annual All Souls Concert. He is currently pursuing an Artist Diploma in Voice from the Catholic University of America, where he has earned a Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance. Vincent also studies choral, orchestral, and opera conducting.

“Why don’t you sing her favorite song to her?” These are the words my five-year-old niece whispered to my father earlier this year as we surrounded my mother at her bedside during the final days of her life on earth. My father tearfully cradled my mom’s head and sang “their” song – a simple action which left a deep impression upon our mourning.

We all recognize the profound impact of music, especially in such sacred moments as the passing of a loved one from this life to the next. Sacrosanctum Concilium declares sacred music to be “a treasure of inestimable value” that “forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy” which “adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds,” and “confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites” (112). Pope Saint John Paul II wrote in his Letter to Artists that “in song, faith is experienced as vibrant joy, love, and confident expectation of the saving intervention of God” (12). The antiphon that is sung at the end of the Funeral Mass in procession to the place of committal unites the ultimate intentions of all the faithful gathered for the deceased in expectant hope of God’s mercy:

“May the Angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs greet you at your arrival and lead you into the holy city, Jerusalem. May the choir of Angels greet you and, like Lazarus, who once was a poor man, may you have eternal rest.”

The Music of the Solemnity of All Saints

Saints Depicted in the Trinity Dome

On November 1, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints, a Holy Day which is devoted to the saints who have reached heaven. The Church dedicates the remainder of the month to special prayer for the dead, chiefly on November 2, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, commonly called All Souls Day, that they may find eternal rest. The music written for these liturgies truly underscores the sentiment that “singing is praying twice.” So prayerful and prolific is the music for this season that the Choir of the Basilica presents an annual All Souls Concert, now in its fourth year. This year’s concert will be broadcast without a live audience due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the music is no less beautiful.

A favorite among the Psalms, the songbook of the Church, is Psalm 23. King David sings such words of comfort as “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” and “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Listen to the Choir of the Basilica sing Virgil Thomson’s arrangement of this psalm, as translated by Isaac Watts.

“My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” – arr. Virgil Thomson (1896-1989)

God Provides a Place of Eternal Rest

What comfort our souls feel knowing that God will ever be our provider, our guard, and our home, both in this life and the next. Our desire for salvation and redemption is so strongly expressed in Psalm 23 and in the threefold petition for mercy during the Penitential Act at the beginning of every Mass: “Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.” Our Lord promised to prepare a place for us in the Father’s house and to be united with us there (John 14:1–7), yet it is also necessary for us to acknowledge our sins and repent of them. Therefore, we humbly pray that God may “have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.” The Choir of the Basilica sings the fervent prayer deep within each of us for God to “give us the wings of faith to rise within the veil and see the Saints above” who, “following their incarnate God…reached the promised rest.”

“Give Us the Wings of Faith” – Ernest Bullock (1890-1979)

In Death, “Life Is Changed not Ended”

What is this promised rest? It is what is prayed for with the words “eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.” The entrance antiphon to the Funeral Liturgy and All Souls Mass is perhaps one of the most familiar prayers of the Liturgy. For the faithful, death is not terminal – “life is changed not ended” (Roman Missal, Preface I for the Dead). We pray for a peaceful death leading us to eternal rest in the Lord. We pray that the light of God ever shine upon us.

This, too, was the prayer of Simeon after laying eyes upon the Christ Child:

“Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all people; to be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:29–32).

Appropriately, the Church closes each day at Compline with the Canticle of Simeon. At the Choir of the Basilica’s first All Souls Concert in 2017, I had the privilege of singing the Basilica premiere of Paweł Łukaszewski’s setting of this canticle. Hear the Choir of the Basilica’s most recent performance of this piece.

“Nunc Dimittis” – Paweł Łukaszewski (b. 1968)

A Comfort to Those Who Mourn

With these words, the Spirit inspired the prophet and consoles the hearts of those who mourn. This is the song, these are the words, this is the prayer that I held close to my heart upon the passing of my mother. I pray that she, who devoted her life in service of God and Man, may be found worthy to experience the Beatific Vision. I pray that we may be reunited one day. When our eyes close at the last, let us pray that they will be opened again in the light that never ends. May our hearts ever sing the glory of the Lord until our souls join with one voice in the exultation of the saints and angels before the presence of God.


Learn More about Sacred Music at the Basilica

 

The musicians of the Basilica strive to be agents of spiritual transformation by creating music that is artistic, genuine, authentic, purposeful, and evangelizing. Learn more about Sacred Music at the Basilica.

 

 

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