Funerals, catharsis, and he walks with me
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,486
    One of my schola kids was serving a funeral I cantored, and he said, "They cried when you sang and didn't cry when you didn't sing." Rather NOT a compliment, I think!

    Istm that the problem of funeral music choices is not primarily their self-congratulatory nature, although that argument makes some sense. Rather, it's the emotional release that they prompt.

    It's a problem, isn't it?
  • priorstf
    Posts: 460
    I would disagree somewhat. Jesus wept when he arrived at the tomb of Lazarus, although he knew that he was about to raise him from the dead. I think that was a way of Jesus acknowledging his humanity and granting us the permission to mourn. Emotional release is good. And if it is inspired by somebody prayerfully raising a voice in song it is perhaps the best of circumstances. This is particularly true at funerals where a lot of those present may have little or no religious foundation. You are singing on their behalf. Congratulations on prayer well said.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,486
    Very kind, but I wonder: would there be as many tears if proper chants were sung? Probably not. Why not?
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,100
    The texts of the propers and the tone of the melodies, sometimes somber, sometimes tender, do lend themselves to the expression of sorrow. I heard some of the propers sung in English at a Mass in Maine a few days ago, and the family's grieving was very noticeable: for example, in the In paradisum.

    The parish musicians are using settings from By Flowing Waters.
  • marymezzomarymezzo
    Posts: 236
    All I can say is that during my mother's funeral Mass, just over a year ago, I could *not* cry until my friends in Harmonia Vocal Quartet began the introit chant. It was so perfect, so fitting, so dignified. Nothing could have been better, and the beauty and dignity of the chant made it possible for me to cry. The sobriety and beauty of the chant made it so far superior to any of the maudlin claptrap I've been asked to sing for heaven knows how many funerals.
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,202
    Lest we forget, and not to sound cold, but the primary purpose of the funeral liturgy, indeed all of the rites surrounding Christian burial, is not catharsis or to elicit an emotional response, it is to pray for the repose of the soul of the one who died, and to offer the Mass in partial propitiation for the sins they committed. Tears may be a natural part of the grief we feel and experience, but the music shouldn't become a means of generating an emotional response.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    "would there be as many tears if proper chants were sung? Probably not. Why not?"

    Simply, because people don't understand the meaning of the words sung. Try keeping a dry eye during the Requiem offertory, or (as chonak mentioned) the In Paradisum. Also, association has something to do with it. My mother loves "On Eagle's Wings" because it was sung at my father's funeral. I have a hard time playing all the way through "For All the Saints" after it was played for a dear organ professor's memorial service. Few people have those associations with the Requiem chants, sadly.
  • I subscribe to a simple maxim about funerals-in whatever environs whatever chickens were raised, and however they were raised (in cages or free-running along dirt roads)- they all come home to roost at funerals. One can expect King Chanticleer to occupy the first pew but get Chicken Little, or Foghorn Leghorn and Penny Henny instead.
    There are just way too many "dispositions" on the part of all "players" (including "Father") that are dealt with at funerals, that telling archetypal anecdotes that are somewhere between odes and laments of funeral singers seems sort of futile to me. Probably just me.
    I think we have have one clear dictum that goes with my maxim- do what we do with great bearing and dignity. As I read in a combox over at InsideCatholic today, "The Church (the Mass) should never be the actual scene of a battleground."
  • JDE
    Posts: 588
    Another aspect of the situation is the requirement for obedience . . . if Father says we have to do Solo X, then so be it.

    In those situations, I try to sing the maudlin claptrap as if it were good music, and treat it with respect that it doesn't deserve. Singing it with the respect it does deserve would be a disservice to the Mass, and to the decedent, no matter how much he or she might have loved the crappy thing you are singing. "He Walks with Me" definitely comes to mind here, along with "No one ever cared for me like Jesus" and "How Great Thou Art". My pastor hates this last because he says he's "sure they're singing 'How Great Thou Art' to the dead guy, not to God."

    Just for clarification - - most of my kinfolk are backwoods evangelical types. Hence the choice of repertory. I have never sung "No One Ever Cared for Me like Jesus" in a Catholic church. And no matter how bad that song is, it isn't really any worse than "Eagle's Wings."
  • Richard R.
    Posts: 771
    Geeze, I don't know, Kathy. When y'all start in on Dies Irae for me, there'd better be some weeping and gnashing of teeth. Day of Wrath, indeed...
  • This doesn't directly address the original "why" question, but merely supports the preference for chant.

    I once calculated that I had played "On Eagles' Wings" at least 1500 times as a funeral organist. I'm sure there were many tears shed during those moments, though I confess I was never touched any of those times. In contrast, I did have a riveting experience singing the introit "Requiem aeternam" - the only time I've ever sung it in a liturgy - as a member of a schola made up of alumni and friends of the Boston Archdiocesan Choir School. It was sung as Theodore Marier's body was brought down the center isle of St. Paul's Church in Cambridge for his funeral mass. Never have I experienced a sung prayer so focused and so heart felt. The memory will remain with me forever.

    (Incidently, do any of you remember that that introit was also sung at at the televised funeral mass of Jaqueline Kennedy Onasis in NYC?)
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,021
    I don't think there's a problem with crying or catharsis - it's part of the grieving process. I certainly needed it at some point at both of my parents' deaths. I don't think it's a bad thing for that to happen at the Funeral Mass. It would certainly be nice if people understood what was happening, though. But that will never happen with the current Rite of Christian Burial. It's all about the last resurrection - as if it's happened already! Thank you very much American bishops and ICEL - but I will insist on an EF Requiem Mass, even without any music. I know that I will need all the prayers I can get to help me through purgatory! And just a few tears wouldn't hurt!
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Chants carries the sense of diginity, diginity of God, Holy Mass, and holiness of humans that are made in the image of Him. We can cry because we miss them, but we should also be reminded to pray for God's mercy.
  • JDE
    Posts: 588
    It is interesting to note that, despite the fulminations of his own Dies Iræ, Giuseppe Verdi also directed that only the chants be sung at his funeral. There was to be no instrumental music or operatic singing.

    Some have speculated he did it in order to avoid the clash of titanic egos that would have overshadowed the process of deciding who would sing. My humble opinion is that, although you might find many a touching moment in his 24 operas, the composer recognized the superiority of the chant for the sacred liturgy.
  • Great reminder, Jonathan.
    I've moreorless let TPTB, including my immortal beloved, know that my preference for the Requiem Mass to be chanted at "my" funeral is no joke. Even have our local garage schola on board; just need to find a celebrant when I get a round tuit.
    I think the impetus and imperative for my preference is that I would hope that some of any gathered would finally get is-"He is no longer in the building, only the Three-in-One, I AM remains in your midst."
    My associations with the arts, whether as a composer, conductor, or performer went with me into posterity-land.
    The only appropriate language and sound that evokes the worship of G*d remains the chant, which is decidedly both "not art" and paradoxically beautiful.
    Lord knows I do love a good paradox.
  • Maureen
    Posts: 673
    It's normal to cry at any Mass. It's not just for funerals. Really. St. Ignatius Loyola, though a notably tough cookie, recorded in his spiritual journal having had the gift of tears at Mass scads of times. There's tons of times at any given Mass when you'll see someone get wrought up for no visible or audible reason. Why? Because we make ourselves vulnerable to God at Mass, and He walks right in and does stuff. If we could look into people's heads, we'd probably see Him tinkering with people's thoughts and emotions all over the place.

    You know what makes people cry, lots of times? Just plain ordinary concentrated singing, or plain mindfully played music. That's it. Heck, it makes people cry more than pulling out all the emotional stops. Looking honestly at any true thing can make people cry, especially if people are not at all used to seeing true things. (Also, as actors are taught, "The less you cry, the more they will.") So if you just sing naked good music with naked plainness, people will cry. If you sing ornamentation gracefully, people will cry. It happens all the time, whether you see it happen or not. If you worry about it, you will just get distracted.

    Certainly funeral music shouldn't be wielded purposefully to be all sobby, and neither should any Mass music. But it's not like there's any way to stop people from crying entirely, except maybe by being laughably bad -- and even that might move people. So you may as well quit worrying and let the Holy Spirit do whatever it feels like with people's tear ducts.
  • Crying at a sung Requiem would seem to indicate that the person crying understands the meaning of the music, which requires education today. Years ago people understood the impact of the music, even if they did not understand the words, since when a Catholic died, this is what you heard.

    Like, "We've only just begun" used to mean you were at a wedding while today Pachelbel's Canon does not mean you are at an early music conference, but rather at another wedding with cookie cutter music.
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,202
    Maureen, do not confuse tears of compunction with tears driven by mawkishness or cloying sentimentality.

    Typically music that is selected for a funeral in place of the appointed chants elicits the latter rather than the former.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    The only time I ever get teary-eyed compliments on the music after a funeral is when, in the absence of requests, we simply chant the Requiem Mass, never after we've sung "Morning Has Broken" or what ever else has been requested.
  • Why are we having a discussion that qualifies and quantifies the ratio of tears shed to musical repertoire at funerals?
    By all means, opine away. But to pontificate, occasionally with no small amount of snark, smacks of an ironic irrationality.
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,202

    Which particular comment did you find snarky?
  • No one's in particular, David. As I said before, I've come to accept that all things funeral can be liturgically "all over the map" and that often the best we can do, after our sincerest efforts at consultation and collaboration, is accept that which we've been assigned to do, and do it to the best of our abilities.
    I would clarify my "chickens to roost" analogy by better stating that this is likely the tenderest, most intimate subject matter pertaining to providing musical service to the Faithful. I just believe that factor alone should give us pause before we launch into the what/why/hows of shedding tears in theological, liturgical and aesthetic contexts.
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,202
    this is likely the tenderest, most intimate subject matter pertaining to providing musical service to the Faithful.

    And therein lies the divide. Music is not in service of the Faithful. Music is in the service of, actually inseparably interwoven into, incorporated in the liturgy by way of the appointed chants (texts as well) to the liturgy. In this way, you're right to point out that discussion of what/whys/hows of tears within the context of a discussion on liturgy is inappropriate.

    The reality is that the Church's liturgy was co-opted by a group of people (progressives) who shifted the focus of the music, indeed the whole of the liturgy, from being on praise, worship and entrance into the Mystery of God and toward our emotions and how we feel about this liturgical experience or that. It's the old saw of, "I don't get anything out of the Mass." For whatever reason, it was felt that the rites had to be more "relevant" and the first place to go for relevance is emotional response, and the quickest way to elicit an emotional response is through music. The fact that music remains such a battleground for the reform is proof enough.

    This is not to say that chant lacks the ability to touch us emotionally, but it's not its primary purpose.
  • We're on the same page.
    Now that "chickens coming home to roost" (emotion-driven issues) is addressed, should we go onto "the swallows return to Capistrano" of liturgy, which is made most manifest by the gynormous mobs of folks who JUST HAVE TO GET THEIR ASHES on Ash Wednesday, or ELSE?!!! (Who also likely don't even show up on Easter/Christmas, much less Sundays as well!)

    Nah. We should just play nice.
    Thanks, David, for your clarification of music's foremost service to the liturgy, not the people.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,486
    In his first Advent Vespers homily as Pope, our Holy Father pointed to the obsure, not-well-understood (by anybody) distinction between the soul and the spirit.

    I Thess. 5:23
    Heb 4:12

    I think chant speaks to the spirit, and all other music, including high classical, speaks to the soul.

    How's that for an inaccurate generalization? I would welcome refinement. So far I've had to ponder this all alone, and haven't gotten very far at all.
  • Maureen
    Posts: 673
    Re: liturgical music is directed to God

    Yes, of course. But that doesn't mean there's not blowback onto the interested "active participants" out in the congregation.

    Re: do congregational tears come from sentimentality or what?

    Not my problem. I strive not to play a telepathic spiritual director even on the Internet, and I'm sure as heck not equipped for it in real life.

    However, I stand by my point. People do cry, often and often, if you just sing in their presence honestly and well, or that has been my experience. If the music is something particularly impressive to them, they will cry even if your singing stinks like rotten fish, so long as the music shines through, and they will say very kind things afterward. (At which point you just have to be prepared to smile graciously and thank folks even while wanting to slit your wrists.)

    Of course, it's possible that I just make people want to slit _their_ wrists, or I remind them of their grandchildren, or I run into lots of listeners with very low thresholds of being impressed. It's also possible that I've got secret mezzo mind control powers. But criminy, I swear to you that I do nothing but sing half-decently, and tears is what I get tons of. And they don't strike me as being particularly emotional people, on the whole. All I can think is that people are very vulnerable to the blow-back of sacred music and half-decent singing. Which, given this culture's malnutrition of people's spirits, is probably true.

    Re: impressive effect of chant

    Although I like chant and polyphony an awful lot, and although I think really sacred music is really the best, I will say that I've heard all sort of things made solemn and prayerful by musicians making it so. Making your music a real prayer to God covers a multitude of musical sins. (As much as it can, anyway.) And although there is a difference between, say, a CMAA colloquium requiem Mass and a funeral featuring "On Eagle's Wings" done in as solemn a way as can be mustered, it's a difference of degree (albeit lots and lots of degrees!) and not of kind. And I have to be able to feel that way. I'm just some chick in the choir. I don't get to choose the music for funerals or any Masses, or even really suggest. What I can do is control my own attitude and approach. What I can't do is despair and not try. (And it's not as if things are all that bad in my parish, so that's not really too hard.)

    That said, it is true that it is easier to worship in song in solemnity and prayerfulness when the music is giving you one heck of a hand up.

    "In Paradisum" is incredibly beautiful, and sort of wistful, too. "Dies Irae" is an incredibly powerful prayer-ballad, with a very primal chant tune that seems to roll out of the earth. Whether or not people know anything about chant, they certainly hear that, and feel it down to the soles of their shoes. Which is why they show up in videogames and movie soundtracks -- because they're powerful, and their emotional and musical power is something soundtrack people like to try to harness!

    But anyway, I stand by my general point from before. There's no point worrying about whether people cry or not at funerals. To forbid or encourage is way beyond my level of competence or responsibility. So I'm doubly not going to worry about whether music sets people off, or if it was the great-grandkid in front who looks just like Uncle Joe did at that age.
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,577
    Kathy: "distinction between the soul and the spirit"

    Philosophically ...
    rocks: created, matter, no soul
    plants and animals: created, matter, soul (animating organizing principle of life)
    humans: created, matter, soul (which is a spirit, i.e. has intellect and will, image and likeness of God)
    angels: created, no matter, spirit
    God: uncreated, no matter, spirit

    Theology for Beginners
    by Frank J Sheed
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    Two funerals at our place in the last week. 1. A beloved choir member: Prelude: Now thank we all our God Bach/Fox Anthem "Unto Thy Word' Haan, Entrance Hymn:'Jerusalem my happy home, Ps 63 Guimont, Offertory "The Lord is my shepherd' Rutter with harp and oboe. In paradisum Faure with instr. closing 'For all the saints', Recessional finale Sym #5 Vierne. All the music was her request. A full choir was present.
    #2. Music (actually it was a prayer service, not a Mass.) How great Thou art, Amazing Grace, Celtic Alleluia/chant Some Baptist Praise song I never heard of, and at least, R&A setting of the 23rd Psalm. I was not a participant. I did put the cantor book together. :)

  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    It's all about the last resurrection - as if it's happened already!

    Excerpt from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:

    "Remembering this saving commandment and all those things which have come to pass for us: the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the Sitting at the right hand, and the second and glorious Coming..."
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,021
    I understand that. That's why the Divine Liturgy - the Mass - MUST transcend our mundane, work-a-day world. The Mass, as God's existence, is outside of time. But therein lies the problem with the current "style" of Mass, which permeates the Rite of Christian Burial. It's all about us and Father Presider, and the immediate culture around us.

    IOW, if the people in the pews can't comprehend transcendence at each and every Mass, then they will not comprehend the transcendence represented in the funeral Mass either. The overall effect is one of celebration of the departed's life as if s/he is already fully in God's presence, i.e. in no need of extra prayers. We should all be glad s/he is in heaven - because God is all merciful.

    In the New Rite - it's a done deal.

    In the Old Rite - it's an important transition.
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    I've never been to a funeral Mass, Novus Ordo or EF, so I have no frame of reference or way to compare the two. (I've never even been to any funeral, come to think of it.) Of course it's integrally important to a funeral to pray for the soul of the departed person. The Orthodox do that just as much as Catholics, and we don't even have the concept of purgatory to explain it with.

    So I'm guessing I probably agree with you.