If you’re looking at the Church year as a cycle where months correspond to hours, we are literally at the eleventh hour. We’re one day after All Saints Day, commemorating the souls of the dead on a day of Church-wide mourning. We’re two and a half weeks before the last Sunday of the Church year, which celebrates the culmination of everything: the eventual victorious afterlife post-judgment day. And – importantly – we’re still three and a half weeks from resetting the Church year with Advent on December 3, and finally being allowed to turn our minds to babies and gifts and happy things we understand.
It’s easy for us to celebrate Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter because they’re tangible – Christ was with us, and there are still reminders on earth that he was. Pentecost is harder. Allhallowtide is harder still, because heaven-bound mysteries are by their very nature intangible. But it’s for that reason that it’s so necessary, because without it, how are we going to be moved mythically into the season of the end times?
We have the popularization of the requiem to help us out with that. But I would also argue that just as we as a Western culture need something like Halloween, we as a Western culture need something like All Souls.
As written, requiems are for funerals and burial masses, which share the same aspects with the order of worship used in Catholicism for All Souls, which means that it’s proper to sing requiems on All Souls. Requiems became something more performance-oriented in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, which meant that they were also being popularized in an increasingly secular world as well. In fact, the composer of one of the most famous requiems of all time is usually considered to be an agnostic or an atheist.
Honestly, it’s hard to care. Honestly, it’s kind of beautiful.
The requiem functions by moving us from earth into heaven by way of music. It’s meant to be at its core mentally and spiritually transforming, just as it’s meant to be a plea that all humankind takes part in, religious and non religious alike. Try listening to the Faure requiem and see if your soul doesn’t cry out. Everybody can understand mourning the dead. Everybody can understand wanting to be saved from death. Everybody can understand a desire to see a vision of an afterlife, a confirmation that there is something after death waiting for us.
For all of you out there who have lost loved ones or are afraid of your own death or want some vision of life beyond death – here’s a requiem by an atheist. If you have 45 minutes tonight, turn off the lights, turn off any distractions, and just listen to it. You won’t be sorry you did.