What thoughts does the season of Lent stir up in you? It may be thoughts of giving up something like caffeine, meat, or alcohol, of contrition, or of the sorrow of the cross. For some, it can be a season of introspection that feels somber or a time pervaded by guilt. For this reason, not everyone connects with Lent. Perhaps this is also due to how you may have experienced the season in other times and places. I challenge you to consider Lent from a different perspective.
So that in viewing this time through a different lens, it will serve as the zenith of the liturgical year and in your own personal spiritual journey.
It may be counter-intuitive or even surprising that Lent can be a time of celebration. Often muted and expressed in subtle and anticipatory ways, it is a celebration nonetheless. This preparation culminates with exuberant joy for the gift of God’s abundance and grace. Lent is a season of fasting and feasting.
Fasting teaches us the discipline of restraint which enables us to celebrate more profoundly and lavishly the paschal mystery at Easter. But even in that time of preparation, we are aware of the joy that is to come. Sundays are feast days and not fast days, which is why they are not counted in the 40 days of Lent. They are the perfect time to express a sense of subdued celebration, to have hope in the resurrection, and to encounter Christ in music, word, and meal.
Our music during Lent this year will slowly blossom to full bloom during the Triduum (the three holy days leading up to Easter). The highlight for me personally, will be a performance of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem (a mass for the dead) as the musical centerpiece of our Good Friday Service at 7:30pm on April 19. The term ‘mass’ defines the gathering of God’s people to engage in “the source and summit of the Christian life.”1 Luther and other early reformers, still referred to their newly-structured worship experiences as masses. A “requiem” is a specialized mass; one enacted for saints who have passed from this life into an eternal one.
Other Requiem settings, like Mozart’s, Berlioz’s, and Verdi’s, use the full text from the mass, namely the Dies Irae or “day of wrath”) which focuses on judgement and petitions to God that the soul(s) of the departed not fall into obscurity. Fauré chose a different path setting only passages that serve as prayer and consolation. A brief portion of the Dies Irae text is employed in the sixth movement, ‘Libera Me.” A baritone solo is featured here singing “Lord, I pray, deliver me” and also in the second movement, ‘Offertory,’ singing “Hear our prayer.” The fourth movement, ‘Pie Jesu,’ is a simple, elegant, and angelic solo for soprano that will feature Taylor Haines.
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) began work on his Requiem in 1887 purely, in his own words, ‘for the pleasure of it.’2 Though it would seem the music reflects his own coming to terms with the loss of both his parents within the previous three years. In fact, his mother’s death on New Year’s Eve of 1887 seems to have had a direct effect on the Requiem, as within the first few days of 1888 he completed the Agnus Dei, Sanctus, and In Paradisum movements. He completed his ‘first version’ of the Requiem only a few days later, and the first performance took place under his direction on 16th of January of that year. The occasion was the funeral service at the Madeleine of a certain M. Joseph Le Soufaché. This version only consisted of five movements. The version being performed at Advent Lutheran on Good Friday will be the 1893 version (second version) accompanied by two horns, low strings and solo violin (featured in the ‘Sanctus’) along with harp and organ and timpani. The final movement ‘In Paradisum’ exudes peace and tranquility (God’s holy angels lead you to paradise).
Each Sunday leading up to Palm Sunday, our chancel choir will be presenting a selection from Fauré’s Requiem that will coordinate with scriptures from the lectionary as well as provide the listener with anticipatory joy of what’s to come. It’s not often that we get to enjoy the prepared music on more than one occasion. Artist Jill Carlson will provide original artwork to accompany movements of the Requiem. We hope to display one each week of Lent and collectively on Good Friday.
Why a requiem for Good Friday? This holy day is one of prayer and solemn reflection as Christians meditate on God’s love as revealed in the passion and death of Jesus. In the context of Good Friday, Fauré’s Requiem is particularly appropriate for this reflection as it is a sensitive intercession for the dead and doubles as our prayer for Christ and all with whom he suffers. It will be a service of remembrance intended as a reflection on the death of Jesus Christ. This musical masterpiece offers beauty that points us toward the resurrection. Scripture readings interspersed among the movements are designed to help contextualize the music with the Good Friday narrative. While we tend to consider gatherings on this occasion more as a service of darkness, where the pain of the cross is illuminated, this service points us toward the sure and certain hope of the resurrection on Easter Sunday. My wish is that Faure’s transcendent music will serve as a vehicle illuminating the “good” in Good Friday.
Since this work is written in Latin from the mass, translations will be provided to aid the listener in reflecting on the music’s meaning and poignant thoughts about Christ’s passion. I invite you to imagine what Jesus may have felt in the moment his pain released and he rested in the arms of his Father. It was only a short time that the disciples discovered the joy of Sunday which follows the strife of Good Friday. I pray that you wait in hope and expectation for the celebration that is Easter Sunday and the abundance of God’s grace made apparent in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In explaining his own mindset to a critic, Fauré himself said, “That is how I see death: as a joyful deliverance, an aspiration towards happiness beyond the grave, rather than as a painful experience.”
He once remarked to his sister about the little cemetery at Gailhac-Toulza where their parents were buried, “How good it will be to sleep here, there is so much sunshine!” Our Easter Sunday service will feature Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs with text by mystic, George Herbert. The work will be presented by our chancel choir and baritone soloist and a chamber orchestra. The service will also be enriched with festival hymn settings as well as a prelude and postlude from the chamber orchestra. The Sunday following Easter will feature special music in which we will have guest musicians lead us in a different music style to be determined (i.e. Bluegrass, Jazz, or Celtic). We hope to have a church-wide picnic following worship, so be sure to save the date and invite friends and family to join us!