Wednesday, April 13, 2005

MH - Requiem for a Pope

Yes, I know that Mozart didn't complete the Requiem, that after his death it was finished by Sussmayer. At the time, some even thought the complete work to be a forgery, although I don't think anyone believes that now. There may be some question as to exactly how much of the Requiem was Mozart's, but in the end it doesn't matter. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck. The Requiem is Mozart, and if ever one needed proof of his sublime genius, it can be found in this, his final work.

Last night the Requiem was performed at St. Agnes for the repose of the soul of Pope John Paul. As has been the case with so many of the ceremonies surrounding the death and burial of the Pope, it was a scene of indescribable drama (on the way home, Judie said it was too bad Anderson Cooper hadn't been able to see this). Three priests and two deacons, clad in scarlet red vestments. Forty altar boys. The papal flag, with a black ribbon at the top. The tolling church bells. A packed church - we were squeezed in there like sardines. And through it all, the magnificance of Mozart. To listen to the music is, as I said earlier, proof of genius; combined with the ancient rites of the Church, it becomes an almost overpowering experience.

On Sunday there had been a particularly appropriate portrait of John Paul at the Marian altar; it was not a formal portrait but an action shot showing the Holy Father, his arms upraised, speaking into a microphone. To me it seemed as if he were still talking to us, still teaching us, still reminding us, "Be Not Afraid." Last night this portrait had been replaced with another of the Pope; and this, too, was appropriate for the occasion. The picture, surrounded on the altar by Easter lillies, showed the Pope in his white vestments, deep in contemplative prayer, his eyes closed, his white figure shining out from a darkened backdrop, a modest figure when compared to the overall size of the picture.

Fr. Welzbacher's homily was a moving, stirring tribute. I have a feeling it was being recorded, and if so I'll post some highlights when it becomes available. The theme was clear, however: here was a great man, a courageous man, a towering historical figure, a man who lived his entire life as a witness to the faith and who gave his church and his people everything he had. He was an inspiration to the young, the future of the that church, and in that sense (as in so many others) the true fruits of his work are just beginning. He is already being called "John Paul the Great," a title which surely will be formalized, and will probably be pronounced a Doctor of the church as well. The shouts of "Santo!" at the funeral merely confirm what many think, that here was a living saint.

It is hard to believe that John Paul is in need of our prayers now; as Cardinal Ratzinger said, he is assuredly at the window of heaven looking down at us now. We offer them all the same, assured that Our Lord will use those prayers as He sees fit where they are most needed.

The people came to the altar rail for Communion as the formal portion of the Requiem wound down ("May eternal light shine on them, O Lord, with Thy saints for ever, because Thou art merciful. Grant the dead eternal rest, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine on them with Thy saints for ever, because Thou are merciful."). They continued to come, and when the Requiem ended the orchestra played an instrumental version of Ave Verum Corpus, and still they came. At the end of the two hour and five minute Mass the organ played solemnly, the procession left the sanctuary, and many who had come to worship stayed behind for a moment, perhaps looking at the portrait and offering a final prayer and a final goodbye to the Pope whom they had loved, and who had loved them.

Mozart's brilliance was truly a gift of God, and his Reqiuem is the artist returing that gift to Him from Whom it came. Some (probably the same ones who question the authorship of the Requiem) will remind us that Mozart was a member of the Masons, a group Catholics to this day are prohibited from joining. Again, I say that it matters little in the end, for when listening to proof of God's existance, all other thoughts are just killjoys.

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