Every year in a large number of Churches, there is an annual performance of Gabriel Faure’s ‘Requiem’. This beautifully simple and reflective adaptation of the Catholic mass for the Dead has never failed to bring a semblance of sobriety and inner stillness to those that listen to this. For the singer and the listener, the first climax of the piece; with its sudden crescendo on ‘et lux perpetua’ (and everlasting light) can feel slightly juxtaposed to the darkness and silence that is apparent as we enter this month of November: The rain doesn’t seem to end, the leaves and plants disappear and we find ourselves with eyes cast to some brighter point in the distance.
It is in this time that we find ourselves in the celebration of All Souls. All too often found wrapped in costumes and parties, there is nevertheless, a stillness that can resound in our thoughts as we commemorate the dead, our families and friends. However, just as the music in this piece builds into a great announcement of the light that those who have gone before us are in, so too should we be part of this awareness of the place that those we love are. Because it is, as St Paul entices ‘the life that is Christ, and the death that is gain’. It is through death in Christ that we live in him.
It is of great importance in this month of November, that we reflect on St Paul’s words, inspiring in our actions the way that we can live with Christ even here, even now. Every day, in the words of St Ambrose, there should be in us a ‘daily habit and disposition towards dying so that our soul may learn to… see all things from the heights of heaven, out of reach from the lusts of the world’. It is through these daily deaths to self that we can come closer to Him. From this closeness we can ‘discern the will of God, what is Good, acceptable and mature’ (Rm 12:1).
As we turn to this joy of All Souls, so too do we see All Saints. A common question a Catholic can find themselves asked is what is the purpose of the Saints? Why do you celebrate them? St Bernard, writing 900 years ago begins one of his homilies along the same lines. His response is timely as he writes that ‘The Saints… have no need of honour from us; nor does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs…But when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed with a tremendous yearning’. It is this yearning that is the meaning of the Solemnity: looking to the shining example of the Saints in order to awaken in us a desire to live near God, in his light, in the great family of God's friends. Being a Saint means living close to God, to live in his family.
This is the vocation of us all, affirmed by the second Vatican council and proposed on this feast for our attention.
The final motif of the Requiem expresses the simple wish to be ‘led to paradise’. Though cold and challenging this month may be, may these feasts remind us of the journey we have to be aware of his presence in us at all times.