Monday, November 5, 2012

All Saints Day, 2012

All Saints Day, All Hallows Eve, Halloween, Dios de los Muertos.What a complicated day, with its roots in Aztec, Roman, Celtic and Byzantine cultures.

Growing up in a more protestant Episcopal Church in Atlanta and Dallas, I don't have memories of special celebrations, (protestant theology took a dim view of adoration) but have participated in special services since I joined the choir some twenty years ago.

For many years, the choir performed a Requiem between services. Then for several years the choir entered silently from behind the altar and stood in silence at the altar rail while the priests read the names of those parish members who had died during the previous year. Following the necrology, with organ and orchestral accompaniment, we processed in a complex pattern around and though the congregation singing all the while.
Now the choir waits outside with the rest of the procession while the priests read the list of the names of the dead. The service is still high ritual,with incense and orchestra. Movements of Faure's Requiem are performed at appropriate points during the service.

During the years I have participated in the service I have frequently heard names of people I knew, some better than others. Some were surprises. Obviously this year was going to be different.

I began thinking about the service a number of weeks ago when the choir began rehearsing the Requiem. I totally lost it during the first run-through of the Paridisum, where choirs of angels welcome the dearly departed into the holy city. I also lost it when I thought of Dad standing alone with his peeps in the 'Old Widower's Pew.' One Sunday I mentioned this to Susan and suggested that she might go and stand with Dad during the reading of the names and the service and she readily agreed. But I didn't really know if it would matter much to Dad and I never mentioned it to anyone other than Susan.

Thinking about this very obvious trigger caused me to write the blog post "Triggers" a couple of weeks ago.

Last week Susan and I had dinner with Dad and she asked him if he wanted someone to go to church with him on All Saints and he said, "No, I'll be ushering. November is our month and it will be our first Sunday, so I'll be busy with that." And that was that.

I slipped into the back row during the reading before the early service today and my ears perked up when they started with the 't's. "Thompson...Polly Jerauld Paxton Waddington...." There it was! I almost missed it. But where were the tears? Where was my emotional buzz? I missed the pain, the emotional release. I missed that last visceral connection with Mother. Now it was just stark emptiness. I got and rejoined the choir for the triumphal procession.

I came down from the choir loft from after the first service. There was Dad, getting the service leaflets ready to hand out. We spoke for a moment then I headed out for a much needed cup of coffee. As the choir was lining up, I searched out Dad in the narthex and found him handing out leaflets and greeting parishioners. I watched him for a minute. He was in his element as he would move from person to person, greeting each person like he'd known them all his life, sharing a smile, exchanging a confidence, asking after a spouse or a friend, shaking a hand or a hand to the shoulder. Like a good politician. I stopped him  and asked if he was going in for the necrology. He started to say he was planning to, but he saw someone arrive to whom he hadn't spoken and off he went.

I heard the priests begin and I went inside to hear the reading a second time. Maybe he would join me. After a brief invocation, the reading starts with Abraham, through Isaiah to Mary, John, Peter, Francis, Thomas Becket, Martin Luther, Thomas Cramner and on to Martin Bonhoffer, Mother Theresa and finally to the names from the parish. As some point Dad and another usher came in through the rear door and stood for a minute. I thought maybe they were going to listen, but they waited and helped someone find a seat and when I looked again, Dad was gone, and when I looked again, they both were gone. Then Mother's name came  again, and went.

The music was glorious and ethereal. Once in rehearsal James Diaz was asked why we always used the Faure Requiem and not something else. "Because people love it and ask for it. People remember it and come back to this service because of it." It helps them remember.
In Paradisum deducant angeli;                 God's holy angels lead you to paradise;
in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres,       may saints in their glory receive you at your
                                                              journey's end,
et perducant te incivitatem sanctam          guiding your footsteps into the holy city.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Jerusalem.            Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Jerusalem.
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat,                Choirs of angels sing you to your rest,
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere             and with Lazarus raised to eternal life,
aeternam habeas requiem.                       may you for evermore rest in peace.

Gabriel Faure Requiem: 'In Paradisum'
(Click to listen)


  1. A trigger for me, dear bro.
    So was the pic of the Duran ofrenda with a portrait of Mother.
    I'm crying now! Again.
    Daddy's got that greatest generation stoicism all the way through. I don't get it. I don't know if I think it's a good thing. But I know it will never budge.

    See you this week; I get in Wednesday.

  2. Sunday, when I went to church with Daddy, he was ushering. I hung out with him and his team for most of the service instead of sitting in a pew. He asked me when we first got there, if I would like to carry the Elements to the altar with him in honor of Mother. He made the arrangements with the head acolyte and we walked down the aisle together.