Dies Irae – Requiem René Girard

At the funeral of René Girard the Requiem Mass was a sung Gregorian Mass. The celebrant and homilist was Fr. Francisco Nahoe, OFM Conv

Fr. Nahoe has kindly provided the text of his homily and permitted its distribution thanks to the efforts of our friend Cynthia Haven:


On other occasions, preaching from this pulpit, you have heard me refer to the much maligned, but little read, Regensburg address of Pope Benedict XVI. In it, the Pope emeritus suggests that there are two uniquely modern disorders that more or less overwhelm the way we experience religion today. The first is a pathology of reason, that we would identify as secularism; the second, a pathology faith that we might call fundamentalism. It seems to me that nowhere is the impact of these disorders felt more acutely than in contemporary attitudes toward death. The modern world fragments the essential dignity and wholeness of man — spirit, soul and body (as Saint Paul tells us) — into neat, but very small compartments. Family is one, job another, friends, civic life (by which typically mean political attitudes more than social engagement), science (that is, commercial technology)…. Let’s see, there’s music and reading, now highly dependent upon technology, which still doesn’t seem to make more time for such pursuits. Maybe community service, usually not religion.

Just moment ago, we heard the schola chant the Dies iræ, that magnificent encapsulation of medieval piety, with its bright and violent imagery, its razor-sharp focus on the enormity of man’s end, as if to say, death is the most significant moment that life offers to the believer. If I remember correctly, the Dies iræ is attributed to one of my Franciscan confrères, Friar Thomas of Celano, the earliest biographer of Saint Francis of Assisi. You doubtless remember that Saint Francis refers to the fact of human demise as Sister Death, one of a cohort of natural phenomena made familiar: Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Fire, Sister Water, Mother Earth. At first glance, Saint Francis seems nicer than Friar Thomas, more suitable to contemporary standards of decorum… until you hear what he has to say next:

Most High, all-powerful, good Lord, Yours are the praises, the glory, and the honor, and all blessing, To You alone, Most High, do they belong, and no human is worthy to mention Your name. Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin. Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will, for the second death shall do them no harm.

Sister Bodily Death, for Saint Francis, is the one who ushers us into the experience of the Dies iræ. To the modern ear, pulled between the antipodes of secular atheism and fundamentalist sentimentalism, Franciscan poetics strike an oddly discordant note, even for the faithful. Generally speaking, we would be more comfortable with a funeral understood as the celebration of a particular life, rather than a serious, demanding, elegaic reflection on the universal certainty of death.

I never got that vibe from Prof Girard. I never found him to be so saturated with the maudlin sentimentality of our age not to stop, thoughtfully and humbly to consider that one day he would find himself precisely here. I always had the impression that he deliberately eschewed the romanticism that saturates every other aspect of religious thought and experience in the contemporary world, that his practice of the Catholic faith centered upon our hope in the resurrection of the dead, a hope we have learned from the promise of the Lord Jesus Himself. To have seen Satan fall like lightning from the sky, is to have experienced the kingdom of God growing, not only in the world, but in the hearts and desires of humankind. It is this transformative power of God unleashed upon the world in saving Incarnation, Life, Ministry, Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Christ, that makes of the dies iræ, not, in the end, a day of wrath, but our definitive encounter with the pie Iesu, the holy Lord Jesus, to Whom we give all glory and honor forever and ever. Amen.


The schola at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church to which Fr. Nahoe refers in his homily has been led for many years by William Mahrt. The recording below of the Dies Irae is from a public domain audio recording and is similar to what we heard in the Requiem Mass at René Girard’s funeral.

Follow this link for an English translation of the Latin text.

 

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