I’ve isolated this final part of the Funeral Mass to look at its musical texts more closely. Before the music, the deacon (or priest) invites the people to “take our brother/sister to his/her place of rest.” The Christian symbol on the coffin, if any, is removed. The procession begins with the priest and assisting ministers, then the coffin, then the mourners.
One or more of the following texts or other suitable songs may be sung during the procession to the entrance of the church. The singing may continue during the journey to the place of committal.
And here is text A which may be sung with verses from Psalm 25:
May the angels lead you into paradise;
may the martyrs come to welcome you
and take you to the holy city,
the new and eternal Jerusalem.
Text B to be used with Psalm 116:
May choirs of angels welcome you
and lead you to the bosom of Abraham;
and where Lazarus is poor no longer
may you find eternal rest.
Text C, given without suggested psalm:
Whoever believes in me,
even though that person die, shall live.
R. I am the resurrection and the life.
Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. R.
As you might have guessed, the final option, D, provides suggestions for alternate texts: Psalm 118, Psalm 42, Psalm 93, Psalm 25, and if you have a very large and full church, all of Psalm 119, divided into its sections, each with a refrain.
The OCF has a very pragmatic approach when it comes to music, recognizing the different situations that might call for different texts. Also, some of the texts given in later sections are metrical, implying they be set to metered music and played as modern western music (hymns and songs) be played.
If the Church holds a preference in these matters, it would seem that the texts are primary. These antiphons given above all allude to New Testament passages on life and death. Furthermore, the verses of the psalms are given as the best counter point to these Christian expressions. This is not a novel development, or even uniquely a Christian one, but an expression that goes back to the psalms themselves.
Once the text itself is considered, the liturgical setting comes next. These texts are sung by people on the move–at least to the door of the Church, and possibly to the place of internment. Clearly, a group of mourners is unlikely to be carrying the pointed lines of Psalm 119. This sensible music is designed for dialogue, and the people will sing what they will or what they can.
And finally, the choices of texts–including metered hymns–would seem to tell us that the pride of place ideal, Gregorian chant, takes third place behind the considerations of text and the demands of the liturgy itself.
That this processional song is given at the end of the funeral Mass, is less a nod to the four-hymn sandwich, and more a recognition of the transitional nature of the funeral rites. The Mass does not complete or conclude our leave-taking.
Any comments on this, especially from you church musicians out there? Do you use these psalm texts?