Requiem Masses, or Masses for the dead, are celebrated as suffrages for the souls of the deceased. The name Requiem Mass is derived from the first words of the entrance antiphon: Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine.
Origin. From earliest times Christians have celebrated Masses for their dead. Several second-century sources mention this celebration of the Eucharist, for example, the Apology of Aristides [H. J. M. Milne, "A New Fragment of the Apology of Aristides," Journal of Theological Studies 25 (1923–24) 75] and the apocryphal Acts of John [M. J. James, The Apocryphal New Testament (3d ed. Oxford 1945) 245]. Tertullian repeatedly refers to the celebration of the eucharist on the anniversary of death (De Corona 3, Patrologia Latina 2:79; De Castitate 11, ibid. 2:926; De Monogamia 10, ibid. 2:942).
During the first centuries Masses were celebrated on certain days after the death and burial. Masses on the third day and on the anniversary were common and remained so in all rites. Masses on the 7th and 30th days were traditional in the Latin rite, while the Eastern churches observed the 9th and 40th days. In the fourth century, funeral Masses were celebrated in Rome, as was noted by St. Augustine (Conf. 9.12.32; Patrologia Latina 32:777), but the celebration of Masses on the days after the burial continued to be the general practice. Funeral Masses were never customary in the East, but they became general in the West during the early Middle Ages. In time, they came to be considered the principal part of the burial rite and were prescribed by liturgical law.
Liturgical research has not yet determined the precise date when a special formulary was first adopted for Masses for the dead. The use of the apocryphal 4 Esdras indicates that this took place not later than the sixth century. The Leonine Sacramentary already contained five sets of prayers for the dead; the Gelasian, 13 sets. During the early Middle Ages formularies increased rapidly. From among this wealth of texts the reform of Pius V selected a single formulary, that used by the Roman Curia, offering a limited variety of readings and prayers.
Older texts of the Requiem Mass can be understood correctly only if it is remembered that the early Christians saw in death primarily the final identification of the Christian with Christ in His death and Resurrection and the beginning of the life of glory. The "eternal rest," for example, of the Introit and Gradual (4 Esdras 1.34; this verse, like the entire first two chapters, is considered a Christian addition) intimates eternal happiness and the vision of God. The Preface for the dead, which had its origin in the fifth-century Mozarabic liturgy and was inserted into the Roman Missal in 1919, emphasizes the joyful aspects of the Resurrection. In keeping with the piety of the High Middle Ages, the twelfth-century Sequence diesirae, however, stresses fear of judgment and condemnation. Its traditionally accepted authorship by the Franciscan thomas of celano (d. c. 1250) was disproved by the discovery of an earlier, somewhat different twelfth-century version. The Offertory antiphon with its plea for deliverance from hell is best explained as a prayer that was originally recited before death.
Previous to the Missal of Pius V (1570), a great variety of texts for the Proper was in use; since that date only one set of texts for all Masses for the Dead is prescribed. The texts assigned by the Missal of Pius V were Introit, Requiem aeternam (Eternal Rest); Gradual, Requiem aeternam (Eternal rest); Tract, Absolve, Domine (Absolve, O Lord); Sequence, Dies irae (Day of Wrath); Offertory, Domine Jesu Christe (Lord Jesus Christ); Communion, Lux aeterna (May Light Eternal).
Origin of the Requiem. The Introit text is probably the most ancient component of the currently used requiem Propers. The fact that it is taken from the Apocryphal Fourth Book of Esdras, which was held as canonical until the late fifth century, indicates that it must have been introduced into the liturgy no later than c. 490. Certain of the other texts currently used may have been introduced in the sixth and seventh centuries. The earliest preserved complete sets of Propers for Masses of the Dead, however, date only from the tenth century, when, through the monastic influence of the Abbey of Cluny, the cult of all the dead was established under the form of a solemn commemoration on November 2.
The rapid spread and growth of this cult resulted in the creation of a great number and variety of formularies. Well over 100 different texts, including some Alleluias, can be found assigned to Masses for the Dead in the medieval chant manuscripts of the tenth through the fourteenth centuries. Slightly more than half of these texts were written specifically for use in connection with the cult of the dead. The others were simply borrowings from Mass formularies assigned to Sundays or to weekdays in Lent.
Thus the Gradual Si ambulem, for example, which was widely used, was borrowed from the Saturday of the third week of Lent. These borrowed texts retained their original chant melodies; for new texts either entirely new music was composed (the most frequent procedure) or a preexistent melody was adapted. For example, the Introit Si enim credimus utilized the melody of the Introit Sicut oculi for the Monday of the first week of Lent; and the Gradual Qui Lazarum, that of the Gradual Beata gens, from the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost. The vast majority of these texts gradually fell into disuse during the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, and hardly more than a dozen were in general use during those years of the Renaissance that preceded the Missal of Pius V.
Polyphonic Versions. The earliest polyphonic settings of the Requiem Mass date only from the last third of the fifteenth century. The first of these seems to have been composed by Guillaume dufay; it has not been preserved, however, and the only knowledge of it comes from a reference to it in the composer's will. The earliest preserved setting, that of Okeghem (c. 1485–90), consists of all of the sung items then used in France, both Proper and Ordinary, from the Introit through the Offertory; it is not known whether the remaining three items were lost or simply never written. Some anonymous and isolated items, apparently from about the same time, are found in certain Italian sources.
Of some 40 settings of the Requiem Mass surviving from the sixteenth century, the most notable are those by Brumel, La Rue, Fevin, G. Fogliano(?), Prioris, Richafort, Sermisy, Clemens, Morales, Certon, Bonefont, Clereau, Guerrero, Kerle, Vaet, Monte, Du Caurroy, Lassus, Mauduit, Asola, Palestrina, and Victoria, in addition to certain anonymous settings. Several of these composers produced two or more Requiem Masses, and in several cases their Requiem Masses were among their most inspired works. Most of these share certain characteristics, such as the tendency to create music for both the Ordinary and the Proper and to incorporate the original chant melodies into the polyphonic texture.
Three essential traditions evolved in the selection of texts: the Italian, Spanish, and French. In general, all three adopted the same Introit (Requiem aeternam ), Offertory (Domine Jesu Christe ), and Communion (Lux aeterna ) texts. There were, however, consistent variants in certain phrases of the Offertory text. The chief distinguishing features of the traditions are to be found in the Lesson chants. The Italian tradition usually chose the Gradual Si ambulem, the Tract Absolve, Domine, or Sicut cervus, and almost always included the Sequence Dies irae. The Spanish tradition favored the Gradual Requiem aeternam and the Tract Sicut cervus, and omitted the Sequence. In France, also, the Sequence was omitted, the Gradual selected was Si ambulem, and the Tract was Sicut cervus. It did not become customary to add a polyphonic composition for the Responsory Libera me, Domine until after the Missal of Pius V.
Baroque Requiems were composed in the new stile concertato and the stile antico. The first setting to utilize all of the features of the new style was that of Monteverdi, Grillo, and Usper, performed on May 25, 1621, in memory of Cosimo II, Grand Duke of Tuscany; it exerted great influence on later works, such as those by Biber, Kerll, and C. Strauss, all of which call for a large chorus and orchestra. As a general rule, neither the Requiems in the stile concertato nor those in the stile antico (e.g., the outstanding work by A. Scarlatti) made use of material derived from the traditional chant melodies; the few exceptions are limited to the Sequence Dies irae. Important French baroque composers of Requiem Masses or portions thereof are Lully, Charpentier, Campra, and Gilles. In the late baroque and early classic Austrian tradition, the most significant version is that by Mozart.
Another period opened with the Requiem setting by Gossec (1760). Highly romantic in concept, it led the way for nineteenth-century composers who intended their Requiems more for the concert hall than for the church. To this group belong Cherubini (1836), Berlioz (1837), Verdi (1874), Fauré (1887), and Dvořák (1890). Nineteenth-century composers who wrote primarily for liturgical purposes include Bruckner (1845), Liszt (1868), and Saint-Saëns (1878). One of the most significant twentieth-century settings intended for liturgical use is that of Duruflé (1947). There are also several important nonliturgical works of the nineteenth century that derive their inspiration from the Requiem in some sense and are analogous to it in purpose. These include Brahms' Deutsches Requiem (1867), Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin (1914–17), Berg's Violin Concerto (1935), Honegger's Symphonie liturgique (1946), and Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem (1940) and War Requiem (1963).
Bibliography: a. c. rush, Death and Burial in Christian Antiquity (Washington 1941). t. maertens and l. heuschen, Doctrine et pastorale de la liturgie de la mort (Bruges 1957). "Les Funérailles chrétiennes," Maison-Dieu 44 (1955).