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For other uses, see Requiem (disambiguation).

The Requiem or Requiem Mass, also known formally (in Latin) as the Missa pro defunctis or Missa defunctorum, is a liturgical service of the Roman Catholic Church and its Eastern Rite. Its theme is a prayer for the salvation of the souls of the departed, and it is used both at services immediately preceding a burial, and on occasions of more general remembrance. It is sometimes observed by other denominations of Christianity such as the Anglican Communion and Eastern Orthodoxy.

"Requiem" is also the title of various musical compositions used in such liturgical services or as concert pieces as settings of the portions of that mass which have been traditionally sung in the Roman Catholic liturgy. (A version of the complete liturgy for the Requiem can be found at [1].)

While the prayers in the regular Mass as the Introit and Gradual change according to the Calendar of Saints, the text for the requiem mass is particularly fixed. Originally such funeral musical compositions were meant to be performed in liturgical service, with monophonic chant. Eventually the dramatic character began to appeal to composers to an extent that made the requiem a genre of its own.


The Roman Catholic service

This use of the word requiem comes from the opening words of the Introit: Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. (Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and may everlasting light shine upon them.) The requiem mass differs from the ordinary mass in omitting certain joyful passages such as the Gloria, Credo, and Alleluia, and by the addition the sequence Dies Iræ.

The regular texts of the musical portions to be found in the Roman Catholic liturgy, laid down at the Tridentine Council, are the following:

  • Introit:
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Te decet hymnus Deus, in Sion, et tibi reddetur votum in Ierusalem. Exaudi orationem meam; ad te omnis caro veniet.
("Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and may everlasting light shine upon them. A hymn becometh thee, O God, in Zion, and unto thee a vow shall be repaid in Jerusalem. Hear my prayer; unto thee all flesh shall come.")
  • Kyrie eleison, as the Kyrie the Ordinary of the Mass:
Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison; Kyrie eleison (Κυριε ελεησον; Χριστε ελεησον; Κυριε ελεησον).
This is Greek for "Lord have mercy on us; Christ, have mercy on us; Lord, have mercy on us." Traditionally each utterance is sung three times.
  • Gradual:
Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine; In memoria æterna erit iustus ab auditione mala non timebit.
("Grant them eternal rest, O Lord. He shall be justified in everlasting memory, and shall not fear evil reports.")
  • Tract:
Absolve Domine animas omnium fidelium defunctorum ab omno vinculo delictorum et gratia tua illis succurente mereantur evadere iudicium ultionis, et lucis æterne beatitudine perfrui.
("Forgive, O Lord, the souls of all the faithful departed from all the chains of their sins and may they deserve to avoid the judgment of revenge by your fostering grace, and enjoy the blessedness of everlasting light.")
  • Sequence: Dies iræ, dies illa (See Dies Iræ for full text)
  • Offertory:
Domine, Iesu Christe, Rex gloriæ, libera animas omnium fidelium defunctorum de poenis inferni et de profundo lacu. Libera eas de ore leonis, ne absorbeat eas tartarus, ne cadant in obscurum; sed signifer sanctus Michael repræsentet eas in lucem sanctam, quam olim Abrahæ promisisti et semini eius.
("Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory, free the souls of all the faithful departed from infernal punishment and the deep pit. Free them from the mouth of the lion; do not let Tartarus swallow them, nor let them fall into darkness; but may the sign-bearer, St Michael, lead them into the holy light which you promised to Abraham and his seed.")
Hostias et preces tibi, Domine, laudis offerimus; tu suscipe pro animabus illis, quarum hodie memoriam facimus. Fac eas, Domine, de morte transire ad vitam. Quam olim Abrahæ promisisti et semini eius.
("O Lord, we offer you sacrifices and prayers in praise; accept them on behalf of the souls whom we remember today. Make them pass over from death to life, as you promised Abraham and his seed.")
  • Sanctus, as the Sanctus prayer in the Ordinary of the Mass:
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Domine Deus Sabaoth; pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
("Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts; Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory").
Hosanna in excelsis.
("Hosanna in the highest").
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
("Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord").
Hosanna in excelsis. (reprise)
  • Agnus Dei, text as the Agnus Dei in the Ordinary of the Mass, but with the petitions miserere nobis changed to dona eis requiem, and dona nobis pacem to dona eis requiem sempiternam:
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem,
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem,
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem sempiternam.
("Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, grant them rest, ... grant them rest eternal.").
  • Communion:
Lux æterna luceat eis, Domine, cum sanctis tuis in æternum, quia pius es. Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine; et lux perpetua luceat eis.
("May everlasting light shine upon them, O Lord, with thy saints in eternity, for thou art merciful. Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and may everlasting light shine upon them.")

As with penitential seasons for the regular mass, the Gloria (from the Ordinary) and Alleluia (from the Proper) are omitted in the Requiem as well, as these are viewed as being overly joyful texts (the Alleluia being replaced by the Tract). Likewise, the Credo (sometimes omitted from the Ordinary of the Mass) is not used in the Requiem. The Dies irae has been rendered optional in the Requiem since the Second Vatican Council.

Musical compositions

For many centuries the texts of the requiem were sung to Gregorian melodies. The first surviving polyphonic setting is believed to have been composed by Ockeghem around 1460; his requiem is believed to predate a lost setting by the elder composer Dufay. Many early requiems employ different texts that were in use in different liturgies around Europe before the Council of Trent set down the texts given above. The requiem of Brumel, circa 1500, is the first to include the Dies Iræ.

Over 2000 requiems have been composed to the present day. Typically the Renaissance settings may be performed a cappella (i.e., without necessary accompanying instrumental parts), whereas beginning around 1600 composers more often preferred to use instruments to accompany a choir, and also include vocal soloists. There is great variation between compositions in how much of liturgical text is set to music.

Many composers omit sections of the liturgical prescription, such as the Gradual or the Tract. Fauré omitted the Dies iræ, while the very same text had often been set by French composers in previous centuries as a stand-alone work.

Sometimes composers divide an item of the liturgical text into two or more movements; the Dies irae is most notable in this respect (as with Verdi, for instance). The Introit and Kyrie, being immediately adjacent in the actual Roman Catholic liturgy, are often composed as one movement.

Musico-thematic relationships among movements of Requiems can be found as well.

Added movements

Some settings contain additional texts, such as the devotional motet Pie Iesu (in the settings of Fauré, Duruflé, and Lloyd Webber – Fauré set it as a soprano solo in the center). Libera me (from the Absolution) and In paradisum (from the burial service, which in the case of a funeral follows after the mass) conclude some compositions. Other added movements have been composed as well, such as the English Psalms Out of the Deep and The Lord is My Shepherd included in John Rutter's setting.

Libera me

Libera me, Domine, de morte æterna, in die illa tremenda, quando coeli movendi sunt et terra. Dum veneris iudicare sæculum per ignem. Tremens factus sum ego et timeo, dum discussio venerit atque ventura ira. Dies iræ, dies illa, calamitatis et miseriæ, dies magna et amara valde. Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine: et lux perpetua luceat eis.
("Free me from eternal death upon that terrible day when heaven and earth shall be moved, when thou comest to judge the world with fire. I am afraid and trembling, on account of the coming judgment and wrath. That day is a day of wrath, of disaster and misery, a great and very bitter day. Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and may everlasting light shine upon them.")

In paradisum

In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tu adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.
("May angels lead you into Paradise; may the martyrs receive you at your coming and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem. May a choir of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have eternal rest.")

Pie Jesu

The Pie Jesu combines paraphrases of the final verse of the Dies Iræ and the Agnus Dei.

Pie Iesu Domine, dona eis requiem. Dona eis requiem sempiternam.
("O sweet Lord Jesus, grant them rest; grant them everlasting rest.")

Concert requiems

Beginning in the 18th century and continuing through the 19th, many composers wrote what are effectively concert requiems, which by virtue of employing forces too large, or lasting such a considerable duration, prevent them being readily used in an ordinary funeral service; the requiems of Gossec, Berlioz, Verdi, and Dvořák are essentially dramatic concert oratorios. A counter-reaction to this tendency came from the Cecilian movement, which recommended restrained accompaniment for liturgical music, and frowned upon the use of operatic vocal soloists.

Non-Catholic requiems

Requiem is also used to describe any sacred composition that sets religious texts that would be appropriate at a funeral, or to describe such compositions for liturgies other than the Roman Catholic mass. Among the earliest examples of this type are the German requiems composed in the 17th century by Schütz and Praetorius, whose works are Lutheran adaptations of the Catholic requiem, and which provided inspiration for the mighty German Requiem by Brahms. A rather exhaustive list of requiem composers can be found on this site.

Such non-Catholic requiems would include:

Anglican burial service

The Anglican Book of Common Prayer contains seven texts which are collectively known as "funeral sentences"; several composers have written settings of these seven texts, which are generally known collectively as a "burial service." Composers who have set the Anglican burial service to music include Thomas Morley, Orlando Gibbons, and Henry Purcell. The text of these seven sentences, from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, is:

  • I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.
  • I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shalt stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.
  • We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord.
  • Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.
  • In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased? Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.
  • Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty, O holy and merciful Saviour, thou most worthy judge eternal, suffer us not, at our last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from thee.
  • I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, From henceforth blessed are the dead which die in the Lord: even so saith the Spirit: for they rest from their labours.

20th century developments

In the 20th century the requiem evolved in several new directions. The genre of war requiems is perhaps the most notable, which comprise of compositions dedicated to the memory of people killed in wartime. These often include extra-liturgical poems of a pacifist or non-liturgical nature; for example, the War Requiem of Benjamin Britten juxtaposes the Latin text with the poetry of Wilfred Owen, and Robert Steadman's Mass in Black intersperses environmental poetry and prophecies of Nostradamus. The several Holocaust requiems may be regarded as a specific subset of this type.

Lastly, the 20th century saw the development of secular requiems, written for public performance without specific religious observance (e.g., Kabalevsky's War Requiem, to poems by Robert Rozhdestvensky), and some composers have written purely instrumental works bearing the title of requiem, as exemplified by the most famous of these, Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem.

Requiem in popular culture

In a parody of a medieval geisslerlied, the monks in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail chant the Pie Jesu while striking themselves with their books.

Requiem composers



Classical period

Romantic era

Post-romantic | 20th century

Requiems by languages (other than Latin)

English requiems

German requiems

Polish requiem

Russian requiem

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