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Reviving the “Forgotten” Art of Sacred Music

A new Mass setting has ranked #1 in Billboard’s Traditional Classical Albums chart this month.

After its release on March 15th, Frank La Rocca’s “Requiem for the Forgotten” immediately earned #2 in the chart during its first week of sales (the week of March 30). It re-entered the charts as #1 on the week of April 13, ranking above Bach renditions and even the “Beethoven for Three: Symphony” album featuring Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma!

What is it about this Mass setting that has earned it such acclaim, and what does this say about the role of sacred music in the modern world? We’ll unpack these questions to explore how sacred music changes lives and moves us toward encountering God.

A Mass Celebrating Forgotten Lives

I was blessed enough to attend the world premiere of “Requiem for the Forgotten” on March 15 at Church of the Epiphany in Miami, Florida. The Mass was celebrated by San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who commissioned the piece for the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship.

The “Requiem for the Forgotten” Mass prays for those who never received a funeral, including the homeless, victims of war, immigrants, and exiles. The offertory piece, “Commemoration: A Hymn for Ukraine,” was written by Benedict XVI Institute poet-in-residence James Matthew Wilson and intercedes especially for those who died at the hands of the Communist regime. This prayer hits close to home for me, as my family fled the suppression in Communist Cuba.

In an interview with the Benedict XVI Institute, Wilson explained that the offertory’s goal was two-fold: “First: to put, in as simple and as musical language as possible, a brief allusion to the individual martyrs of Communism and gesture towards something of their lives. Second: to write stanzas that also spoke of the suffering of the Ukrainian people under the Soviet and Russian attack. I wanted to speak of the theological virtue of hope and illuminated wisdom that was at the heart of the Ukrainian Catholic experience.”

The composer, La Rocca, is descended from Ukrainian immigrants who fled the Soviet-occupied country.

“Communism is the scourge of the modern age,” La Rocca said. “It’s the offspring of the Enlightenment: the Reign of Terror, hidden from public view. A project that honors the courage and sacrifice of people in opposing this scourge is always going to be something that I want to lend my own support to—in this case, through artistic creation.”

Read more at Catholic Exchange 

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