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HomeArticleArchbishop Cordileone-Commissioned ‘Requiem for the Forgotten’ Hits the Billboard Charts

Archbishop Cordileone-Commissioned ‘Requiem for the Forgotten’ Hits the Billboard Charts

Archbishop Cordileone-Commissioned ‘Requiem for the Forgotten’ Hits the Billboard Charts

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone speaks March 15 at the ‘Requiem for the Forgotten’ Mass at Epiphany Church in Miami. (photo: Cristina Cabrera Jarro / Florida Catholic)

 

Will it spur a Catholic renaissance in music?

This Holy Week, Billboard announced its list of the best-selling traditional classical music. Beethoven for Three, featuring Beethoven piano trio arrangements for Yo-Yo Ma’s all-star piano trio, was No. 1. Number 2? Frank La Rocca’s Requiem for the Forgotten along with a Mass honoring our Lady of Lourdes, the Messe des Malades.

This is the second album of Frank La Rocca’s music released by Cappella Records’ Grammy Award-winning team. The first recording, The Mass of the Americas, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart in September 2022.

For Frank La Rocca, composer-in-residence at the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship, this has been an incredible journey of faith and craft:

“Fifty years ago, as a young composer, I was told I must twist my music into a twelve-tone mold to succeed,” he told me via email. “Ten years ago, as a wave of politics swept over the arts world, I felt doors to the beauty of sacred music closing again. The Lord has opened this new door, showing the human heart and the human soul cannot be blinded by any ideology to our need for experiencing the sacred. It has been a great honor for me to help Archbishop Cordileone achieve his prophetic vision.”

What is this prophetic vision? The Benedict XVI Institute promises, in rash American fashion, that “the greatest art, the greatest liturgy the Church has ever produced, is yet to come.”

For San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, founder and chairman of the board of the Benedict XVI Institute, the vision rests in recognizing that as he repeatedly says, “what is classically Catholic, works.”

Works how? Classically Catholic practices and especially liturgies work to heal souls and bring them into the presence of the Lord. Sacred beauty works to get around the cognitive barriers to God thrown up by our increasingly mean-spirited and ugly public culture. And most of all, beautiful sacred liturgy, lifted by new music in the high sacred music tradition of the Church, works to help Catholics experience the Eucharist for the miracle it is.

“The Requiem for the Forgotten brought the searing beauty of the Lord’s love for every human soul to hundreds in Miami at the Church of the Epiphany,” Archbishop Cordileone wrote to me via email. Landing so high on the Billboard chart is “an acknowledgment that many people hungry for beauty, and to experience the healing power of God in the classically Catholic sacred music tradition.”

One of those in attendance in Miami was Rodger Shay, a noted Catholic philanthropist and chairman of Cristo Rey Miami High School.

“The music washed over me. I prayed deeply. This was the most profound Mass I’ve ever experienced,” Shay told me and the archbishop the next morning at breakfast.

To which La Rocca replied, “What you have described is the definition of the goal of a liturgical composer.”

Composing for the liturgy is not the same as composing sacred music for the concert stage. The Requiem Mass for the Forgotten, like all the Masses commissioned by Archbishop Cordileone through the Benedict XVI Institute, is for prayer, not performance. And yet, the quality of the performance and the composition piques the interest of the secular classical music world, too.

“We are so pleased that our partnership with Frank La Rocca and Benedict XVI Institute is continuing to bear such good fruit with this release of two of his new masses, Requiem for the Forgotten and Messe des Malades. Not only the church world but also the classical music world is taking note,” said Mark Powell, executive director/CEO of Cappella Records.

Selections from the Mass of the Americas (which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart in September of 2022) will be featured at concerts this summer by one of the best classical music choirs in America, the Santa Fe Desert Chorale. Cappella Romana has put the full Requiem for the Forgotten in its March 2025 West Coast concert series.

The Requiem for the Forgotten, with its new hymn honoring the martyrs of Soviet communism in Ukraine, also represented the launch of an ongoing project on the martyrs of communism by Archbishop Cordileone and the Benedict XVI Institute.

“Archbishop Cordileone came to Miami with the idea of praying for the God-given worth of every single human soul. And to honor the martyrs of Soviet communism in Ukraine with a new hymn,” notes Helen Aguirre Ferre, the executive director of the Florida Republican Mayors Public Policy Association. Ferre’s family hails from Nicaragua. She attended the world premiere March 15. “We who have suffered intimately from the totalitarian regimes of the 20th and 21st century — still making martyrs and victims today — deeply appreciate this new Mass and this new venture.”

The next phase of the martyrs of communism project will take place May 8 at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California. Archbishop Cordileone has invited The Wall Street Journal’s William McGurn, the godfather of imprisoned Catholic Chinese human rights activist Jimmy Lai, to tell of his witness.

For the occasion, Archbishop Cordileone brought together poet James Matthew Wilson and La Rocca, to compose a new hymn honoring the martyrs of Chinese communism. The Hymn for the Martyrs of Chinese Communism will debut as part of a Holy Hour for the seminarians before the talk, with St. Patrick’s Sacred Music Director Jennifer Donelson-Nowicka directing a 12-voice choir.

Archbishop Cordileone’s particular contribution is to recognize that what the Church has done before, over and over again through the centuries, it can do today: evangelize through works of searing beauty that command respect even in an increasingly hostile secular world. Florence, Italy, in the 15th century, was a city-state of just 60,000 souls. Surely America in the 21st century has the talent, the resources and the visionary patrons needed for a comparable renaissance of Catholic sacred beauty?

 

Maggie Gallagher is executive director of the Benedict XVI Institute. Frank La Rocca’s Requiem for the Forgotten (along with the Messe des Malades honoring Our Lady of Lourdes) is available from CappellaRecords.com.

 

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