Confutatis Maledictis … Voca me

Blondie and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

In case you are not fluent in Latin, that is what the title means. Once the accursed have been destroyed… call me.

The last time I worshiped in a church was at age 7, almost three-quarters of a century ago.  That is a long time, but not when comparing it to eternity, which is what I was thinking about at the time.  I had been honored to be selected as an altar boy from amongst my grade school classmates in Austria.  I was chosen probably because my father was the only chess partner with whom the local priest could play an advanced game of chess.  They would spend days literally on one game, often deep into the night.  My father’s religious background was somewhat dubious, although he and the priest had vehement discussions about God and philosophy. Ironically my father had just converted to Catholicism as he needed those credentials to further his claims of Teutonic origins.  The constant risk of being taken off to Auschwitz by the Nazis was ever-present. Although, it would have more likely been Mauthausen, which was only 130 km from our village.  My father, the town doctor, was not all that happy with my recent appointment; he thought it was inappropriate, given our family’s circumstances, something I did not comprehend until I was much older. I, on the other hand, was thrilled! I especially loved the long flowing robes they gave me.  My job was carrying the censer.  Those of you who are not Catholic will likely not know what that is. It is the metal container for burning incense.  My job was to bring it down the aisle of the church already lit and emanating the holy smoke.  I was not to disburse it but hand it to the priest who did that.  But I could not resist, a little unnoticed subtle swinging of the censer on its chains actually produced a lot of smoke (the carcinogenicity of which has never, to this day, been tested) that I could waft through the church. 

My father felt it necessary to talk about philosophy and ethics with me.  As a consequence, my stint as an altar boy did not last very much longer.  And as life progressed through school, college, and medical school, it became increasingly difficult for me to reconcile my earlier philosophy that I learned in altar boy school, with the biblical God who did not, or could not stop the evil of the world.  How was it that God could allow such evil and cruelty to permeate our lives?  It started with the flood which drowned all of humanity, including the unborn save for Noah and family.  God allowed the Holocaust, the Holodomor, the Armenian Genocide, and all those genocides in Africa.  Free will didn’t do it for me, besides it did not consider the free will of all those murdered people who, I am sure, had different visions for themselves, which did not take into account their free will.

Nevertheless, I am not aspiritual.  I consider myself very spiritual, and  I have a fervent belief that there is more to our existence than is apparent, and that our lives have a purpose beyond our comprehension. My journey eventually led me to medicine and a life of service to the sick and injured, in principle, not all that different from priesthood. Even everlasting life is possible in my construct of the universe, although with a different twist involving double helixes of DNA.

There is more of my early years that stayed with me than just the smell of incense, and my secret inner spiritual life.  It was music.  In European churches and cathedrals, music often accompanied the services. In large churches or cathedrals, it was frequently a full orchestra.  This was a good thing because it did make the services, which were all read in Latin in my time, much more tolerable.  The liturgical music was often, if not almost always, composed by Mozart, who, by the way, was Austrian.  One particular piece of music that affected me more than others was the Mozart Requiem in D Minor, particularly the “Confutatis.” It begins in D Minor but modulates to F Major with very rhythmic commanding male voices that have an almost infernal sound.  Confutatis Maledictis  – Once the Accursed have been destroyed – Flammis acribus addictis – and given over to the bitter flames – Voca me con benedictis – call me with the blessed, now sung by a gentle melodic heavenly female choir in hushed angelic tones.  If you have never heard it, you must before you die.  In fact that is what I want for my funeral whenever that happens, hopefully, later than sooner.  It was also what Chopin ordered to be played at his, which was quite an achievement because women were not allowed to sing in the churches of Paris.  It took a special proclamation by the Archbishop to allow it.  It is surprising that Chopin chose the Mozart requiem for his funeral, as Chopin had written the penultimate iconic masterpiece of all funeral marches himself, which you would recognize instantly, as it was played in many movies and served the funerals of many heads of state including JFK, Stalin, Brezhnev, and others. It is universally recognized and linked to death and mourning.  

You will assume that all  I listen to is Classical Music.  That is simply not so!  The Confutatis brings forth the theme of summoning you, in Mozart’s case, to Heaven.   There is another piece of music from my later youth that was not classical, that also is summoning you.  It evokes many pleasant memories from when I was young and much better looking than now. This is another melody you should listen to before you die, this one with a completely different style and meaning. While the Requiem is calling you to Heaven, Blondie is calling you for a much more earthly and earthy activity compared to the Requiem!

Call me (call me) on the line
Call me, call me any, anytime
Call me (call me). I’ll arrive

You can call me any day or night
Call me

Cover me with kisses, baby
Cover me with love
Roll me in designer sheets
I’ll never get enough!

The call is quite transparently a bit more sanguine than the Requiem call. Music is the universal language that can and does evoke all flavors of human emotions.