Mass for the Last Days: Complete Score – Michael Merrill, composer
Mass for the Last Days is a sacred work for chorus and organ. Originally intended to be a setting of the traditional Mass for a mainly Mormon audience, who do not include the Mass as part of their regular worship services, it developed into a piece that is universally applicable to all sects and denominations of Christianity. It uses the Mass for its foundational text, but draws from other scripture both canonical and extra-canonical to mainstream Christianity. Though the source of the text may be viewed with varying degrees of doctrinal sources, the composer wishes that this piece may serve as a bridge between all who consider themselves disciples and followers of Jesus Christ, that they might recognize each other as brothers and sisters under a loving Heavenly Father, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, …unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ….” (Ephesians 4:13)
The Kyrie is a cry for mercy. The music echoes the pains of one who has come to complete realisation of his sins, and therefore his uncleanness and guilt before God. Apart from the traditional mass, I used text from a prominent story of repentance and forgiveness found in the Book of Mormon. A man named Alma had been seeking to destroy the church of God and was leading its followers away from Jesus. After divine intervention similar to that of Saul of Tarsus, he spent three days ‘racked with the pains of a damned soul’ (Alma 36:16) before yielding himself up to Jesus, begging for His grace, crying, ‘O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness.’ (Alma 41:11) It ends in unison, in subdued and humbled manner, with the prayer of every contrite heart, ‘O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ.’ (Mosiah 4:2)
The central message of Christianity is of hope – hope in the mercy, merits, and grace of Jesus Christ. The Gloria is a celebration of this hope, shouting praises to God the Father and His Beloved Son. I’ve tried to give that sort of joyful energy to this piece through constant movement in the organ for most of the movement. As both Heaven and Earth rejoice in the gospel, there are instances of call and response between the women (angels) and the men (mortals). The concluding section, sung by the tenor soloist, is accompanied by a fanfare as the soloist surrenders himself up to the Lord, putting his trust in Him forever.
This movement proved the greatest challenge out of the five, owing to the original Credo text containing several parts that are exclusive to certain Christian faiths. I had originally planned on completely replacing it with a set of beliefs unique to my own faith, but ultimately decided that that would both limit the potential audience. It was that realization that helped me to decide to make this Mass a universally acceptable worship setting for all who claim to follow Jesus. In this setting, the basic doctrines of Christianity are set out, that God the Father is the Almighty, that His Son Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, that through Him – His death and resurrection – all people may again rise from the dead and, if they will, join Him in His kingdom. The most central message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is summed up near the end, and is testimony every believing heart strives for, “Now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give oh him: That he lives!” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:22)
The Sanctus is the only movement in this Mass in which I left the original text untouched. I felt that there was no need to expand or explore the doctrines and message of this simple, powerful prayer. The soprano soloist is highlighted as the choir accompanies her a capella. When I started to work on this movement, I was struggling to come up with any melodies that would convey the sense of reverence and awe that I was hoping for. As I sat pondering on how I could best do it, a thought came to be to look back on what I had already done. I eventually found a recording of a very early string quartet I had written before I started to study composition formally. That movement in particular held a special place for me even then, and its meter fit perfectly with the text of the Sanctus. So I simply copy and pasted the original and filled out the chords to make it more choral in nature.
When performed together, the Sanctus ellipses into the Agnus Dei as bells join the previously a capella choir. Reverently, the choir and soloists again call for the mercy of Christ, the Lamb of God. The soprano and tenor soloists repeat their melody from the Kyrie at the words ‘have mercy upon us,’ only now it is with joy and hope, as opposed to pain and anguish. Added in to the text is the final verse in the New Testament, with an invitation to the Lord, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’ (Rev. 22:20) I intentionally broke away from the liturgical order as the Benedictus is introduced as part of the Agnus Dei (it is typically found accompanying the Sanctus if it is not its own movement). The shout of ‘Hosannah in the highest’ is to the tune of ‘The Spirit of God,’ a hymn celebrating the nearing day when the Lord Jesus returns to reign personally in glory.