The Dies Irae – ‘Day of Wrath’ – is a 13th century sequence preparing us for the final judgement, likely composed perhaps by Franciscan Friar Thomas of Celano, or Dominican Friar Latino Malabranca Orsini, or even by Saint Bonaventure, Bernard of Clairvaux, or even to Pope Gregory I. Its haunting Gregorian chant melody stays with one, and is made even more poignant by a salutary meditation on the text itself (which follows at the end of this post):
Mozart, of course, put the Dies Irae – not the whole text, but a few verses – in his final work in 1791, the incomparable Requiem, just before his death. It was left incomplete, and finished off by his pupil Franz Xaver Süssmayr, and it’s difficult to tell even now whose part is whose. One thing we do know is that its resounding power echoes through the ages, and I am still thankful I was had the opportunity to sing this work with our Schola a number of years ago during a traditional Requiem Mass in a glorious church in Quebec:
Sadly, the Dies Irae, which used to be de riguer in the liturgy – for funerals and such – was taken out in the liturgical reform after Vatican II, led by Cardinal Bugnini, who explained his decision as follows:
They got rid of texts that smacked of a negative spirituality inherited from the Middle Ages. Thus they removed such familiar and even beloved texts as Libera me, Domine, Dies irae, and others that overemphasized judgment, fear, and despair. These they replaced with texts urging Christian hope and arguably giving more effective expression to faith in the resurrection.
That said, we – along with Friar Celano and Herr Mozart and just about every Catholic who came before us – may respectfully disagree with his Eminence, and still sing it – and sing it we should – it’s just not enforced. Then again, these chants are still a regular part of the usus antiquior, wherever you may find one. Perhaps if there ever is another liturgical reform, a future Cardinal, after whatever events we must face in these latter days, will put the sequence back into the Mass, as quite a fitting expression of our Faith, and a preparation for that Judgement we all must face:
|I||Dies iræ, dies illa
Solvet sæclum in favilla,
Teste David cum Sibylla.
|Day of wrath and doom impending.
David’s word with Sibyl’s blending,
Heaven and earth in ashes ending.
|The day of wrath, that day
will dissolve the world in ashes,
David being witness along with the Sibyl.
|II||Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando Judex est venturus,
Cuncta stricte discussurus!
|Oh, what fear man’s bosom rendeth,
When from heaven the Judge descendeth,
On whose sentence all dependeth.
|How great will be the quaking,
when the Judge is about to come,
strictly investigating all things.
|III||Tuba mirum spargens sonum,
Per sepulchra regionum,
Coget omnes ante thronum.
|Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth;
Through earth’s sepulchres it ringeth;
All before the throne it bringeth.
|The trumpet, scattering a wondrous sound
through the sepulchres of the regions,
will summon all before the throne.
|IV||Mors stupebit et natura,
Cum resurget creatura,
|Death is struck, and nature quaking,
All creation is awaking,
To its Judge an answer making.
|Death and nature will marvel,
when the creature will rise again,
to respond to the Judge.
|V||Liber scriptus proferetur,
In quo totum continetur,
Unde mundus judicetur.
|Lo, the book, exactly worded,
Wherein all hath been recorded,
Thence shall judgement be awarded.
|The written book will be brought forth,
in which all is contained,
from which the world shall be judged.
|VI||Judex ergo cum sedebit,
Quidquid latet apparebit:
Nil inultum remanebit.
|When the Judge his seat attaineth,
And each hidden deed arraigneth,
Nothing unavenged remaineth.
|When therefore the Judge will sit,
whatever lies hidden will appear:
nothing will remain unpunished.
|VII||Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus,
Cum vix justus sit securus?
|What shall I, frail man, be pleading?
Who for me be interceding,
When the just are mercy needing?
|What then shall I, poor wretch [that I am], say?
Which patron shall I entreat,
when [even] the just may [only] hardly be sure?
|VIII||Rex tremendæ majestatis,
Qui salvandos salvas gratis,
Salva me, fons pietatis.
|King of Majesty tremendous,
Who dost free salvation send us,
Fount of pity, then befriend us!
|King of fearsome majesty,
Who gladly saves those fit to be saved,
save me, O fount of mercy.
|IX||Recordare, Jesu pie,
Quod sum causa tuæ viæ:
Ne me perdas illa die.
|Think, kind Jesu! – my salvation
Caused Thy wondrous Incarnation;
Leave me not to reprobation.
|Remember, merciful Jesus,
that I am the cause of Thy journey:
lest Thou lose me in that day.
|X||Quærens me, sedisti lassus:
Redemisti Crucem passus:
Tantus labor non sit cassus.
|Faint and weary, Thou hast sought me,
On the Cross of suffering bought me.
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
|Seeking me, Thou rested, tired:
Thou redeemed [me], having suffered the Cross:
let not such hardship be in vain.
|XI||Juste Judex ultionis,
Donum fac remissionis,
Ante diem rationis.
|Righteous Judge, for sin’s pollution
Grant Thy gift of absolution,
Ere the day of retribution.
|Just Judge of vengeance,
make a gift of remission
before the day of reckoning.
|XII||Ingemisco, tamquam reus:
Culpa rubet vultus meus:
Supplicanti parce, Deus.
|Guilty, now I pour my moaning,
All my shame with anguish owning;
Spare, O God, Thy suppliant groaning!
|I sigh, like the guilty one:
my face reddens in guilt:
Spare the imploring one, O God.
|XIII||Qui Mariam absolvisti,
Et latronem exaudisti,
Mihi quoque spem dedisti.
|Through the sinful woman shriven,
Through the dying thief forgiven,
Thou to me a hope hast given.
|Thou who absolved Mary,
and heard the robber,
gave hope to me also.
|XIV||Preces meæ non sunt dignæ;
Sed tu bonus fac benigne,
Ne perenni cremer igne.
|Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from fires undying.
|My prayers are not worthy:
but O Thou, [who art] good, graciously grant
that I be not burned up by the everlasting fire.
|XV||Inter oves locum præsta.
Et ab hædis me sequestra,
Statuens in parte dextra.
|With Thy sheep a place provide me,
From the goats afar divide me,
To Thy right hand do Thou guide me.
|Grant me a place among the sheep,
and take me out from among the goats,
setting me on the right side.
Flammis acribus addictis,
Voca me cum benedictis.
|When the wicked are confounded,
Doomed to flames of woe unbounded,
Call me with Thy saints surrounded.
|Once the cursed have been silenced,
sentenced to acrid flames:
Call me, with the blessed.
|XVII||Oro supplex et acclinis,
Cor contritum quasi cinis,
Gere curam mei finis.
|Low I kneel, with heart’s submission,
See, like ashes, my contrition,
Help me in my last condition.
|[Humbly] kneeling and bowed I pray,
[my] heart crushed as ashes:
take care of my end.
|XVIII||Lacrimosa dies illa,
Qua resurget ex favilla,
Judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus:
|Ah! that day of tears and mourning,
From the dust of earth returning
Man for judgement must prepare him,
Spare, O God, in mercy spare him.
|Tearful [will be] that day,
on which from the glowing embers will arise
the guilty man who is to be judged.
Then spare him, O God.
|XIX||Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem. Amen.
|Lord, all-pitying, Jesus blest,
Grant them Thine eternal rest. Amen.
|Merciful Lord Jesus,
grant them rest. Amen.