Dies Irae

Artwork: Fra Angelico, “Last Judgment."

About

The Dies Irae is the sequence in the Requiem Mass1. It is considered the greatest of all sequences, and has been the subject of intense and widespread study and meditation, as well as hundreds of translations.

Perhaps the most famous commentary on the sequence is Fr. Nicholas Gihr’s book Dies Irae2, which is regrettably difficult to find in print or online. I have a photo project based on his book here.

Philip Schaff, a 19th century Protestant theological, wrote an extensive essay on the authorship, history, and translations of the sequence.3

For shorter meditations on the Dies Irae, older editions of Catholic newspapers have much to offer.4

The gregorian setting for the Dies Irae can be found on the music page.

Full text of the Dies Irae

Dies irae, dies illa

solvet saeclum in favilla:

teste David cum Sibylla.


Quantus tremor est futurus,

quando judex est venturus,

cuncta stricte discussurus!


Tuba mirum spargens sonum

per sepulcra regionum,

coget omnes ante thronum.


Mors stupebit et natura,

cum resurget creatura,

judicanti responsura.


Liber scriptus proferetur,

in quo totum continetur,

unde mundus judicetur.


Judex ergo cum sedebit,

quidquid latet apparebit:

nil inultum remanebit.


Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?

Quem patronum rogaturus,

cum vix justus sit securus?


Rex tremendae majestatis,

qui salvandos salvas gratis,

salva me fons pietatis.


Recordare, Jesu pie,

quod sum causa tuae viae:

ne me perdas illa die.


Quaerens me, sedisti lassus:

redemisti Crucem passus:

tantus labor non sit cassus.


Juste judex ultionis,

donum fac remissionis

ante diem rationis.


Ingemisco, tamquam reus:

culpa rubet vultus meus:

supplicanti parce, Deus.


Qui Mariam absolvisti,

et latronem exaudisti,

mihi quoque spem dedisti.


Preces meae non sunt dignae:

sed tu bonus fac benigne,

ne perenni cremer igne.


Inter oves locum praesta,

et ab haedis me sequestra,

statuens in parte dextra.


Confutatis maledictis,

flammis acribus addictis:

voca me cum benedictis.


Oro supplex et acclinis,

cor contritum quasi cinis:

gere curam mei finis.


Lacrimosa dies illa,

qua resurget ex favilla


judicandus homo reus.

Huic ergo parce, Deus:


pie Jesu Domine,

dona eis requiem. Amen.

Translations

Translations for the Dies irae represent something of a problem from the perspective of a collator such as myself. As Schaff says,

No poem has so often challenged and defied the skill of translators and imitators as the Dies Irae. A collection of the English and Grerman translations alone would fill a respectable volume. The dictionary of rhyme has been nearly exhausted upon it, and every new attempt must of necessity present points of resemblance to former versions. But the very fact that it is untranslatable will ever call forth new attempts. The large number of translations proves that none comes fully up to the original. Its music, majesty and grandeur can be only imperfectly rendered.3

In addition to the translations Schaff provides, there are many privately printed translations on Archive.org that suggest vernacular translations of the Dies Irae was something of an educated pastime during the 19th century.5 6 7

Sources


  1. Henry, Hugh. “Dies Irae.” In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04787a.htm. ↩︎

  2. Gihr, Nikolaus, and Joseph J. Schmit. Dies Irae : The Sequence of the Mass for the Dead. St. Louis, Mo.; London: B. Herder, 1927. ↩︎

  3. Schaff, Philip. “The Dies Irae.” In Literature and Poetry: Studies on the English Language, 134-86: C. Scribner’s sons, 1890. https://archive.org/details/literatureandpo00schagoog/page/n19/mode/2up ↩︎

  4. “Catholic New Archive.” https://thecatholicnewsarchive.org/. ↩︎

  5. Coles, Abraham. “Dies Irae in Thirteen Original Versions.” [In English]. (2018). https://archive.org/details/thirte00cole/mode/2up. ↩︎

  6. Johnson, Franklin. The Dies Iræ. An English Version in Double Rhymes, with an Essay and Notes. Privately printed: Cambridge, Mass., 1883. https://archive.org/details/englishv00john. ↩︎

  7. Thomas, and W. W. Nevin. “Dies Irae : Nine Original English Versions.” [In English]. (1895). https://archive.org/details/diesiraenineori00thomgoog. ↩︎