Dies irae (Ecclesiastical Latin: [ˈdi.es ˈi.re]; "the Day of Wrath") is a Latin sequence attributed to either Thomas of Celano of the Franciscans (1200–c.1265) or to Latino Malabranca Orsini (d. 1294), lector at the Dominican studium at Santa Sabina, the forerunner of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum in Rome. The sequence dates from at least the thirteenth century, though it is possible that it is much older, with some sources ascribing its origin to St. Gregory the Great (d. 604), Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153), or Bonaventure (1221–1274).
It is a Medieval Latin poem characterized by its accentual stress and rhymed lines. The metre is trochaic. The poem describes the Last Judgment, trumpet summoning souls before the throne of God, where the saved will be delivered and the unsaved cast into eternal flames.
The first melody set to these words, a Gregorian chant, is one of the most quoted in musical literature, appearing in the works of many composers. The final couplet Pie Jesu has been often reused as an independent song.
The Dies irae has been used in the Roman liturgy as the sequence for the Requiem Mass for centuries, as made evident by the important place it holds in musical settings such as those by Mozart and Verdi. It appears in the Roman Missal of 1962, the last edition before the implementation of the revisions that occurred after the Second Vatican Council. As such, it is still heard in churches where the Tridentine Latin liturgy is celebrated. It also formed part of the traditional liturgy of All Souls' Day.
In the reforms to the Roman Catholic liturgy ordered by the Second Vatican Council, the "Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy", the Vatican body charged with drafting and implementing the reforms (1969–70), eliminated the sequence as such from funerals and other Masses for the Dead. A leading figure in the post-conciliar liturgical reforms, Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, explains the rationale of the Consilium:
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.
The Latin text below is taken from the Requiem Mass in the 1962 Roman Missal. The first English version below, translated by William Josiah Irons in 1849, albeit from a slightly different Latin text, replicates the rhyme and metre of the original. This translation, edited for more conformance to the official Latin, is approved by the Catholic Church for use as the funeral Mass sequence in the liturgy of the Anglican ordinariate. The second English version is a more formal equivalence translation.
|Stanza||Original||Approved adaptation||Formal equivalence|
|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 will I, poor wretch [that I am], say?|
Which patron will 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 font 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 Your journey:
lest you 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, you rested, tired:|
You 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.
|You 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 You, [who are] 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 Your 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.
Because the last two stanzas differ markedly in structure from the preceding stanzas, some scholars consider them to be an addition made in order to suit the great poem for liturgical use. The penultimate stanza Lacrimosa discards the consistent scheme of rhyming triplets in favor of a pair of rhyming couplets. The last stanza Pie Iesu abandons rhyme for assonance, and, moreover, its lines are catalectic.
In the liturgical reforms of 1969–71, stanza 19 was deleted and the poem divided into three sections: 1–6 (for Office of Readings), 7–12 (for Lauds) and 13–18 (for Vespers). In addition "Qui Mariam absolvisti" in stanza 13 was replaced by "Peccatricem qui solvisti" so that that line would now mean, "You who absolved the sinful woman". This was because modern scholarship denies the common medieval identification of the woman taken in adultery with Mary Magdalene, so Mary could no longer be named in this verse. In addition, a doxology is given after stanzas 6, 12 and 18:
|Original||Approved adaptation||Formal equivalence|
O tu, Deus majestatis,
O God of majesty
The text of the sequence is found, with slight verbal variations, in a 13th-century manuscript in the Biblioteca Nazionale at Naples. It is a Franciscan calendar missal that must date between 1253 and 1255 for it does not contain the name of Clare of Assisi, who was canonized in 1255, and whose name would have been inserted if the manuscript were of later date.
|Dies iræ, dies illa, dies tribulationis et angustiæ, dies calamitatis et miseriæ, dies tenebrarum et caliginis, dies nebulæ et turbinis, dies tubæ et clangoris super civitates munitas et super angulos excelsos.||That day is a day of wrath, a day of tribulation and distress, a day of calamity and misery, a day of darkness and obscurity, a day of clouds and whirlwinds, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high bulwarks. (Douay–Rheims Bible)|
Other images come from Revelation 20:11–15 (the book from which the world will be judged), Matthew 25:31–46 (sheep and goats, right hand, contrast between the blessed and the accursed doomed to flames), 1Thessalonians 4:16 (trumpet), 2Peter 3:7 (heaven and earth burnt by fire), Luke 21:26 ("men fainting with fear... they will see the Son of Man coming"), etc.
Day of judgment! Day of wonders!
Hark! the trumpet's awful sound,
Louder than a thousand thunders,
Shakes the vast creation round!
How the summons will the sinner's heart confound!
Jan Kasprowicz, a Polish poet, wrote a hymn entitled "Dies irae" which describes the Judgment day. The first six lines (two stanzas) follow the original hymn's metre and rhyme structure, and the first stanza translates to "The trumpet will cast a wondrous sound".
The American writer Ambrose Bierce published a satiric version of the poem in his 1903 book Shapes of Clay, preserving the original metre but using humorous and sardonic language; for example, the second verse is rendered:
Ah! what terror shall be shaping
When the Judge the truth's undraping –
Cats from every bag escaping!
The Rev. Bernard Callan (1750–1804), an Irish priest and poet, translated it into Gaelic around 1800. His version is included in a Gaelic prayer book, The Spiritual Rose.
The words of Dies irae have often been set to music as part of the Requiem service. In some settings, it is broken up into several movements; in such cases, Dies irae refers only to the first of these movements, the others being titled according to their respective incipits.
In 5-line staff notation, the same appears:
The earliest surviving polyphonic setting of the Requiem by Johannes Ockeghem does not include Dies irae. The first polyphonic settings to include the Dies irae are by Engarandus Juvenis (c. 1490) and Antoine Brumel (1516) to be followed by many composers of the renaissance. Later, many notable choral and orchestral settings of the Requiem including the sequence were made by composers such as Mozart, Berlioz, Verdi, and Stravinsky.